Few people know about my intense love of music. I was well on my way to being a disc jockey when I heard the siren song of “Cars.” Admittedly, I have spent nearly every waking moment since then focusing on “Cars.”
However, my love of music never faded away even if “Cars” pushed it to the back of my persona. And, for me, it wasn’t just music but it was the musical storytellers that kept me spellbound.
I have little use for a rocking, driving beat. That’s just all noise to me. But a good story told via a song? I’m first in line. Guess that stands to reason because I’m a storyteller in my own writings.
When I grew up the musical story tellers of my early days were Del Shannon, Dion (DiMucci) and Neal Sedaka. Later singers like Neil Diamond and Paul Simon came along and then the greatest musical story teller of all time by my reckoning, Barry Manilow, arrived on the scene.
Now, one of those storytellers from my youth has re-emerged. At the very young age of 80 Dion has just released a new album. It takes a rare artist that helped define the early days of rock ’n’ roll that still has the creative vitality to release a star-studded new album in 2020, but Dion has done just that.
And, scattered among the 14 tracks he brought along a few of his compadres to help him tell the story. Luminaries such as Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Beck, Van Morrison, Paul Simon and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. No less than Bob Dylan wrote the liner notes.
In 1959, Dion was the fourth headliner on tour with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the “Big Bopper”); Dion opted out of the plane ride that crashed and killed the other three that night because he couldn’t justify the ticket’s cost of $36.
The emotional core of Dion’s new album is “Song for Sam Cooke” (Here in America) sung as a duet with Paul Simon. Dion wrote the song for his late friend Cooke, the iconic soul singer and author of the civil-rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come,” who was murdered in 1964.
Dion says that he wrote the song years ago and was thrilled to finally record it, only to find it strikingly relevant with the streets once again filled with marchers demanding racial justice.
“I’ve always had a gift for latching onto quality, no-BS people who take me to higher ground,” he says. “I think that’s why I’m here to talk to you at 80.”
Jim: I have said all along that the Pandemic of 2020 would define our generation just as WWII, the Great Depression, the Stock Market Crash and WWI defined previous generations.
Now, something else has come along to knock the Pandemic out of the headlines. I find it eerily haunting to listen to Dion’s words from more than a half-century ago and realize how true they still are today.
Dion’s song “Here in America” can be heard in the music video that follows. I hope you’ll take the time to give it a listen.