Neil Diamond has been a hit maker for more than four decades, but the 70-year-old singer-songwriter says that when he's alone in his studio, he sometimes wonders who will hear his music.
The answer, of course, is almost everyone, as evidenced by a stellar year that saw the "Sweet Caroline" singer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, become a Kennedy Center Honoree, earn his 13th Grammy nod and release a career-spanning collection of greatest hits.
"The Very Best of Neil Diamond," featuring 23 songs, was released last week, just after he returned from the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., where he shook hands with President Barack Obama.
Diamond is planning a North American tour to support the album next year, and he's also planning to marry his love, Katie McNeil.
Diamond said 2011 has "definitely been one of the best years ever."
Still soaring from the Kennedy Center celebration, he talked with The Associated Press about his new bride and his banner year.
AP: What were the Kennedy Center Honors like? (The ceremony will air as a special on CBS on Dec. 27.)
Diamond: It was like a fairy tale, really, because the White House is really done up for Christmas and I got the chance to bring my kids with me and three of my older grandkids, who all had the chance to say hello to the President and Mrs. Obama, and they were of course thrilled. That was, to me, the best part of it — being able to share it with them. It was a grueling gauntlet of praise and adulation and I'm going to have to work extra hard on this upcoming tour to feel as though I deserve it.
AP: What inspired you to release a career-spanning collection?
Diamond: I don't think I've ever had the original studio recordings of these songs all together on one disc. ... It's like a Fellini party for me. I know all the names and places. I have recollections about each of these songs, I was able to write them down and include them in the little booklet that comes with the CD, and it was like old home week for me. ... It was all the warm things that you would expect when you make a connection to something from your past that's very pure and direct and unaltered. That's what this entire album is all about and I love it for that reason.
AP: You announced that your 2012 tour will feature your classic hits. How do you bring energy to these songs you've performed thousands of times?
Diamond: I've never, never just gone out and sung a song. I go out and try and breathe life into an original creation and I try to do it every night, and I think that's what it takes. There's no point in doing it if you can't create some kind of a moment, a very special moment of connection between the audience and the performance, and that's what I go for. ... My audience has been so loyal and so warm and giving to me over the years that I'd have to be cruel and heartless not to want to give at least as much back to them, and I do.
AP: Congratulations on your engagement. What can you share about it?
Diamond: It's great to be in love again. It's definitely a positive and inspirational place to be. I'm lucky enough to have a wonderful gal and I talked her into marrying me and I'll try to make it the right decision for her. I think she's just terrific. And of course life that's led alone and in a solitary way is life that's only half lived. And I refuse to accept living only half a life. I want to share it with someone and I've been blessed to find this beautiful person to share my life with, so I'm a happy guy. I'm walking around with a smile on my face 24-7.
AP: In the notes included with your latest album, you say you longed for and finally found "a personally satisfying life for myself beyond the music." What do you mean?
Diamond: Music can absorb your entire existence and it has for me for many, many years, and of course people who you love and who are near and dear to you pay a price, and I've always felt some sort of guilt about that. ... But you do need time away, time to clear your mind, time to experience the basic things of life, the simple, wonderful fact of existence and coexistence with the world around you — not only people but with nature. I never really had that until just recently and it's been a further inspiration to me, as if I needed any further inspiration. It's another bonus.
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen can be reached at www.twitter.com/APSandy.