Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Wanderer

Woke up with Dion DiMucci on the brain. Why? Who knows. It's Music Saturday, so maybe I'm supposed to write a post about him. But this is an open threat, so feel free to run away from it and comment on any other subject.

Now 71, he's the only one of the first wave of 1950s rock stars still breathing (the hard part), still performing (the easy part, especially when it's pledge drive time and PBS needs to shake down the Boomers), and still artistically growing (the hardest part). He recently released an album of blues covers, and proved himself to be an entirely credible bluesman:

A couple of early favorites, but there are many. The only song that rhymes "Donna" with "Donna" (maybe because Roy Orbison had dibs on Lana), but it swings nonetheless:

He thought he had a friend once, but the bastard kicked out his teeth:

Anyway, he's had a rather interesting spiritual journey, having started out a nominal Catholic in an ethnic Italian neighborhood in the Bronx, converted to mainline heroin in the 1960s, moved on to evangelical Christianity in the 1970s, and finally full circle and back home again:

"... [M]y biggest moment was to come. On December 14, 1979, I went out jogging, like I did every morning. It was a time when I could be alone with my thoughts.... There was a lot going on in me then, a mid-life crisis, or something. My emotions were everywhere . In the middle of that confusion, all I could pray was 'God, it would be nice to be closer to you.' That’s all it took.

"I was flooded with white light. It was everywhere, inside me, outside me — everywhere. At that moment, things were different between me and God. He’d broken down the wall. Ahead of me, I saw a man with His arms outstretched. 'I love you,' He said. 'Don’t you know that? I’m your friend. I laid down My life for you. I’m here for you now.' I looked behind me, because I knew I’d left something behind on that road. Some part of me that I no longer wanted. Let the road have it; I didn’t need it anymore.

"God changed my life that morning, and things have never been the same. I started writing and recording these wonderful gospel songs in the 1980s and started touring again.... But in some circles, I started hearing attacks on the Catholic Church and anti-Catholic teachings which confused me.... Sometimes, as we’d sit in the pew at our latest evangelical church, [Susan would] lean over and whisper in my ear, 'I wonder what this church is going to look like in 2,000 years'....

"[W]ith a new church opening every week with a little different doctrine, it became increasingly difficult and confusing to know what the truth really was....

"Little by little, God helped break through my defiance and ignorance. My misconceptions about the Church were falling away fast. All the questions I had as a Protestant were being answered, as I finally felt those deep parts of me satisfied.

"And so I went back to Mount Carmel Catholic Church — where it all began. I went to confession and let it out to Father Frank. I told him where I’d been and what I’d done. When I finished, he stood up, stretched his arms out and said, 'Dion, welcome home.' I tried to be a man, I tried to stifle myself, but I couldn’t do it. I broke down right there. At last, I met the God who is a Father — a Father who is strong, but loving; tough but gentle. I met a Father who took this wanderer in His mighty arms, and led him home."

Don't care for the video, but this is a post-conversion meditation on Fathers, Sons, and the Truth between:


ge said...

a Dion review from a fan i know at RYM [go there for more]:

Dion, Dion Dimucci, Dion & The Belmonts, The Wanderer, call him what you will, but there is nothing musically that he can’t do, hasn’t done, and still isn’t doing better than most people half his age. His achievements are endless, as are the list of those who have been directly influenced him ... and he sounds better today than he did fifty years ago.

Here on ‘New Masters’ Dion and his band went into the recording studio with the intention of creating completely new versions of his greatest songs, and in doing so they have outdone themselves beyond their wildest imagination. His decision was not to merely update these songs, but to totally transform them, and in doing this he’s added verses, changed the structure, the length, and added saxophone, as well as presenting the other instruments originally used in a stunning new manner.

Most of you won’t remember, as I do, growing up on WIBG AM radio in Philadelphia, which was the capital of the music scene back then. There was a strict time limit on songs ... one which stated that no song, no matter how good, could ever be over two and one half minutes in length. It would take The Beatles “Hey Jude” to break this long held AM rule. Without these limitations Dion has been able to record arrangements that are much longer, with additional verses and longer instrumentation. The first thing you will notice is how his use of the sax shines, with its much more impressive signature role. The center piece of this conception is his song “The Wander,” which has the following spoken verse added:

Now here's a story that must be told,
Italian Tony he just sold
His house, car, all he got
Went to the states, opened the gates
To crime,
That's what he was doing, Yeah
The gangs
That's what he was doing
The people in doubt they shouted out
The Wanderer, that's what its about
I say Hear Ye
I say Hear Ye
Turn up the music, roll on, YEAH!

The other most notable change are the song endings. During the 60’s it was a common technique to fade the endings, even on live recordings done in the studio. But here Dion has given each song a hard ending, eliminating the wondering and longing for what I perceived I’d been missing all these years. And as an added bonus, just so you’re not feeling that you’re getting rereleased material only, Dion has written and recorded two new songs, “Behind Susan’s Eyes,” a track about his wife and their forty year love affair, and “Come Heal This Land,” which is Dion’s response to September 11th...

Joan of Argghh! said...

Dion's Christian stuff is some of the best, non-trite writing of the genre. As real as the man.

Gagdad Bob said...

I hadn't thought about him in ages, until PowerLine had a post on him a few years back. I purchased a now out of print career-spanning box set, and was pleasantly surprised at the breadth and depth of his work. Seems like a real mensch, too. Along with Rick Nelson, the most underrated of the Founders.

Gagdad Bob said...

Interesting interview.

ge said...

well in the same ballpark and a big DISCovery in my recent years would be the figure of .....Del Shannon
-who went thru a 60's renaissance and churned out some cuttin edge psych-pop personal records also....before his tragic suicide

walt said...

Since you said this is an open threat....

As you may recall, my wife is also Type 1. She was interested to learn that there was a nun, recently canonized as the patron Saint of Diabetes. She thought you and Mrs. G might not know about this.

Gagdad Bob said...

It's about time. Now I can finally give up trying to appease the pagan goddess of diabetes with animal sacrifices in the backyard. I don't even think it helped, frankly.

walt said...

"...animal sacrifices..."

Lo-carb, just like around here.

julie said...

St. Paulina, canonized in '02. I don't think it's official, though.

Officially, it's St. Josemaría Escrivá, also canonized in '02.

Took 'em long enough - think of all the chickens that could have been saved...

julie said...

Back to the music, Dion is new to me. Donna the Prima Donna is awfully catchy.

Gagdad Bob said...

I really recommend that radio interview. Had my attention the whole 38 minutes.

julie said...

Thanks! I think there's just enough time to listen before everybody gets back...

julie said...

Oh, that Dion. Great interview - I love how you can really get a sense of how he's evolved over the years while always retaining the essence of who he is.

julie said...

Joke of the day

f/zero said...

Thanks for this one Bob. Dion's been a part of my musical and spiritual library from the beginning. He deserves all your good words.

Shawn said...

Dion has a drug-use recovery song called "Your Own Backyard". I first heard the excellent cover by Mott the Hoople in 1972 ("Brain Capers") with Ian Hunter on lead vocal.
Also..."Abraham, Martin and John" is one of those songs that for me "strike the mystic chords of memory" (see July 17 post). I was 12 that fall - and seem to be again when I hear it (at least sometimes).
Thanks for the posts!

ge said...

Kurious kouplings

now i see

adlib/mishear more than 1 line:
the mirror told its tale? [really 'the miller told his tale' /chaucer]

Gagdad Bob said...

There's always this.