2005-08-05 / Community

Dion and Lou Christie Hits at North Fork Theater

By Les Gardonyi


Strutting slowly down the theater’s darkened passageway and out onto the brightly lit stage, comes Dion, dressed in black. Black shirt, black pants, black socks, black walking shoes, black beret and… black glasses.

He’s only in his mid 60’s - so what’s with the mourning getup? There’s an electric guitar around his neck but he looks, walks (bops) and talks like a 1950’s “beatnik” - and we realize that the darkened passageway was really a time-warped-black-hole from which the “oldies” stars get to meet their fans again, and again, and again. A kind of rock ‘n roll Groundhog Day that we fans don’t mind repeating at the North Fork Theater’s entertainment experience. “You look good New York!”, he shouts as the five- piece band strikes up his 1963 hit, DONNA, THE PRIMADONNA. It’s familiar, but Dion’s delivery of the classic tune is lifeless and dull - like a mantra (Donna, Donna…). That number was followed by an equally hypnotizing chant of LOVE CAME TO ME, which brought on a few drowsy stares throughout the mixed-age audience. In all fairness though, the audience did eventually show… enthusiasm. “So good to be here with Lou.” - Dion tries to connect with his contemporary star-buddy (though the two of them were never seen together on tonight’s stage). Dion’s energy started to pick up as RUBY BABY was showcased by the band’s youthful rhythm guitar artist and the cowboy-hat-topped saxophone player followed by the honky-tonk style piano clinks that were brought to proper accentuation with some really great drum pops.

A member of the audience stands up with some comments that give Dion the opportunity to dialogue with us. He mentions his Bronx roots, his three daughters and how his “…wife got me going to the gym to move my fat butt! I used to be the Italian stallion -but now I’m the mini-gini”. The audience roars with laughter at his good natured self-effacing quips. A long way from 1958’s TEENAGER IN LOVE, the song still gets women to go up close to the stage in fawning adulation. But don’t take advantage of Dion’s good nature. As audience members shouted out a few requests, Dion’s retort was sharp: “What do I look like here -a jukebox?”. Taking a sip of bottled water sold at the theater, he complains “…$5.00 a bottle!?”.

But, that kind of complaint has saved his life in the past, when prior to boarding an airplane with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, part of the top rock ‘n roll luminaries of 1959, Dion balked at paying the price of an airplane seat. As a result, he didn’t board the ill-fated flight from which nobody survived. Strapping on his metal-string guitar, he mentions his early influence, Hank Williams, and proceeds to show us his versatility by playing a couple of excellent blues ditties. His best performance of the night was his 2000 release, KING OF THE NEW YORK STREETS, depicting his early ethics on the Bronx turf, “reputation & respect” while echoing the existential sentiments of his 1962 release contained in “THE WANDERER”. He seemed really psyched-up after that number and from that point on Dion DiMucci owned the night!

Introspection struck when Dion tried to segue into another of his songs. He mentions his religious awakening that started with a SWEET SURRENDER. The early days of fame and drugs were ruining every aspect of his life. Help from his family would put him onto the renewed path which he has seriously undertaken in the past decades. He has also recorded a number of gospel albums. So, his appearance as a beatnik, is perhaps not that “far out”. After all, the beatniks got their inspiration from the teachings of the beatitudes, a word whose root translates as “possessing an inward contentness and joy that is not affected by the physical circumstances.” Tonight, Dion’s soul-felt performance reflected all that as he progressively earned our respect and we acknowledged his well earned reputation with a standing ovation.

Lou Christie doesn’t just sing about lightning – he IS lightning! He just takes charge (pun intended) and sends out the music-packed bolts to his screaming fans with confidence and charisma. A bit more stout than in his earlier days (but then who isn’t), Lou Christie (born: Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco) at 62, remains true to the sound which he created in the early sixties with his falsetto trills and the occasional risqué lyrics. “I still want to rock ‘n roll with you!” he sings out in bravado fashion and the fans seem to love it -but there’s a disturbing chant which hangs in the air after each of his initial numbers that sounds like “ Boooo!, Boooo!”!? During intermission, I went over to a fan and asked why he was booing the star. “No!” he says…” We’re shouting, Louuuuuuuuu!”. (Ooooops! Never mind.)

Lou reminisces about the days of Mercury’s and Ford’s -vintage cars that were cleverly parked outside the North Fork Theater on memory lane creating that American Graffiti- mood. An uninhibited performer, Lou reaches deep into his trousers to demonstrate to the audience how he’s able to create the high tones in his songs that have made him such a hit. It certainly worked well through TWO FACES HAVE I, and LIGHTNING STRIKES. It was all easy-gravy for Lou from then on! All of the oldie music numbers were perfectly reproduced by the tight 8-piece band and the 2 talented backup female vocalists. Lou’s audience banter included mention of seeing Dion at 15 in a shark-skin suit and recollections of Lou’s old hometown near Pittsburgh, which he called “a wonderful place to leave ”. He reaches into his pants again as he begins to croon THE GYPSY CRIED with perfect falsetto pitch and his creative tempo changes. That song was a collaborative effort between his long-time muse, a 30-ish, classically trained woman named Twyla Herbert and the 15-year old Lou. He’s referred to her in the past as “a psychic gypsy”…hence the song? A controversial song in the uptight year of 1966, the lyrics to RHAPSODY IN THE RAIN had to be altered back then, so as not to be sexually suggestive. To clear that up tonight, Lou sang both versions with accentuated body movements - just so there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings! Singing a fresh rendition of BEYOND THE BLUE HORIZON brought lucrative memories because director Barry Levinson decided to use the song in the super-successful movie “Rainman”. It netted Lou his “first New York City brownstone”. Lou was definitely a happenin’ guy. But it wasn’t always like that. In the early 1970’s, after the tumultuous atmosphere of fame, bodyguards and drugs, he dropped out of the public eye voluntarily. He worked at odd jobs in order to put things into perspective, to be “ordinary” … once more. Then, in the 1980’s he came back with a new lease on life and started his creative juices flowing again, followed by a string of successes. He resides in New York City because of it’s creative atmosphere. His performance ended with the melancholic NEVER MY LOVE and Lou Christie’s speech with a sincere “Thanks for supporting Rock ‘N Roll - and me”.

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