Thursday, May 11, 2006

Neil Diamond, Latino Leader

The music at several of last week's immigration rallies included the expected modern Latin sounds, traditional mariachi, classic Civil Rights era folk songs, and Neil Diamond.

What's a sixty-five-year-old Jewish guy doing on the agenda? The L.A. Times reports that Latinos have latched onto his "America" as an anthem. The song - written for the 1980 flop remake of The Jazz Singer - touches the heart of the immigrant experience like few other songs do.

Yes, it's schmaltzy kitsch - it is still Neil Diamond after all - but the story it tells rings as true for this group of immigrants as it did for the Eastern European and Irish immigrants of Neil's grandfather's generation, for whom the song was written.

The L.A. Times reminds us the "America" began its Latino association through its use in Cheech Marin's Born in East L.A. (a much better film than the Jazz Singer remake). An editor had put the song in as a place keeper during a rough cut of the climax. Marin loved it, as did Neil, and the song stayed with choruses of "They're coming to America!" echoing across the U.S./Mexico border.

Of course, not everybody at the rallies appreciated hearing an old white guy singing in English (and even a lot of us old white guys don't appreciate listening to Diamond anywhere), but it looks like the song is back to stay.

Personally, I don't see it. "Sweet Caroline," maybe. But "America"?

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