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The Truth About Dion

Catholic writer talks about his work with rock legend

Dion. For a generation of rock fans, the name stands alone for the Bronx kid who became one of the industry’s biggest stars beginning in the late 1950s, with songs like “The Wanderer.”

He wandered from his Catholic roots, battled drug addiction, alcohol and ego, yet had a profound conversion experience that brought him back to Christ and then the Church. He tells the story in the 2011 book Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth (Servant), written with veteran Catholic journalist and evangelist Mike Aquilina.

Fathers for Good spoke with Aquilina about meeting Dion, their musical collaboration and plans for future projects.

Fathers for Good: Did you grow up listening to Dion?

Mike Aquilina: Yes I did, though I was surely on the young edge of his fan base. I was the youngest kid in a big family, and my sisters grew up on Dion’s music. My brother played in a rock band, and he listened to everything. When I left home in 1981, I was the owner of all the 45-rpm records that had survived the sibling exodus. And there was Dion.

Our family lived in an Italian-American neighborhood, much like the one where Dion grew up. We still felt a bit like the new kids on the American block. Artists like Dion let us know that we had arrived and we could go far.

FFG: As an Italian-American Catholic writer, is collaborating with Dion a dream come true?

Aquilina: No doubt about it — and not just because I’m Italian-American. Mine was the generation that grew up on rock and roll. It’s a rush to be working with one of the first members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Dion was inducted with the Rolling Stones.

FFG: How did you meet?

Aquilina: Scott Hahn introduced us. We were all on pilgrimage in Rome. I brought along my 45-record of “Abraham, Martin and John,” Dion’s soul-searching ballad from 1968. When I asked Dion to sign it, a young girl said to her mother: “What’s that?” Her mom replied: “It’s kind of like an old-fashioned CD.”

Dion gave his testimony while we were in Rome. He told how he had overcome heroin addiction and alcoholism and found his way back to the Catholic faith. I was deeply moved. He and I talked a lot on that trip — about our common background, and about the music we both loved. And we stayed in touch afterward. I would visit Dion and his wife, Susan, whenever I was speaking in their area.

FFG: How did you start your collaboration?

Aquilina: Servant Books, my publisher, asked Dion to write a memoir. Dion told them he’d do it only if he could write it in collaboration with me. How could I turn that one down? We produced the book in short order, Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth. It’s a book full of stories, humor, and music. That’s Dion.

FFG: What have you done together thus far?

Aquilina: Well, the book was all I planned to do. But, one day shortly after the book came out, Dion called me and said: “I want to sing a song with the line ‘I read it in the Rolling Stone.’ Why don’t you try to write that song?”

Well, I had no experience writing songs. But I took it as a dare, and I wrote the song. He loved it, and the next day asked me to write another. I ended up collaborating with him on half the material on his critically acclaimed album Tank Full of Blues.

FFG: Future plans?

Aquilina: We’ve worked together on another album’s worth of material. Dion’s right now recording those songs with an all-star lineup of musicians and singers. It’s tentatively titled Gangster of Love, and it should be out in early 2015. As they say in the business: Stay tuned!

Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth is available from Servant Books.