Last Saturday night I joined my husband, John, along with about 18,000 other Neil Diamond fans packed in at the biggest concert venue in Philadelphia called the Wachovia center. There were so many people there, fans were sitting behind the stage to which Neil quipped "I heard a nasty rumor that people actually paid for those seats."
Neil's management team actually had to add on a second concert on Sunday night because of how quickly he sold out the Saturday. When we arrived I looked around us to the full stadium of people ranging from young kids, to college students, to elderly couples hobbling by me with their walkers, and then next to me where my beyond thrilled husband (a life long Neil Diamond fan) was clapping enthusiastically. The first question that came to my mind was "what makes an artist timeless?"
I tried to think about how some musicians may have a hit record and then never be heard from again (or show up on E! Hollywood stories fifteen years later) and others have a fan following that allows them to tour to packed out audiences for forty years. Throughout the concert some of the conclusions I came to were:
a defined, unwavering style that isn't based on trends
Back when Neil first started out, he didn't try to copy what the Monkees or the Beatles were already doing. Instead he found his own voice based on his Brooklyn, immigrant upbringing filled with soulful lyrics about who he is and who he is not (I am, I said).
evolution of songwriting, but maintains the core classics
I remember watching a recent 60 Minutes interview with Bruce Springsteen where he was asked 'do you ever get sick of playing Born to Run?' He laughed and responded that whenever he does, he reminds himself that it was that song that made him a success and that it's what his fans want to hear. So he reminds himself that it is his 'money song' and that makes him enjoy to still play it. I think that is a lot like us in photography, we might get sick of taking that signature shot or tired of our style but the reality is that our clients hire us for the consistent images that we market.
reinvention based on personal exploration
After years and years of top hits, Neil Diamond released his first number one album just this year called Home Before Dark. He says himself in this interview that he rarely listens to other music "(doesn't) like to pollute his brain with other people's stuff." Instead he defines what is happening for him personally through his music.
good at business
I would imagine that one of the biggest aspects to a timeless artist is also being a good business person. Neil Diamond belongs to that group of a small number of performers who have their name as the copyright owner on their recordings, such as David Bowie, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson , Ani DiFranco, Pink Floyd, Queen, Genesis, and Van Morrison. I'm sure staying in business helps when you don't have to share your profits with copyright licensing.
What do you think - what makes an artist timeless? (musical, visual or any other kind)