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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dion the Wanderer Finds Way Home...

It's amazing the things you miss and then discover by chance one day while clearing out your DVR.

Last week, I was erasing several programs I had recorded, since my recording capacity was shrinking, and ran across an interview with rock and roll legend, Dion DiMucci.

I’ll be honest; I didn’t know much about DiMucci, outside of his stage name (Dion) and a few of his better known hit songs, which I had heard through the years, without even realizing they were his.

As I began to watch the interview, DiMucci, quickly peaked my interest by saying he was the only headliner to survive the fatal plane crash that took the life of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in 1959. Having watched La Bamba, I was intrigued.

Recounting the story, he talked about how the bus they had been touring in kept breaking down and it was blisteringly cold. They were traveling from Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota and Holly decided to charter a small 4-seat plane for the stars of the show.  The only hitch, there was just room for three of them, so they decided to draw straws to see who would get on board with the pilot.

DiMucci won but says he couldn't see himself coughing up the $36 bucks it would cost each of them to charter the flight, which he says, was the same amount his parents would often argue over, since it was what they paid for rent in the apartment they lived, while he was growing up. Instead, Dion gave his seat to Valens.

The plane crashed shortly after takeoff on February 3, 1959, which became known as "The Day the Music Died."

DiMucci retold the story on EWTN's The World Over with Raymond Arroyo, where he was promoting his new autobiography, titled, Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth, co-written by Mike Aquilina.

In the book, Dion, writes about his rags to riches story, his fast ascent into super stardom at 19 in the late 50's, his fast lane lifestyle in the 60's (which led him to drug addiction), and his long and difficult sojourn back to the faith of his childhood.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who Bruce Springsteen once called the link between Sinatra and rock-n-roll, is now in his early seventies but still has that cool swagger he was known for in his early days and can still play and carry a tune with any new kid on stage.

In fact, he has never stopped writing and recording music since he first broke into the scene, and says he feels more relevant today than at any point in his life because, for the first time, he knows not only who he is but adds, he now knows whose he is.

Dion & The Belmonts
In the interview with Arroyo, Dion talked about his early influences, Hank William Sr. and Lou Reed, which, when fused (Country and Blues) became his rock sound, that started with a neighborhood group called, Dion and the Belmonts, after Belmont Avenue in the Bronx (I Wonder Why), and later led to a solo career.

When asked if he was happy after The WandererRunaround Sue, A Teenager in Love and a string of other hits, DiMucci says, "Getting a hit record is like being popular, or famous, or successful.  It's almost like a narcotic. It is like a narcotic. So, I don't know how truly happy (I was). You know, you get excited about a lot of things but deep inside, you get down in the core, when I was alone, and I wondered, is something missing? Yeah, the bankbook's full and I got the new car but who are the people in the car and how do you relate to them? And where are we going? We're making good time, but we don't know where we're going."

"I was very selfish, self-centered, now that I look back at it; inconsiderate, fearful, dishonest.  Who knew?  I thought I was God's gift to the world. But, deep inside, I think it was the bleakest, darkest period of my life. I was filling up the emptiness with the drugs and partying. I was running and it doesn't matter what kind of shoes you got on if you're running. I don't care if you're using alcohol, drugs, pills, you know, sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Whatever you're doing, you're running and it doesn't come out well."

During that time of heavy drug use, he decided to try to escape the vicious cycle he was in by moving with his wife, and high school sweetheart, Susan, to Miami. The couple moved in with her parents. He says that living with his father-in-law, who was a devout man of faith, made a profound impact on his life.

One day, Dion says he saw his father-in-law on his knees praying. It shook him to the core.  He says his father-in-law was an imposing and powerful man, who had many men working for him. He says that seeing his wife’s father on his knees praying to God and watching him live and proclaim his faith on a daily basis, started to chip away at him.

Despite being raised Roman Catholic in an Italian neighborhood, where he attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, he says, "I knew nothing about being Catholic. I knew nothing about my religion. I knew Father, Son and Holy Spirit and I used to cross myself when I walked in front of a church." That was the extent of his religious understanding. 

But, he says, a local parish priest used to call him over and challenge him on the faith by asking him questions and giving him words of wisdom that resonated within him years later.

"And, after all these drug induced years of searching, when I was at my bottom, what do you think I thought of? Mount Carmel Catholic Church, and I wondered, where God is in all this?"

After listening to his father-in-law talk to him about God and the importance of faith for so long, Dion decided it was time to reach out and ask God where he was in all this.

Dion says that for the first time, he got down on his knees in his room and prayed. He was never the same after that. He says he gave up drugs and alcohol cold turkey that day and started seeking God.

His journey began at an Evangelical church. He says he was reading the Bible for the first time in his life and it was reflected in his music. After his conversion, he recorded several gospel albums and was even nominated for a Grammy for two of them, “I Put Away My Idols," and “Bronx in Blue.”

Eventually, Dion says he started noticing inconsistencies in the way different Christians interpreted certain Bible verses and critical comments being made against the church that he had grown up in as a kid.

Although, eternally grateful for the understanding he gained on the Word and the love of Christ during 18 years in various Protestant churches, questions started to arise within him about those inconsistencies.

He recalls one verse in particular that haunted him, "The pillar and foundation of truth is what? The Bible itself says, it's the church. Now, what church, I started asking?" and it brought him back to the priest back home, who once asked him, "What is truth and who has the authority to define it?"

"The Truth shall set you free and it set me free. When I saw that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is who it claimed to be, you know, when I saw the center of the Church, and, I think a lot of people don't see that. They see this. They see that. I don't know what they see. But, they are not in the center of the Church looking out. They are outside looking in and yelling at it and beating it and cursing at it and seeing the dark stained glass windows. They are not inside it and seeing the beauty and the wonder and the mystery and the beauty of truth. I mean, it's mind boggling. I love the Church. Once you see it, because, it was started from above. It was started by Christ Himself."

"You always hear, we have to get back to what the Apostles, the original (church), the way they were back then. And, the Catholic Church is that church. It just doesn't look like an acorn anymore. I don't look like a baby anymore. You can't recognize me from my baby picture any more. But, I can assure you, it's the same DNA."

"I love defining stuff, like freedom. I used to think freedom was doing anything you want, especially, if you didn't get caught; regardless of the consequences to your wife, your family, your God, your country, your self and that's license. Freedom is the ability to choose the good. God's best. And, I was never free to do that. So, I have to work on it a day at a time."

Aside from his ongoing music career, DiMucci is currently involved in a prison ministry and helps men recovering from addictions. 

After listening to the full interview, I can say that Dion comes across as a man of sincere convictions with a great grasp of his faith. The Wanderer found his way home and, as he says, the Truth has set him free.

Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth is definitely another of the many books in my growing Christmas list.

Now, to see what else I can find in my DVR...

Watch more about Dion's life, music, relationship with John Lennon, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and what's next for him:


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