At 82, Dion offers rock and roll light in the dark
Richard Aquila is Professor Emeritus of History at Penn State University, Behrend College, and Distinguished Lecturer at the Organization of American Historians. Specialist in the social and cultural history of the United States and former host of NPR’s Rock & Roll America, his latest book is Let’s dance! How 1950s America created Elvis and the rock & roll craze.
Dion DiMucci (c), with other Belmonts Carlo Mastrangelo (l) and Fred Milano (r), 1960
We live in troubled times. COVID-19[FEMININEPolitiquepolariséeChangementclimatiqueDestirsversl’ouestInondationsàl’estAfghanistanChasseursdeprimesd’avortementAnti-vaccinsLe6janviere insurrection. white supremacists. Black lives matter. The #MeToo movement. And, the lunatics on the right and the weirdos on the left spitting toxic nonsense on the internet and cable TV or rushing through the halls of government like deranged Keystone cops.
In the midst of all this desperation and madness comes a rock & roll beacon, offering light in the dark. Dion – one of the early rock & roll superstars known for her hit hits with the Belmonts like “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer” – recently released an album titled Blues with friends. Recorded at a time of plague, the album shows that the 82-year-old can still rock with the best of them. Not only does this demonstrate the important connection between the music and the time, but it suggests that the first line of “Runaround Sue” is just as valid in 2021 as it was in 1961: “Here is my story, this is sad but true…. ”
Blues with friends is anything but an oldies album. Dion – with the support of some of the best contemporary musicians including Paul Simon, Stevie Van Zandt, Samantha Fish and Joe Bonamassa, to name a few – offers 14 exceptional blues and rock & roll songs that resonate in those troubled times. Several avenues explore ways of dealing with life’s problems. “Hymn for Him,” which features Dion supported by Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen, offers a spiritual response to those seeking help. “Do you yearn for the time when you are safe and warm,” Dion asks, “are you seeking shelter from the storm of life? “Bam Bang Boom” features Dion’s intimidating vocals enhanced by the blues-influenced guitar licks of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. The song, carried by an irresistible rhythm reminiscent of “The Wanderer”, suggests that love can calm a worried mind. Dion’s New York roots serve as the setting for “Uptown Number 7,” which emphasizes that the only real path to happiness is at home with those you love. Powered by the sound of Brian Setzer’s rock & roll guitar, Dion sings, “I’m on Uptown Number Seven, I’m on Uptown, I’m coming home. He promises, “I will not go for any reason, until the end of my earthly days.”
Dion changes the pace with “Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America)”, arguably the best song on the album. His duet with Paul Simon reminds us that racial conflicts existed long before Black Lives Matter took root. The lyrics are reminiscent of a horrible race. relationships in the past, but also offer hope that one day we will overcome racism. Dion’s experiences on integrated rock & roll tours of the Deep South in the early 1960s sowed the seeds of his touching tribute to Sam Cooke. Dion never forgot one particular tour in 1962. Sam Cooke was the headliner, but due to Jim Crow laws he couldn’t eat in the same restaurants or stay in the same places as white performers or his white route team. More than half a century later, these haunting memories inspired Dion to write and record “Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America).” The melancholy ballad revisits this rock & roll tour where Sam has repeatedly shown dignity and bravery in the face of hotels, restaurants and separate racists. “You were the star, standing in the light. It won you nothing on a city street at night… here in America, ”Dion sings poignantly.
that of Dion Blues with friends The album has the same basic message as its 1968 number 4 hit “Abraham, Martin and John”. This song “came out of a desire to express some hope … in a bad situation,” Dion said in a 1995 interview for NPR’s. Rock & Roll America. “It just said, ‘you can kill the dreamer, but you can never kill the dream because it’s people like us who take it and carry it further.’
Just as Dion’s 1968 success gave hope to college-aged baby boomers after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, his current album offers hope and a way forward in a new period of despair. Blues with friends reminds us that music offers powerful ways to deal with life’s problems. Dion got it right when he sang on one of the tracks on the album, “I got the cure”.