In the year 2008 A.D., the Diamondville touring year consisted of 82 shows, exactly the same as the number of games played by an NBA team during a regular, i.e. non-pandemic, season. And our appearances during the 2009 Grammy week would therefore correspond neatly with the playoffs, and the band played itself off quite nicely. But first...
Friday night, February 6, our vocalist was to be honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year. The charity event surrounding that award was amazingly successful, even in an economy which was still reeling from the after-effects of the Bush years.
The 1956 Thunderbird, which our band had chipped in to purchase as a gift for Mr. Diamond some years earlier, was to be auctioned off to benefit MusiCares, a charity for music people in times of need. The opening bid was set at $50,000. Some band members floated a suggestion that we chip in once more and buy it again, and give it to Neil all over again, but we worried that doing so would turn the T-Bird into something akin to an albatross.
Cooler heads prevailed, especially when it was pointed out that the auto’s value had appreciated over the years to far more than we had paid for it the first time around. In fact, MusiCares head guy Neil Portnow won the bidding at $75,000, and we are happy to report that Portnow paid for it without a complaint. Besides, who wanted to hear Portnow’s complaint?
The audience for the Musicares show that year was an impressive collection of notables of all styles and eras. Right off the bat, I saw Pat Boone arriving, and took the opportunity to greet him and remind him that we had actually worked together once, exactly 50 years earlier. He, in turn, reminded me that HE was the artist who boosted our vocalist’s career confidence by recording Neil’s song “Ten Lonely Guys,” co-written with nine other lonely songwriters. When Mr. Boone walked the red carpet at the start of the evening, he was asked by an interviewer on to name his favorite Neil Diamond song. Naturally enough, he replied “Ten Lonely Guys,” causing the channel 11 reporter to say “Wha...?” Or maybe it was WTF?
Inside, near us at a front table, sat our host for the evening, the always-cheerful Jimmy Kimmel, along with his then-lady pal Sarah Silverman. Press reports at the time had them described the couple as being on the outs, but we witnessed enough kanoodling during “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” to make us suspect that her video claim of having intimate relations with Matt Damon was more of an artistic statement than a factual one.
The lineup of contemporary artists who performed selections from our setlist was impressive, and each of them did justice to the material while bringing it into their oeuvre, in some cases giving our Muzoids cause to pause and contemplate some ideas about things we could do to add some novel pizazz to our nightly versions.
The house band, led by producer/bassist Don Was, did a bang-up job of accompanying the multitude. His ensemble included a raft of studio veterans who’ve played behind everybody over the years, and since our Muzoids have been in that same role over the years, they knew many of the players and could identify with their tasks and appreciate how well they achieved them.
As a matter of fact, there were occasional moments when we would say, “Hey, that’s not RIGHT—wait, maybe that’s okay after all. You know, that’s actually a GOOD idea! We should try THAT!”
For example Kid Rock’s version of “Thank the Lord for the Nighttime,” of all things, was an eye-opener. All our Muzoids expressed admiration for his treatment of the chorus, and mulling a similar approach for our future treatment of the song. Less likely would be for us to incorporate elements of Terence Blanchard and Cassandra Wilson’s trippy version of “September Morn” into our set, but then, one never knows.
The Foo Fighters drew approval for arriving with their approach to “Delirious Love” fully thought-out and operational. Coldplay, on the other hand, seemed to be learning “I’m a Believer” during their rehearsal. Still, their frat-house jam version really worked for that song.
Jennifer Hudson seemed not to grasp the section of “Holly Holy” where it goes to the A chord, where she continued to sing in the key of E, until clashing notes signalled the error. At that point she went into a vocalese section so brilliant that any flaws were forgiven and forgotten. We’re still not sure whether she did that on purpose or it was just a lucky accident, but it’s safe to say that she KILLED.
Next came a video clip of Neil relating the story of how he accidentally included a band called Los Volcanes in the show’s lineup. It was priceless and perfectly-timed, and the group’s performance did not disappoint. In fact, Larry Klimas had to contain himself from joining in on air accordion.
Faith Hill sang “Flowers” with our fella, and during rehearsal she announced “I’ve never danced with anyone but my husband and my brothers.” Thankfully, she did not tell our vocalist, “and YOU are NOT my BROTHAH!” And she danced with our vocalist, just as Princess Diana had done previously. That guy will dance with anybody.
Two days later, we all reconvened at Staples for the actual televised awards ceremony. It was my first time at the Grammies since my first time at the Grammies, back in the 1970s. It was a lot more fun then. The show was at the Shrine Auditorium, and the after-parties were all in various rooms at the Biltmore Hotel. We danced to the music of Count Basie and his orchestra, and the Count himself was alive and playing. There was country music and a chamber ensemble and other types of real music going on all evening. By 2009, however, things had regressed considerably regarding variety, and the Staples Center, a joint we knew well, was the venue..
When we arrived, we were shown to a small food-deprived suite upstairs overlooking the back of the stage, where we hung out for 500 minutes or so, but who was counting? We watched the first few hours of the rehearsal in our room, trying to reconcile the puny-speaker TV sound with the bass-trap thunder that was rolling up from the stage downstairs.
Some highlights snuck through the rumble: One was Sugarland, whose performance grabbed the ear of even hard-core rappers in the crowd. And, once again, Jennifer Hudson shined. Her pipes were enhanced by a big gospel choir, which had occupied the dressing rooms adjacent to ours. At one point, a trip to the men’s room meant walking through their midst as their rehearsal was in progress, resulting in the best stereo effect I’ve heard in years.
A mid-afternoon meal was served, and we learned that our Muzoids are not the only ones who can lay waste to a spread. Back to waiting.
Finally, the show kicked off and eventually we were summoned to our on-stage positions to play our obligatory three minutes of Sweet Caroline.
And yes, it was sweet to look out at the front rows of the audience and see Paul McCartney and Jay Z smiling and clapping and singing along during that irresistible song.
When we finished, there was still some show left to go, so we were able to fly under the radar, out the door, out of the parking garage and onto the freeway, heading home to see the show again in the comfort of our own sofas.