The New York Times quoted Yours Truly for the first (and surely last) time today.
Actually, the Times quoted Rock n Roll Hall-of-Famer Dion quoting me on the subject of St. Jerome.
An Italian-American bluesman records a song in Florida. An Irish-American disc jockey plays it at a radio station in Woodstock, N.Y. He tells a friend from his old neighborhood in the Bronx about the song. And before you know it, Mexican teenagers whose families replaced the Irish in the tenements and row houses of Mott Haven are tapping their toes to the tune.
Some song? You bet. Consider this: The song is “The Thunderer,” an homage to St. Jerome, an irascible scholar and a pillar of the early church. The singer? Better known for “The Wanderer.”
But Dion DiMucci, the Italian-American doo-wop legend from Belmont who goes by his first name, was only the messenger. The real link between him, the D.J. and Mott Haven is the parish church in Mott Haven, named for St. Jerome, which was the boyhood church of the Irish-American D.J., Big Joe Fitz.
Big Joe told the Rev. John Grange, a childhood friend and the current pastor of St. Jerome’s, about the song. He played it at Mass and at other events, and it caught on. Now he plans to make up shirts for the parish teams declaring themselves “The Thunderers.”
Dion, 68, who won fame early as the leader of a teenage group that toured with Buddy Holly, was touched by the gesture.
“That is amazing that a guy like St. Jerome who lived in the fourth century could bring people together,” he said. “Sometimes you think people are dead and forgotten. But they can actually bring you together in the best way.”
The song, from Dion’s 2007 album “The Son of Skip James,” is based on a poem by Phyllis McGinley, also titled “The Thunderer.” In it, Jerome emerges as difficult as he was smart:
God’s angry man,
His crotchety scholar
Was Saint Jerome,
The great name-caller
Who cared not a dime
For the laws of Libel
And in his spare time
Translated the Bible.
Dion had long been familiar with a quote of St. Jerome’s: “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” He had casually mentioned that line to a friend, Mike Aquilina. Mr. Aquilina replied, “The Thunderer.”
“I said to myself, there is no such word,” Dion recalled. “But Mike told me about the McGinley poem and who St. Jerome was, how he translated the Bible from Greek into Latin. Then he translated it from Hebrew into Latin.”
But the saint wasn’t always perfect, Dion learned.
“He was a pretty uppity guy,” Dion said. “He was intolerant. He was so bright, he was like, ‘C’mon, get over it!’ He couldn’t be around people, so he lived in this cave.”
How could he not like a person like that?
“I thought you had to be humble to become a saint, but a priest told me it takes all kinds to make it to heaven,” he said. “I figure he’s like us, a little like us. Not that I’m a scholar or an academic, but you go ‘Wow! I got a chance.’ ”
Gosh, I want one of those tee-shirts. And you want to own an MP3 of that song about St. Jerome, if you don’t own it already! You can get it on Amazon or on iTunes.
When I found out I was quoted in the New York Times, I felt like Steve Martin in that great scene in The Jerk. He gets his name in the phone book and jumps for joy, shouting, “I’m somebody! I’m somebody!” The camera then does a quick cut to a psychopathic killer, armed to the teeth, opening a phone book to a random page.