Written by John H. Meyer Friday, 03 February 2012 00:00
This past December, Neil Diamond reached another pinnacle in his career, earning the Kennedy Center Honors, the highest American accolade given to any performer. But his rise to the top began right here in Massapequa.
When I first wrote in 2009 about Neil Diamond living on Frankel Road in the Biltmore Shores section of Massapequa in the 1960s, my story was about his early days. Getting started in show business wasn’t as easy as it is today. It seems like a few guys or girls get together, make some noise, and first thing you know there’s another band listed on television and radio billboards.
That was not the case when the young Neil Diamond was struggling to make a go of it. He did a little music writing for rock ‘n’ roll bands, composing lyrics for a few singers and for himself, hoping to catch a break and get a songwriting or singing career under way. If only he had a crystal ball and could see what was ahead for him, how different his early years may have been.
Diamond was born January 24, 1941, the same year as America’s entry into World War II. He lived in Coney Island, but as a teenager, he often traveled Long Island’s seaside towns and found the Massapequa area to his liking, coming back quite often. Neil enjoyed the water and quietness of the beaches while basking in the sun.
However it wasn’t until the summer of the 1960 when Neil met Jaye Posner while on the beach that Neil would make Massapequa his home. Jaye was a local schoolteacher and her father owned a menswear shop in the former Bar Harbor Shopping Center. Neil and Jaye were married in 1963 and bought a modest home on Frankel Road where they had their two daughters. In 1966, Neil recorded Cherry, Cherry before the couple divorced in 1969. The one-and-a-half story wood framed home remains the same as when the Diamonds lived in it. In later years, several others made it their home including good friends of mine. The cozy little home featured a loft-type second floor containing bedrooms, a living room on the ground floor with a wood burning fireplace and a finished basement where Neil did his composing. A large piano that he had built in place and where he wrote the lyrics for his hit Solitary Man is said to be too large to be taken up the stairs and out of the house. Neil played that piano when he was working on the music and lyrics for most of his early shows including The Jazz Singer that he starred in.
According to neighbors, the Diamonds were known to be very quiet and kept to themselves. Jaye, the former schoolteacher and homebody, enjoyed cooking. Neighbors said that Neil could be seen walking about the neighborhood in the evenings, seeming to be thinking and clutching his ever present pad, in order to jot down thoughts for song lyrics when they came to mind. While they were married and still living in Massapequa and before Neil became famous, motorcycles captured his pastime. However, when he began to gain stardom, time for hobbies was behind him.
Shortly, following their divorce, Neil purchased a luxury apartment in New York City and the Diamonds’ red Lincoln would only be seen in the neighborhood on weekends. Neil felt that living in the Big Apple kept him close to where the action was. The music of the bass-baritone Neil Diamond, including his seemingly simple but often elusive pop ballads about loneliness, love and the healing power of song had long appealed to a large audience. Diamond’s mellow compositions and dramatic change in tempo began insinuating themselves into the American consciousness during the 1970s with such songs as Bubble Gum, the rocker Cherry, Cherry followed by Kentucky Woman. Many of Diamond’s songs were super hits especially Sweet Caroline. Diamond admitted in 2007 that he wrote the piece for Caroline Kennedy after seeing her on the cover of Life magazine dressed in an equestrian riding outfit. It is said that it took Neil just one hour, in a Memphis hotel room, to write and compose it.
In 2007, Diamond was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. In October 2009, Diamond released his third holiday music album, Cherry Cherry Cherry Christmas.
Finally, this past December, Neil, as noted, received The Kennedy Center Honors. Prior to that award Neil was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also named a Billboard Icon at the annual Billboard Music Awards. The 34th annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony is a traditional CBS year-end special staged and taped in Washington, D.C.
Neil Diamond is living between his two gated homes in Malibu and Beverly Hills in southern California. But his songwriting career began with all those solitary walks through his quiet Massapequa neighborhood.