Allison Michael Orenstein
The musical artist pictured here had his first hit record two years before John F. Kennedy ran for president, a songwriter who paved the way for Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. The Boss correctly hailed this gentleman as "the real link between Frank Sinatra and rock 'n' roll." Can you give me the full name?
Yo, no more hints! It's Dion DiMucci, doo-wop son of the Bronx who recently released his 38th album, New York Is My Home, and a beautiful, haunting single of the same name, performed with Paul Simon. If you are, like me, an American of a certain age, you can probably hum a few lines of Dion's 1950s hits with the Belmonts, like "A Teenager in Love," or solo classics like "Runaround Sue," or his 1968 tribute to our fallen leaders, "Abraham, Martin and John."
Having ridden out the shock and tumble of more than a half-century in the music business, along with kicking a serious heroin addiction that began in his teens, Dion, at 76, has a few things to say about aging gracefully: "There are certain joys we only know when we're young," he told me. "There are others that come with age but seem to be off-limits to the young. Wisdom is precious."
Dion has for years been a deeply religious man who credits his Christian faith for his vigor and his success. "My whole life is a dialogue with him," he says. "My music is my response. It keeps me young, in a way."
You can label him a survivor, if you like clichés, but I would anoint Dion a 21st-century disrupter of society's expectations about aging. Like actor and Movies for Grownups Career Achievement winner Michael Douglas, who continues to grow and work into his 70s, Dion just keeps doing what he loves — "Making new songs is a deep need for me" — and pays little heed to his chronological age. Both men are also prime examples of the ethos that AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins lays out in her new book, Disrupt Aging, which is excerpted here. "No one's possibilities should be limited by their age," she writes. "Experience has value."
And experience teaches us to value the wisdom of our elders. Dion never fails to mention the blues statesmen he grew up listening to — Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Skip James — and early rockers like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers and Little Richard: "They gave me a wonderful foundation, and I still appreciate and respect that music. But I do live in the present and love the here and now. Life has always been full of wonder, awe and mystery to me. I still have a passion to learn and grow."
Robert Love is the Editor in Chief of AARP The Magazine