Editor’s note: Norman Dimitrouleas, local music legend, passed away a year ago today, on Jan. 9, 2016. Below is Dayton.com contributor and blogger Libby Ballengee’s tribute to Dimitrouleas, originally published on Jan. 15, 2016.
This week was devastating for the music community, with the passing of international legend David Bowie, and local legend Norman Dimitrouleas. At Norman’s service this past Wednesday evening, I was asked, “Why did David Bowie die the day after Norman?” Good question. Taking two of God’s own prototypes in one foul swoop hardly seems fair. I shrugged to imply I didn’t know. “Norm needed a lead singer,” they said. I have to say, the thought of those two in heaven together did make me smile on a really tough day.
Norman Paraskevas Dimitrouleas, beloved songwriter and keyboardist, died peacefully in his sleep last Saturday at the age of 33. The service for Norm started off by the funeral director announcing that in their entire 80-year history, this was by far the largest memorial attendance ever. People from all walks of life were standing shoulder to shoulder in multiple rooms of the funeral home to hear the service. It was truly overwhelming to see just how many lives Norman touched.
Afterwards, there was a musical celebration held at Canal Public House, organized by family, friends and the organization he helped found, Family Jam Productions. The amount of people RSVP’ing to the event required an overflow live stream simulcast to be broadcast at the neighboring bar, the Southern Belle, which was also packed with people. Across the country, over 2,500 people watched the simulcast with the Dayton music community, which is a true testament to the musical legacy Norman left behind.
Born with cerebral palsy, Norman overcame the physical difficulties associated with the disease by playing piano and studying martial arts. He excelled at both. After graduating from Centerville High School he pursued a full-time music career. He started off by hosting years of memorable jam sessions at Jags Bar near the Patterson Park neighborhood. Many great local bands were birthed from that era, including The Maji and The Werks, the two bands that Norman was best known for performing in.
Those early years were quite special, and when I first got to know Norman. He certainly had that elusive “it” factor, that’s for sure. Everyone on stage and in the audience could feel his passion.
In 2012, he explained to fellow music writer Taco Olmstead: “You know man, you look out there, and you see all these faces. Everybody is expecting something, so when I play, I try to capture those feelings, those thoughts, that energy. Because when you can grab that energy, and put it back out there as music, it’s like that moment just lives forever.”
That passion paid off. Shortly after he became the keyboardist for The Werks, they became wildly successful in the jam band scene. He was certainly one of the most exciting keyboardist to watch, and was praised by fans and fellow musicians across they country. The band toured nationally (and still do), playing festivals on the same bill with Stevie Wonder, The Allman Brothers Band, Trey Anastasio Band, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, just to name a few.
During his short life, Norman did more than I can ever hope to tell. During time off from touring, he worked very hard for his father’s company, Dimitrouleas Inc. He fathered two children, Paras and George Emerson, whom he loved dearly. He made countless friends, and would do absolutely anything for them. Generosity was one of his finest qualities. Did he have his faults? Sure. We all do. Sharon Lane, a mentor to Norman, recalled at the celebration concert that even when you were mad at him, you could never stay mad.
That was because Norman was fiercely loyal to what he referred to as “his people.” Even though he loved being a rock star, he never acted better than anyone else. His humility was endearing. He really connected with people. A mutual friend described him as the type of guy who would walk up to you, look you straight in the eye, shake your hand, and genuinely ask how you were doing. “He was so sincere, beyond sincere really. He was not fake in any way, and that’s what made him so cool.”
For those who didn’t know Norm, trying to describe him is simply an impossible task. People who ran across his path in public were perplexed simply by his appearance. He had long Jesus-like hair, wore gold chains and large gold rings on almost every finger, wore an oversize leather coat, and at times donned a cowboy hat. He had a unique style, and sported it with bold confidence. He’d talk to anyone, speaking in an accent that was entirely his own. He was a true character in every sense of the word. At the memorial, he was described as a cross between Elton John and Dr. John. That made us all chuckle.
To really know him, you had to experience his full throttle glory. He spent every minute in fifth gear, peddle to the metal, living more in his short time here than most people ever even dare to. The nickname “Stormin’ Norman” was definitely appropriate.
Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead stated about the counterculture icon Neal Cassady, “He seemed to live in another dimension.” I felt that way about Norman. Rules made by man or nature never applied. That’s one of the reasons he was so much fun to be around. Todd Stoops, fellow keyboardist and friend said, “He wasn’t the life of the party, he was the party.”
Norman and I shared the same best friend for almost a decade, and were therefore extremely close ourselves. We had the same style when it came to adventures, and we had some epic ones. That was during the time leading up to The Werks. Once he started touring, we saw each other a lot less. I was focused on my own career and personal life as well. When we did cross paths, our faces would light up and big hugs would follow.
In the last couple years we got a chance to really reconnect, and I’m so grateful we did. I’ll treasure those heart-to-heart conversations. He often encouraged me to be a band manager, and definitely planted the seed for me to get more directly involved in the music scene. I’ve been around enough musicians to know that being a manager sounded like being the referee in a 4-way marriage, and not entirely enticing. I decided to try promoting instead, and thus Venus Child Productions was born. Norman inspired a lot of people, me included.
What I personally loved about Norm was that he was not afraid to really LIVE. I’ve always cherished being around people whom Jack Kerouac described as “the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars." Norman was that epitome of that statement, and that's what I'm going to truly miss.
To those who knew him well, of which there are many, I share your grief. He took up a very big, and utterly irreplaceable place in all of our hearts. That’s why it hurts so badly. We all wish we could have saved him, but Norman blazed his own trail. He lived like a comet, and there is nothing we could’ve done to restrain that kind of star. That same quality is what we all loved about him, so we can’t blame him either. All we can do is love, celebrate and remember him, and boy did we ever.
I would like to extend the deepest thanks to Norman’s family, friends, fellow musicians and crew, who all dropped everything and pulled together such a beautiful memorial and stunning performance in just 4 short days. Hats off to you. Thank you for giving us that. At the memorial, you could actually feel hearts swelling in the room. The emotion for this man was palpable. The music celebration was one of epic proportions, just as Norm would have wanted.
Farewell for now, my friend. Lots of love to you. I’ll see ya on the other side.
Please Note: For people interested in donating to the Norman Dimitrouleas children's fund you can do so via PayPal to: firstname.lastname@example.org