Generally Eclectic Review

Reviews of book on music - all sorts. Feel free to share your comments, criticisms, and replies with my readers!

Location: Fredonia, New York, United States

Feel free to contact me at mason2042 at gmail dot com

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

“Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth” by Dion DiMucci with Mike Aquilina (Servant Books)

“Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth” is not so much an autobiography - Dion wrote one of those several years ago - as it a collection of reminiscences and opinion pieces.

For the first hundred or so pages (out of 145), he shares stories from his childhood, his early career, his heyday, his lean years, his turn as a Contemporary Christian artist, etc. The stories are told, however, from a different perspective from the way they might have been told in the past. They reflect his current viewpoint, of what one might call a “born-again” Roman Catholic. This is definitely a man who has looked at life from many sides now, and who now feels the need to set the record straight.

With humor, sensitivity, and total credibility, he tells us about the travails of growing up in a dysfunctional family in the Little Italy section of the Bronx. His a father was a small-time entertainer (a part-time puppeteer) who was more interested in keeping himself physically fit than in getting a job to feed his family. We see little 10-year-old Dion discovering Hank Williams, soon taking his first steps into the music business by singing country songs to a big-city audience. We also find him hanging around bad companions, getting into trouble and, before long, falling prey to heroin. Yet he also talks about his relationship with a caring priest, who never stopped attempting to set Dion on the right path.

Some of the most interesting chapters deal with Dion’s recording career. His first recording was designed to make him just another teen idol, and really had nothing to do with Dion’s own style or musical preferences. We learn how Dion and the Belmonts got together, and how the other members managed to steer the group’s sound away from the sheer streetwise doo-wop of their first hit, “I Wonder Why”, to the more polished-pop sound of such songs as their biggest hit, “Where Or When”. He also tells his version - the true story, he tells us - of the flight which killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper, and it’s quite different from the many tales that have been recounted in the past.

Dion’s breakthrough days as a solo performer find him becoming a superstar with “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”. He reveals that the former song is NOT about his then-future-wife Susan, despite everything you may have read in the past. We find him learning about the blues from no less a significant behind-the-scenes figure than record producer John Hammond. We see him almost stumbling into the song which once and for all established Dion as a serious artist, “Abraham, Martin and John”. But we also witness the downward spiral of an angry and egotistical young man, who made a lot of money and achieved great fame, but seemed determined to shoot it all up in heroin.

Fortunately, his conversion to evangelical Christianity helped to straighten out his life, his marriage, and his career, at least to an extent. But something was still missing, and he eventually found his personal salvation in the same Roman Catholic faith he ignored as a youth.
It’s at this point that the book becomes somewhat problematical for me. I am not a Roman Catholic. However, my wife is, and I have attended Mass with her on several occasions. The Roman Catholic church I have encountered in this manner would seem to be “Catholicism lite”, at least in comparison to the brand of religion Dion espouses. I’m used to hearing reassuring platitudes and mild instruction, not hard-core Augustinian philosophy. Quite frankly, I had a hard time grasping onto Dion’s personal belief system in the manner in which he expresses it here.

But this is my problem. What Dion tells us in the final third or so of the book is The Truth as he believes it to be, which is exactly what he had been doing in the first two-thirds. He doesn’t soft-pedal his beliefs for public consumption, nor should he. He says what he wants to say in the way he wishes to say it. You have to admire that, you have to accept that, whether or not you choose to agree with it. This is Dion as he was and as he is, and what he has to say is certainly worth reading if you want a fuller understanding of the man.



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