Monday, January 2, 2012

Dion: The Wanderer Comes Home

"I am a ferocious Catholic who loves the Church and its teaching."  That is the way that Dion DiMucci describes himself (in a letter to a friend) in his spiritual confession "Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth."  

The book was one of No-wife's Christmas presents to Noman, her knowing of his love for 50's-60's rock & roll, especially Doo-wop.  Dion says that this singing style was invented on the subway home to the Bronx from Harlem's Apollo Theater by Italian kids vocalizing to mimic the instruments they'd just heard.  Whether that tidbit is true or not, Noman isn't sure, and doesn't really care.  Dion is forever an idol to the teen in every near-old geezer.  Moreover, he tells a good story.

Though it is generally wise to ignore celebrities opining on matters sublime, Dion has a number of thoughtful, intelligent and doctrinally sound things to say about truth, freedom, authority and especially love. 

What we know him for mainly is his music in the early era of rock & roll.  He was a demigod.  

The main thoroughfare in Bronx's Little Italy was Belmont Avenue.  Hence, the name of his original vocal group: Dion & the Belmonts.

The group produced a string of hits including "I Wonder Why" and "Teenager in Love."

He was already rich and mega-famous by the time he cut two of rock & roll's signature anthems, "Runaround Sue," and "The Wanderer."

Dion took the long, circuitous route home to Rome from Mount Carmel Catholic Church in his neighborhood through drug addiction and the resolution of a number of pent up hostilities.

Dion was a tough, a gang member  a la "Westside Story," which he distinguishes from being strong: a sobriquet he attributes to Msgr. Pernicone (later Auxiliary Bishop of NY) who tended the souls of his flock from the stoop of Mount Carmel's rectory.

Among the many entertaining vignettes that Dion shares was one about an intimidating parishioner who dragged his wife to the Church in order to announce to Msgr., "Father, we're gonna get divorced.  I don't love her anymore."  The priest had performed the couples nuptials.  

Father's answer, which he repeated three times to the increasingly loud and adamant interlocutor in front of a gathering crowd: "Well then, love her."  Dion recalls the lesson in true love that this priest spontaneously delivered in confrontative circumstances.  
"I don't think you heard what I said.  I said, 'Then love her.'  Love is a verb before it's a noun.  It's an action, and it's a decision.  It's something you will to do.  It's not just something you feel."  
Wise words; good advice.   Dion remembered, and has been married to his teenage sweetheart for nearly fifty years.  She, and music, are the two constants in his otherwise turbulent journey that he likens to those of St. Paul and St. Augustine.

"When's a train most free, on the tracks or off? When's a fish most free, in the water or out of it?"  Good questions, even if rhetorical, that Dion asks to make a point about received authority, something that he, like most of his generation, had trouble accepting. When he finally came to grips with it, he was able lay aside his aversion to the Catholic Church.

Dion came from a querulous family, and he was already alcohol and drug addicted by the time he set out on the ill fated Winter Dance Party tour with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens.  Rock & roll fans already know that the other headliners, Dion's friends, lost their lives in a three-passenger plane they'd hired to fly them from Clear Lake, Iowa to the next stop on the tour in Moorhead, Minnesota. 

Ritchie Valens lost the coin flips that determined which of the headliners was going to have to ride the drafty bus into the frosty winter.  Dion gave up his seat on the plane to Valens simply because he balked at the $36 cost of the seat--the same amount as his parent's monthly rent in the Bronx.  His frugality saved his life.  But, the event drove him inwards, and further into drugs.

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