25 January 2006

Just a number, baby

Last night I bought an amazing thing on iTunes: Dion's new LP, Bronx in Blue. Have you heard about this?? Former doo-wopper (deservedly famous for the raunch that is "The Wanderer," and a bunch of other classics), morphs into plaintive folkie after Dylan hits ("Abraham, Martin and John"), slides into heroin disuse in the confusion of the 60s, and then works his way back into the biz via gospel, then blues. In the '90s I got his Christmas LP, and that was radical enough--the crag of his distinctive voice, combined with wistful awareness of how special it is to stop the world awhile, and realize it's Christmas. Definitely the first CD I pull out on December 15th, when it's time to launch the yule mood.

Dion is 66 years old now. And he's grabbed a resonant acoustic guitar, snagged a playlist of the most down-and-filthy blues ever written, and ripped 'em out into an album. You would never, ever know how old this man is by the sound of his voice and his guitar, friends. Dion is a playa. He's ready...he wants it...he's going after it. He inspires me to believe that age, yeah, is an inconsequential concept. I always try very hard to live by this credo...and here comes a new patron saint of defying convention.

I think what I love the most about Dion is his New Yorkness. I know where he comes from: the ridiculous self-confidence in the face of the odds, the swagger and sway, and the ability to see beauty in unlikely places. The street-corner jive of unaccompanied voices in harmony...magical.

Coincidentally, I also recently bought A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, by Dito Montiel—a memoir of growing up in my old neighborhood, Astoria, Queens. Honestly...I have not cracked it open yet. I'm kind of flinching about reading it, so I keep just touching the cool, shiny cover but not letting myself in. I have long aspired to capture Astoria in literary form, and here comes an upstart (yeah, younger than me) to not only get the book published, but also to get the movie made (coming soon, starring Robert Downey, Jr. Filmed on location. Sigh.) But I must get past the ego-jealousy, and allow myself to sink into flowing nostalgia for that unforgettable place. After all, how amazing is it that someone else valued it as much as I, to center a book on the neighborhood's influence on his life?
Queens in Green...okay, a little. Queens in Beautiful Blue...ah, forever.

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