Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Stratford’s resident recalls his life of adventure and brush with rock ‘n’ roll fame
“Life’s a big circle,” Allan Dias notes with a wry smile as he sits in his comfortable living room within a handsome middle-class neighborhood of Stratford, the town where he grew up.
But Dias experienced an adventurous journey around the world, including touring with John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) before he realized he wanted to return to his roots, to circle back to his old hometown. “It’s all about putting yourself in the right place at the right time,” Dias says. “If you have the right energy, a vibe that you put out, things happen.”
He is quick to add: “I didn’t settle. I did not compromise. I gave myself a shot.”
Dias, now 71, has a trim, wiry build; you know right away you’re talking to a runner. His manner is intently focused but affable as he looks back on where he’s been and what he’s done.
While he speaks, on a sunny afternoon in January, jazz music plays in the background. Dias’ guitar sits on a stand in the corner. Two Christmas stockings hang off the fireplace, emblazoned for “Allan” and “Emily,” one for his son who lives in Los Angeles and the other for his partner, Emily Karolyi.
Flash back to the spring of 1969 — Dias has just graduated from Stratford High School and he’s thinking: “Wow! I’ve got the whole world in front of me. I can do whatever I want.”
“This was a time of the youth movement — flower power, Black power, consciousness,” he says. “All of the youth of America felt free to express itself. We had this optimism of a bright future. I was excited about the future, and that attitude has stayed with me.”
Without missing a beat, Dias then says: “I wanted to be an automotive engineer. I was into cars. Still am.”
Dias went off to Villanova University to study to be an engineer. But halfway through, paying for tuition became an issue and he left school to become an engineer’s assistant in New York. He was on track to be a draftsman, and his company paid for him to pursue an engineering degree at the City College of New York.
“But then one day I came outside and I ran into a guy I knew from Villanova who was ushering at 30 Rock [Rockefeller Center]. He got me inside to watch musicians rehearsing, people like [guitarist] George Benson.”
Something stirred in young Dias. In high school he played acoustic guitar and later taught himself to play bass guitar. “When I was at Villanova, a kid I knew told me, ‘It’s too bad you don’t play bass. You could be in my band.’ I borrowed a bass guitar and quickly learned a few songs. I realized I had some innate talent for it.”
When that musician’s spirit was rekindled in New York, Dias went out and bought a bass guitar. “Within six months I quit my job. I could’ve had a good career in engineering in New York. It would’ve set me up for a good life. But I just couldn’t see myself sitting in an office. I didn’t want to compromise.”
Soon he was playing three or four gigs a week with a series of bands in New York and New Jersey. “I was groovin’ along. I had an apartment and a girlfriend. I was making a living.
“But there was something missing,” he says. “Deep down inside I needed to grow as a person. I was thinking about life in a more spiritual way. I decided to sell everything and go on this quest.”
And so for 4½ years Dias traveled across Africa and beyond. His journey took him through Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. “It broadened my horizons. But at some point I realized that was not me. I was a Yank. I was a Connecticut Yankee!”
But before circling all the way back home, he moved to London and immersed himself in the music scene. “London was bubbling with energy. I started jamming and going to auditions. I got to know a skinny drummer, Bruce Smith, who knew John Lydon.”
After his notorious years with the Sex Pistols, those pioneers of the punk rock movement, Lydon had formed Public Image Ltd. By 1986 he was ready to reassemble PiL and resume touring. Lydon said to his friend Smith, “I need a bass player. You got anybody in mind?” Smith suggested Dias.
“I met John at a pub one day,” Dias recalls. “We just had a conversation and learned we were on the same wavelength. Then he asked, ‘Do you want to come to a rehearsal?’ ”
The band members liked Dias, his “question authority” mindset and his sound. He was in.
Dias says the media’s portrait of Lydon as a snarling punk rocker is untrue. “He’s very insightful and aware. He came up with incisive lyrics, time after time.”
Dias also wrote a hit song for the band, “Don’t Ask Me.” He still calls this “one of the proudest moments of my career.” And it led to offers from music publishers to write more hits.
“I was set up for success. But the pressures and demands of that lifestyle just got to me. I was burned out. Partying, late nights, touring. Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll!
“I had to bail. My big fear was I was going to become a rock ‘n’ roll statistic. I’d seen it happen. A kid has a hit record and six months later he’s dead.”
Dias left the band and came back to Stratford in 1992. He checked himself into a rehab program. “I was grateful to have a second chance. I was myself again. It saved the rest of my life.”
His new life included getting back to running, which he excelled at for the Stratford High track and cross country teams. Dias is still fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which he says he will run in 2024.
Seven years ago, Dias celebrated his 65th birthday by running 65 miles from Manhattan to Stratford, a 12-hour journey. By the time he made it to Connecticut, it was getting much hotter (this was in May) and he was suffering from “blisters upon blisters on every toe. By Bridgeport, it was like walking on hot coals.”
But he adds, “It was a beautiful thing. I just had to believe in myself.”
He says when he’s running a marathon, it’s like he felt playing guitar on stage. “You’re floating; you’re in this zone. It’s a performance.”
These days Dias is satisfied to play his guitar at home. “I play for myself. It’s therapy.”
And on certain days of the week you can find Dias working at Tony’s Bikes & Sports in Milford, perhaps repairing a broken bicycle chain for a customer.
“It’s my ‘retirement job,’ so to speak. The bike shop has been the connection with my community for 30 years. It keeps me in touch with the present youth and it’s a way to give back for all that I have received over the years.”
“I decided to sell everything and go on this quest.”