“Nad-ine/Honey is that you?/Aw, Nad-ine/Honey, is that youuu …
Seem like every time I catch you/that you up to somethin’ neeew …”
I ask about the transitions: doo-wop to rock star, to his religious phase from 1980 to 1987, and back to bluesman. “They’re not ‘phases,’ man. Doo-wop was full of blues for me. My rockin’ stuff, like ‘Runaround Sue,’ also had a base in blues. My ‘religious’ work, as you call it, is based in blues and R&B: Like ‘The Thunderer,’ on Son of Skip James, about my man St. Jerome, who was always gettin’ into people’s faces, that’s almost like a folk blues. If you haven’t been down that low, it may be hard to understand, but the best music is a search for truth.” He grins.
In the early sixties, Dion left the Belmonts to go solo, leaving lingering acrimony over money. They were too smooth and wanted to harmonize, and, besides, he wanted to rock.
“I moved downtown. I was hangin’ with Tom Paxton, the folkie, and John Hammond Jr., the white bluesman, in the Village. I grew my hair out. Started wearin’ hats and glasses. I wrote ‘Your Own Backyard’ and ‘Daddy Rollin,’ partly about kicking junk.” He grins. “Not too commercial, bro. So I found a relationship with God. Didn’t sell a helluva lot of CDs, but I won some awards and I felt better.”
He puts his guitar back in its case, and suggests that we go to Il Marco, his friend Mark Spillane’s “joint.” He says it has a kind of New York feeling.
Boca Raton is morphing into a pomo Los Angeles—real-estate insiders joke that they can’t wait for global warming to submerge Miami so that Fort Lauderdale–Palm Beach will mark the southern end of the Orlando-Boca corridor. It has many beautiful homes and mansions, especially on the seaside, and plenty of neoclassical gyms, banks, and restaurants, like the Battery since the nineties. But there is no focus.
For years, though Dion missed the grittiness of New York, he avoided the city because he worried that his old haunts might rekindle his old addiction. But he looks back on his Frankie Machine days with equanimity now. After he’d finished experimenting with born-again religions in the eighties, Dion again felt “comfortable” with the incense, candles, and little ringing bells of High Mass that he’d been brought up with.
And at the end of January, Dion and Susan will be moving back into the city, to a part-time apartment on Wall Street. “The city’s always the same, just faster,” he says. “Just walking those streets again, I can hear songs.”