It was at an Oldies concert in Hagerstown, Maryland where I met Dion DiMucci . . . or, as he's been known to millions of rock 'n roll fans for years, simply Dion. The show had been held in the auditorium of Hagerstown Community College and afterwards I was handed a backstage pass and ushered into the Inner Sanctum. Into the men's locker room, no less. Hey, to get an interview, I do what I gotta do.
I was surprised when we came face-to-face. I've always had an impression of Dion as a very dimunitive man. Whenever I've seen him on TV -- or even as I watched him from beside the stage earlier that night -- he appeared slight of form. However, standing before him, I saw that my impressions were totally off-base.
I'm not talking Arnold Schwarzenegger, yet as we came head to head and I shook his hand, I was struck by the strength of his handshake and the breadth of his chest. He's not built like a bodybuilder, but he gave the impression of a man who'd done his share of physical work and made a point of keeping his body in serious shape.
We sat on one of those two benches always in the middle of a men's locker room (I was learning FAR too much about men's locker rooms!) and I asked Dion about his work in the Christian music field. He was caught offguard that an "off-the-street" reporter would know anything about his Christian music career. After all, he'd just finished doing an oldies show.
"I've done about five Christian albums," said Dion. "It's really uplifting music. Songs are like a diary to me. I just write what's in my heart. Seems like what comes from the heart, gets to the heart."
He talked about his motivations, how and why he puts together his songs. For a man who has made his own forever place in rock history -- he's in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame -- Dion had no affectations. He was unencumbered by the usual entrapments of celebritydom. He was quiet, intent, very sincere. Despite the fact that eye contact was hampered by the dark glasses he always seemed to wear, the strength and conviction of his words conveyed their honesty.
"I'm not that much into money," he told me. "I've never done anything for the money. The music's where I feel alive. I'm not worn out chasing a dollar or chasing the fads. I've been very fortunate to be able to pay the rent."
That was an understatement, but I believed he meant it. He'd done what he did best all his career, and he felt grateful that he'd been able to make a living out of it.
I love New York accents. Listening to Dion, I could imagine that I was in Brooklyn, sitting on a front stoop, talking to one of the neighborhood boys. Despite all his travels and the options his fortunate life has provided to him, he still gave an impression of that streetcorner singer from Brooklyn that he truly still was. Such are his roots, "first generation Rock n' Roll."
But Dion doesn't live in the past. He talked about a new album he's putting together -- five of his own songs and five that he "found." Though most of his hit records came from that first generation, he stated firmly, "I have to keep expressing myself. In making new music . . . I'm not trying to do it. It's Dion Music. It's like breathing. I have to keep breathing. That's what keeps my spirit alive."
Dion was intense, but there was a lighter side to him. I caught but a few brief glimpses. For the most part, he was not one to play games. Emotions were important to him and that's what his work was all about.
However, during those few far-too-brief glimpses of an impish Dion, I was graced with one of the most beautiful smiles I've ever seen on a man. I don't usually notice a man's teeth -- I mean, it's not tops on the "Manwatcher's List" -- but I couldn't help it in this instance. Dion had a perfect set of bright white teeth. When he smiled, they transformed his quiet, serious face.
As I left that evening, I was very impressed with the man I'd met. Dion seemed to be a person of substance, intent, and great talent. My lasting image is his solid form and that "open-the-curtains-and-the-sun-shines-in" smile. To me, Dion DiMucci will always be a beautiful smile, and a thoughtful voice.