Few bands that achieved stardom in the ’80s still have the rare combination of chemistry and charisma exhibited by Berlin. From the unabashed sultriness of singer Terri Nunn and the brooding concentration of John Crawford to the cool exuberance of keyboardist-turned-guitarist David Diamond, Berlin thrives on the synergy of this trio.
It’s a formula that has reinvigorated the band’s fanbase and guests on The 80s Cruise who have clamored to see their ever-evolving shows over the past several sailings.
With live entertainment on hold for much of 2020, David has been focusing on his other passions: flying, Pilots N Paws (a pet rescue group) and running for public office. He’s aiming for a seat on the Truckee Tahoe Airport Board in Northern California. You can learn more about that quest at diamond2020.com.
During a recent break from the campaign trail – and fresh off a call with bandmates Terri and John – David and I spent an hour catching up on Berlin’s current status, the band’s history and his near-misses at joining two bands that are now members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Click here to listen to the full interview on the Stuck in the ’80s podcast. Here are some edited highlights from the conversation:
Steve: What are we going to do now that there’s no 80s Cruise for 2021?
David: When all this sh– went down, I was thinking I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time we play live is on The 80s Cruise again in 2021. As the year continued to unfold, I started thinking that was more and more likely. When it was announced the 2021 cruise was rescheduled for 2022 … that was a real hard one. We had a lot of great shows booked this year that got canned.
Steve: What do you do when touring isn’t an option?
David: In the down time, we didn’t do nothing. We’ve actually done some tweaking of the show itself. We’ve done some new videos for the backdrop, which look really cool.
Steve: One of my favorite things about a Berlin show is that you traditionally start the set off with three straight hits – “No More Words,” “Metro” and “Masquerade.” That’s pretty gutsy to use those tunes right up front.
David: Our audience is a lot older than it used to be so we want to make sure we get those hits done before people fall asleep! (Laughs.) It gets people in the mood. I don’t think there’s a lot of strategy behind it other than we feel that those songs sort of fit together well.
Steve: People on The 80s Cruise stay up late for Berlin shows! We’re not that old!
David: That’s the thing about The 80s Cruise, which kind of makes it tough to know we’re going to miss a year of that. There’s a whole aspect of this when we play live now where we feel sort of reunited with our fan base. Most of these people were around in ’83, ’84, ’85 when we got going. And then here we are a hundred years later and we’re all survivors. There’s a kinship there that makes it a lot of fun. But The 80s Cruise is kind of like a subset of that kinship because it’s people that you vacation with. It’s like ‘Hey, how you doing? I remember you from last time!’
Steve: Tell me how you got started in music? Do you remember when it first hit you?
David: Yeah, it was a Tuesday. (Laughs.) No, I was 14, I guess. I was learning guitar first and I started a band with my best friend and we called the band Airborne. It was a little trio. It could have been a power trio if we had any power. It was just three guys playing instruments badly. We played in a junior high talent show. We played ‘Take It or Leave It’ by The Runaways. (Laughs.) Looking back, that set me up pretty well for Berlin.
Steve: So it was guitars that got you started.
David: I switched to bass in local bands because I was not a good enough guitar player, but I could manage a bass. And when synthesizers were popping around, I was becoming fascinated by them. I wrangled my stepfather to lend me the money to buy a Prophet 5. And here’s the thing, Steve. If I had tried to get 10 dollars out of him, he would have said ‘No, earn it!’ And this one night – I’ll never forget for the whole rest of my life – $3,128 was the purchase price of a Prophet 5 – that included the tax, because I did all the research. I remember walking into his office and asking him if I could borrow the money … and he asked me why I wanted it. I said ‘Because I think I want a career in music and this will help me.’ And he said, ‘I’m going to lend you the money because I believe in you. I think that you will have a career in music.’ I’m not going to get emotional, it was really impactful. I got the Prophet and I learned how to program it and that’s what led me to joining Berlin.
Steve: Great story.
David: When ‘Pleasure Victim’ finally went gold and we were asked for the people that we wanted to give gold records to, my stepdad was the No. 1 (person) on my list. My life would be very different had he not done that. I probably would have ended up in Def Leppard or Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I don’t know if you’ve heard those stories…
Steve: Wait, what? No!
David: Okay, so this is the funny thing. Terri and I have joked about this. Before Berlin, she had her Princess Leia audition and she had her acting career. And before Berlin, I had these two opportunities – to join Def Leppard – it was not a band at that time; they were just some kids getting together in the UK. And then the Joan Jett thing. So Terri and I have often joked that if there was a God, then God was like ‘Come on, I’m trying to make you guys famous! Would you just like stick with something?’
Steve: So Def Leppard and Joan Jett?
David: It was through the same guy. His name was Dutch Michaels and he used to work with The Runaways. He was living in the UK and he gives me a call … He knew I played bass and I was 15 or whatever years old at the time. He said, ‘There’s a group of these kids and they’re getting together and they’re looking for a bass player, can you get to the UK?’ I was like, ‘Of course I can’t get to the UK. I’m a 15-year-old kid living in Orange County!’ He told me about the band. I’m not into heavy metal so that was the end of that. Then they became Def Leppard.
(Writer’s note: Def Leppard was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2019. Rick Savage would become the band’s bass player.)
David: (Dutch) calls me back again, now he’s in L.A. He said, ‘Joan Jett is getting a band together and she’s looking for a bass player … will you audition?’ I loved The Runaways, I loved Joan Jett so hell yes I’ll audition! There were 26 bass players auditioning and I was the 25th. I guess I was 16. We go in there and there’s Joan, and I’m all star-struck. I must have looked ridiculous because I also had dyed black hair, like a little male version of Joan Jett. So we play – I think it was ‘You Drive Me Wild,’ which is a Runaways song. I was super, super nervous. Afterward she lifts her hands up, slammed them down on her guitar and she says, ‘It’s so f—ing great to play with a real bass player again!’ We played some more songs and she’s just glowing. The audition is over and I pack up my bass.
Steve: So what happened?
David: No. 26 went in there and got the gig.
(Writer’s note: The ending of this is possibly the most bizarre, sad and yet funny story you’ll ever hear and writing it out here will not do it justice. Go to the podcast interview and listen for the heartbreaking tale beginning at the 26-minute mark. Oh, and in 2015, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were inducted in the Rock Hall of Fame.)
Steve: Looking back on Berlin’s journey, what do you see now that you couldn’t have seen back when you were much younger?
David: It took decades to look back and realize this: Berlin worked best when John, Terri and I were at the nucleus of the creative process. And if you take any one of the three of us out of it, it starts to go someplace different. And I think that’s just what happened on (the 1986 album) ‘Count Three & Pray’ and ‘Take My Breath Away.’ We’ve got Berlin fans and ‘Take My Breath Away’ fans. We don’t have a lot of people who tend to like all of it. Fast forward decades later, I look back and I love ‘Count Three & Pray.’ I think it was a fantastic record. But it was a disappointment to me at the time because it really felt like my band – though I was no longer in it – had lost itself. It wasn’t until much later that I could look back and truly love it.
Steve: And now there’s the album ‘Transcendance,’ with the original trio.
David: When Terri reformed Berlin, they did a number of records. And it’s not that they were bad, it’s just that they didn’t feel like Berlin to me. I never really knew why until John, Terri and I got together again before ‘Transcendance.’ Finally, as adults, we could look at what was going on and just think, “Oh my gosh, this is what went wrong!” Without the mix of the three of us … we each do lots of different things. Somehow just the chemistry between the three of us when we’re working on stuff, it just kind of turns out cool!
(Berlin will return to The 80s Cruise in 2022. Track their latest news on their official website – berlinpage.com. Steve Spears is the creator and co-host of the award-winning Stuck in the ’80s podcast. Steve and co-host Brad William present Big ’80s Trivia and record live podcasts on each journey of The 80s Cruise. Find out more at sit80s.com.)