The guy has amazing staying power, and in his 70s he still looks and sounds damn good in live performances. Here he is in 2004 singing I Wonder Why.
How can an old man still sing a heart-felt Teenager in Love? Because some of us old men still have young yearning hearts.
In an interview he said something like, "You need to marry a girl who will take you to heaven." Good advice; men need no assistance moving in the opposite direction.
Every red-blooded American male of a certain age can relate to his signature number, The Wanderer, which rose to the number #2 slot in 1961. Wikipedia:
Dion said of "The Wanderer":
At its roots, it's more than meets the eye. "The Wanderer" is black music filtered through an Italian neighborhood that comes out with an attitude. It's my perception of a lot of songs like "I'm A Man" by Bo Diddley or "Hoochie Coochie Man" by Muddy Waters. But you know, "The Wanderer" is really a sad song. A lot of guys don't understand that. Bruce Springsteen was the only guy who accurately expressed what that song was about. It's "I roam from town to town and go through life without a care, I'm as happy as a clown with my two fists of iron, but I'm going nowhere." In the Fifties, you didn't get that dark. It sounds like a lot of fun but it's about going nowhere.
The song may be superficial in its nonchalant machismo, but the man is not. He managed to negotiate the snares of stardom and wander back to the faith of his childhood via a Protestant detour thanks mainly to his religious experiences:
I was the first rock and roll artist signed to Columbia Records and naturally, expectations ran high. No expense was spared and no excuses accepted. This was the big time. I was getting $100,000 a year guaranteed — whether I sold a record or not. “Ruby Baby” and “Donna the Primadonna” were a great down payment: they went Top 5.
Still, even with that success, I was at an all time mental and spiritual bottom. Out of depression, we moved to Miami, looking for a fresh start. There, I would have the surprise of my life: I got to see God work through my father-in-law, Jack. Jack helped fan into flames the gift of God that was in me through the laying on of hands at my confirmation. I said a prayer one night there in Jack’s home: “God I need your help.” I was delivered from the obsession to drink and drug; it was just lifted off me like a weight. On that day, April 1, 1968, I became aware of God’s power, even before I became aware of His reality.
I entered a spiritual-based 12-step program and grew in these disciplines. Six months later, at the age of 28, I released one of the biggest records of my career — “Abraham, Martin and John.” It became an anthem.
But my 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 — thinking about the past, thinking about the future. 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.
Rest of the story here. Here he is not with the Belmonts but with some female back-up singers in a tune from 1960 that is ignored by the oldies stations. I heard it from the radio of a '56 Ford when I was ten and I loved it. My mother hated it.
Recently, Dion has been digging back into the roots of rock and roll.
UPDATE 9/22. Vito Caiati writes,
I loved your post on Dion, who grew up in the same neighborhood, the Belmont Avenue section of the Bronx, and parish, Our Lady of Mount Carmel (I was born next door to the church), as me. When I was entering my teens, he was already a success, and my girl cousins were crazy about him. He was sometimes spotted driving some sporty car, which was enough to send them into ecstasy. Many of my male cousins shared his early views on religion: "Catholicism seemed suited for old women and sissies. Real men didn’t need it." I was an oddity, since I took it so seriously. His story of finding faith is moving. He ended up in a good place.
And now we know why the Belmonts we so-called.
As for religion, I am always surprised at how readily and uncritically people accept the superficially plausible view that religion continues to exist only because of old ladies, children, sissies, and the crafty priests who get hold of gullible children and stuff their heads with superstitious lore in order to keep afloat their organizational hustle.
I am reminded of Jesse Ventura who some years ago offered that "Religion is for the weak." Many took umbrage and contradicted him.
But of course he was right. Religion is for the weak. Ventura merely failed to note the obvious: we are all weak and need help that we cannot provide for ourselves.
I develop the thought in Is Religion for the Weak?