NPR logo Neil Diamond vs. Neil Young

Neil Diamond vs. Neil Young

I'm not a big fan of American Idol, but boredom drove me to turn it on last night, just in time to see contestant Brooke White slaughtering Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer."

Brooke White is marginally talented, and Diamond's music is innocent enough, but it was a painful marriage of the two. My thumb hit the "off" button before she could finish a verse.

This morning, NPR Music producer Stephen Thompson mentioned that he'd also caught some of American Idol last night, which in turn got us all talking about Neil Diamond. I admit to liking maybe a CD's worth of his songs, while the rest of the group finds his music mostly unbearable.

Neil Diamond has enjoyed what to some is a baffling resurgence in popularity in recent years, particularly among young people. I've got nothing to go on but a hunch, but it seems to have been sparked — at least in part — by comedian Will Ferrell's recurring imitation of Diamond on Saturday Night Live. Diamond himself appeared on the show, as well as in the teen comedy Saving Silverman. This was followed by an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! — another program targeted at younger audiences.

In short, for people in their early to mid-20s, it's become cool to like Neil Diamond. I'm not sure if this is an ironic cool or a more genuine belief that his music is simply awesome, but either way, he's secured a place in their minds and MP3 collections.

This was all confirmed for me at a party I went to in Baltimore a while back. Everyone was a lot younger than I am. I was sitting with a group of early twentysomethings, sipping beers and pretending to relate to whatever the topic was. At some point, someone imitated Will Ferrell imitating Neil Diamond, which drew a laugh, followed by a discussion of just how totally cool Diamond is, you know? The most blissfully clueless person in the group asked for a clarification on who, exactly, Neil Diamond is, confusing his name with Neil Young... at which point I had to jump in, exclaiming that one should never confuse the two.

To make a long story short, I soon found myself in a shouting match over who was better: Neil Diamond or Neil Young. It became glaringly obvious to me that those in the Neil Diamond camp only knew him from his recent insertion into their pop-culture landscape. They knew none of his history and nothing of Neil Young at all — which isn't surprising, given that Neil Diamond had his last Top 10 hit before they were even born.

No offense to Neil Diamond. But come on.

So which camp do you belong to?