The Wayback Machine

There’s a place where I live that draws me in like an old song. It’s a park-and-eat joint where a girl takes your order, then serves it up on a tray that hooks on to the rolled-down car window.

A big neon sign out front can be seen from blocks away. It says simply: “Eat.” What’s not to like?

I pulled in there the other day when spring had finally taken a victory lap. The sun was warm, the breeze was light, and you could smell the fries cooking a half-mile away. Some temptations just don’t play fair.

The cute young lady took my order, and I turned on the radio to the oldies station while I waited. The first song was Dion warning us all about “Donna the Prima Donna”:

“She always wears charms, diamonds, pearls galore,

She buys them at the five and 10 cents store.

She wants to be just like Zsa Zsa Gabor,

Even though she’s the girl next door.”

It was like I had crawled into the front seat of the Wayback Machine. Freshman year in high school, Dion on the eve of the Beatles and the British invasion, a greasy burger and a vanilla shake. I would not have been surprised if Connie Francis had strolled by and given me a little wave with her fingers.

Dion — Dion DiMucci — came from the old neighborhood, near Belmont Avenue in the Bronx. Mount Carmel Parish. He’s a legend of rock ’n’ roll, idolized by everybody from Bob Dylan to Paul Simon to Bruce Springsteen.

I love him for “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue.” I love him for his recovery from heroin addiction back in the early 1960s when nobody breathed a word about that stuff. I love him for every addict he has helped since. I love him because he is still creating great new music. I love him because he left and came back to the Church.

He tells great stories in “Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth” (Servant Books, $16.99). He explains that he didn’t know a word of Italian when he belted out a version of “Donna” that became a huge hit in Italy. He said that he found out later that the translator had changed the lyrics and added a lecherous bill collector to the mix.

Then there’s the story of his missing rock’s most legendary flight. On Feb. 3, 1959, while on tour, he said no to a $36 ticket to a plane that crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.

A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Dion has just received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Fordham University.

Dion had joined an evangelical church but found after time that too much was missing. He needed more. He came back when he met St. Augustine and the Fathers of the Church, the truths of the Faith, the real presence in the Eucharist.

In his book, he said that he knew what he had to do. “I took a cab to Belmont Avenue in the Bronx, and I went to Mount Carmel Church. I buzzed the rectory and asked the priest, Father Frank, if he would hear my confession.

“Of course he obliged. We went over to the confessional, sat down, and I said to him, ‘Father Frank, I feel like I’ve been persecuting Christ, the body of Christ, the Church. I didn’t know …’

“He stopped me in my tracks. ‘Dion,’ he said, ‘stand up.’

“I stood up. And he hugged me. And he said, ‘Welcome home.’”

As Dion figures it, “We’re all wanderers … and we all want to go home, even when we don’t know there’s a home waiting for us.”

The song ended, and the burger went down smoothly with the shake. Connie Francis never did stop by, but I sure appreciated Dion’s visit.

It was time to get home. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.

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