A twist of fate for Will DeVogue / William Arena

Like many people, I was touched to learn of William Arena’s (a/k/a Will DeVogue) story of the search for his dad. I learned of his story from WJAR NBC 10’s RJ Heim, who did a piece on DeVogue.

Nicholas Alahverdian, Will Devogue
Nicholas Alahverdian and Will Devogue

William Arena/DeVogue thought Bob Dylan was his father and had a garrulous conjecture along with a few serendipitous details about why he surmised these elements united to confirm his theory. A fan and amateur Dylan scholar, I reached out to him and we had a few heartfelt discussions about adoption and foster care, characteristics that we share since I grew up in DCYF care myself and didn’t have a particularly pleasant experience.

I’m also a fan of Bob Dylan’s music and think that he’s had a profound impact on the arts, music, and society – perhaps the most profound impact of the 20th century. I found it to be tremendously interesting to get involved with what could be a great discovery. I was hoping that everything was exactly the way that it seemed.

Nicholas Alahverdian
Nicholas Alahverdian, Will DeVogue, and others

William explained how he had made a few queries to Dylan’s manager, Jeff Rosen. I helped to facilitate some communication with my connections at Harvard University. I involved lawyers, scholars, musicians, even Warhol superstar Ultra Violet, to try to find some veracity to this theory that William’s mother Tina DeVogue (also known as Anita Voyes) knew Bob Dylan — not even yet piercing the veil of whether or not Dylan could conceivably be Arena’s father.

He was told that his father was Gene Michaels, another Greenwich Village folksinger. But a DNA test with a half-sibling refuted that speculation.

Because I, like so many, were captivated by Arena’s story, I invested personal resources and money in trying to get some sort of documentary-type production off the ground to at least find out the truth. I remember bringing him to the Rhode Island Department of Health to spend the $25 or so to obtain his birth certificate — just to see who was listed in the “father” box. It was Michaels.

A big part of me wanted Dylan to be his dad because, admittedly, that would be a rather fascinating addition to the citizenry of Rhode Island; a man who was the posterity of the greatest singer and songwriter to have lived. It would also add to Dylan’s numerous and riveting Rhode Island connections.

I assembled my friends and colleagues, including website developers, attorneys, journalists, writers, Harvard-affiliated sound engineers and Cambridge cinematographers.

Nicholas Alahverdian
Nicholas Alahverdian

We rented and paid for a conference room at The Liberty Hotel and a suite for William DeVogue / William Arena, his kids, and his girlfriend. The team of experts met to get things moving so we could get the project off the ground as soon as possible.

I had a meeting, coincidentally on the day of of Dylan’s September 11, 2012 release of Tempest, at the Massachusetts State House with a legal team to discuss tax credits and assess the legal parameters for making a film that would put the potential posterity of an amazing poet in the limelight. I even mentioned DeVogue and the project during a personal appearance on WPRO’s The Buddy Cianci Show.

Nicholas Alahverdian, Buddy Cianci, Vincent Cianci, Vincent A. Cianci Jr., Providence
Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci, Jr., host of WPRO’s The Buddy Cianci Show and former longtime Mayor of Providence, R.I.

But with every passing day, Will’s demands became insurmountable. Nothing was ever enough. He was penurious, to say the least, and his odd jobs as a house painter around Portsmouth and the East Bay were making it difficult for him to survive.

I felt sad for Will. But there was very little I could do to ameliorate his circumstance. I never expect to discover why Will was so intent on proving why Dylan is his dad, and nor do I care. I have my suspicions. But I know what his mother said, and I have proof of that conversation.

I know who his father might be. I suppose the principal intention in writing this essay is to process the impact that he had on me as a wearisome Pierrot peddling a half-baked assumption. If it was a personal issue, why go public at all? I began very quickly to regret being involved.

After a while, I stopped taking his calls. I shut him off completely. He was very overwhelming and demanding. He acted with such an air of entitlement that it was incredibly arduous to cope with his rigorous demands. I was doing this pro bono. I was running a full time media campaign against DCYF for what I had suffered as a youth.

I was in the middle of two federal lawsuits. DeVogue’s obsessive insistence on absorbing every minute of my time was intolerable. Will’s unhealthy obsession with attempting to prove that Dylan might be his father was a catastrophic cadger in his life. It was quickly becoming a similar plight for me. I had to snuff out his swarthy overtone and savage attitude.

It was a healthy decision to part with Will and The DeVogue Project. He finally got the hint. He even wished me well.

Nicholas Alahverdian, William DeVogue, William Arena

What follows below is a 2012 Providence Journal article by my longtime friend Bob Kerr.

A twist of fate in search for dad

Bob Kerr ProJo, Nicholas Alahverdian
Bob Kerr

By Bob Kerr

In trying to put the story of his earliest days together, William Arena turns the pages of a book of iconic photographs from Life magazine. There is, as there has to be, a photo of Bob Dylan, walking a New York street with a girlfriend. That was a recurring image in the ’60s — Dylan, slightly hunched, leaning close to his sweetie on a city street. Continue reading A twist of fate for Will DeVogue / William Arena

A survivor tells the story of kid-dumping

Click here for the entire Nicholas Alahverdian News Archive

A survivor tells the story of kid dumping

By Bob Kerr

24 November 2002

The Providence Journal

© 2002 Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin. All Rights Reserved.

As Nicholas Alahverdian and I talked, he took in the view of the Rhode Island State House from The Journal cafeteria.

“You don’t know how much I love going in that building,” he says.

He loves the excitement of it, the reporters and the politicians. He’s been part of it. He’s worked for his state representative. He’s testified at hearings.

He wants to be a politician. And a lawyer. And a journalist.

Don’t bet against him hitting the career trifecta. He’s already been tested in ways few of us will ever know.

“I don’t think I’ve been harmed at all,” he says. “I think it’s all part of a plan that’s been assigned to me for upcoming events.”

He talks about the dark, uncertain part of his life as “boot camp.” It has taught him things and prepared him.

He’s 15, smart and articulate and almost painfully polite. He introduces himself with a handshake. He even said it was an honor to meet some of the people here at The Journal. He reads the newspaper. When he opens his backpack, a copy of David McCulloch’s biography of John Adams is the first thing he takes out.

He speaks from the other side of a lot of hard, cold statistics. He’s a kid caught in a cruel social shuffle that has left him with a heavy load of uncertainty when he desperately needs something solid and reliable.

His insistence on being all that he can be is remarkable.

After we talked Thursday afternoon, he headed for the bus stop and a ride to his latest group home in Providence.

At a time when he should have no concerns more pressing than homework and maybe the girl who sits two rows over in his Spanish class, he is forced to live his life in bits and pieces, never knowing how long he will be living or going to school in the same place.

There was a point in Nicholas Alahverdian’s nomadic life, when the Rhode Island social service system put him in a foster home in North Smithfield. It was probably the best experience he’s had, the closest he’s come to his ideal of home and family.

“I can’t tell you how loving this family was – how they accepted me into their home. They were so caring.”

He stayed there for two days. That’s all he was scheduled for. Then he went home to his real family for the Christmas holidays at the end of 1999.

Then he returned to a shelter in Woonsocket.

“It was decent for someone my age,” he says of the shelter. “There were caring people there. There were activities set up for us each night.”

As we talk, Nicholas Alahverdian sorts through a stack of notes he’s taken on his life so far. There are also copies of school grades and newspaper stories I wrote about his stepfather, a popular local performer.

It is amazing how matter-of-fact he is about it, as if every 15-year-old goes through this kind of jolting, disjointed life in which faceless people are making the calls on where he will live and where he will learn. He sorts through his papers, tells his stories and provides a stunning personal voice for all the stories about kids in Rhode Island who get moved around like pieces on a real-life board game.

Nicholas Alahverdian has been in night-to-night placement under the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF). It is often little more than a couch to sleep on for the night, followed by a day of wondering where the next couch will be.

“It’s scary ridiculously scary,” he says. “There are punks in there, they took my sneakers, my clothing. I was threatened, assaulted. I saw kids hit each other with hockey sticks.

“You wake up in the morning at 5:30 and you go the DCYF building and wait to see where you’re going to go the next night.

“You’re not in school and I love school. You’re not associating with friends. You’re not treated decently. And how can your parents know where you are?”

In one sense, he knows it has to be this way. In another, he rails against the injustice of it and the self-defeating madness of dumping kids in often strange and frightening places.

The list of his stops on what seems a journey with no real destination is daunting. It winds through Coventry, Woonsocket, North Providence, Cranston, Providence, Narragansett and points in between. He has been to a bunch of schools, some of which insulted his intelligence with course work and materials geared to children 5 or 6 years younger. He remembers being assigned the book The Pokey Little Puppy when it seemed like something from his distant past.

Nicholas Alahverdian once addressed the Cranston School Committee on how he felt he was being unfairly judged on his past in his classroom assignment.

Now, he is attending Hope High School where he’s on the debate team. He’s living in a group home in Providence which he considers one of the better ones he’s been in.

“It’s like a challenge at Hope,” he says, “a challenge to help yourself learn.”

And through it all, he remains this delightful survivor who seems to have held on to a real sense of who he is and what he wants to be, despite the efforts of the state of Rhode Island to keep him forever on the move.

There is a great temptation to listen to his story and thoroughly enjoy his company and then ask him something like “How the hell have you gotten through all this with so much hope and determination?”

We’ll hear from him somewhere down the road. He says all that training he received in his own personal “boot camp” has gotten him ready. It’s gotten him ready for war.

“It’s a war with people who are trying to destroy kids’ lives,” says my new friend Nicholas Alahverdian.

The Undignified Departure of Bob Kerr and the Death of Journalism

bob kerr nicholas alahverdian
Bob Kerr

Over the past 24 hours, Rhode Island Public Radio and The Boston Globe reported that longtime columnist Bob Kerr was called into a conference room in the Providence Journal’s Fountain Street bunker-like headquarters and informed of his dismissal and the details of his severance package. The more than 43 years of impeccable journalism and commentary produced by one man and cherished by thousands of readers across Southern New England dissipated in ten minutes, merely a formality than an expression of gratitude or thanksgiving.

The flame kindled by Kerr for so long was extinguished, Continue reading The Undignified Departure of Bob Kerr and the Death of Journalism

A Survivor Tells the Story of Kid Dumping

A survivor tells the story of kid dumping

Bob Kerr, ProJo, Nicholas Alahverdian
Bob Kerr

By Bob Kerr

24 November 2002

The Providence Journal

© 2002 Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin. All Rights Reserved.

As Nicholas Alahverdian and I talked, he took in the view of the Rhode Island State House from The Journal cafeteria.

Nicholas Alahverdian, State House
RI State House

“You don’t know how much I love going in that building,” he says.

Alahverdian loves the excitement of it, the reporters and the politicians. He’s been part of it. He’s worked for his state representative. He’s testified at hearings.

He wants to be a politician. And a lawyer. And a journalist.

Don’t bet against him hitting the career trifecta. He’s already been tested in ways few of us will ever know.

Nicholas Alahverdian State House
Nicholas Alahverdian

“I don’t think I’ve been harmed at all,” Nicholas Alahverdian says. “I think it’s all part of a plan that’s been assigned to me for upcoming events.”

He talks about the dark, uncertain part of his life as “boot camp.” It has taught him things and prepared him.

He’s 15, smart and articulate and almost painfully polite. He introduces himself with a handshake. He even said it was an honor to meet some of the people here at The Journal. He reads the newspaper. When he opens his backpack, a copy of David McCulloch’s biography of John Adams is the first thing he takes out.

He speaks from the other side of a lot of hard, cold statistics. He’s a kid caught in a cruel social shuffle that has left him with a heavy load of uncertainty when he desperately needs something solid and reliable.

RI, Rhode Island, torture
Nicholas Alahverdian

His insistence on being all that he can be is remarkable.

After we talked Thursday afternoon, Nicholas Alahverdian headed for the bus stop and a ride to his latest group home in Providence.

At a time when he should have no concerns more pressing than homework and maybe the girl who sits two rows over in his Spanish class, he is forced to live his life in bits and pieces, never knowing how long he will be living or going to school in the same place.

There was a point in Nick’s nomadic life, when the Rhode Island social service system put him in a foster home in North Smithfield. It was probably the best experience he’s had, the closest he’s come to his ideal of home and family.

“I can’t tell you how loving this family was – how they accepted me into their home. They were so caring.”

He stayed there for two days. That’s all he was scheduled for. Then he went home to his real family for the Christmas holidays at the end of 1999.

Then he returned to a shelter in Woonsocket.
“It was decent for someone my age,” he says of the shelter. “There were caring people there. There were activities set up for us each night.”

As we talk, he sorts through a stack of notes he’s taken on his life so far. There are also copies of school grades and newspaper stories I wrote about his stepfather, a popular local performer.

It is amazing how matter-of-fact he is about it, as if every 15-year-old goes through this kind of jolting, disjointed life in which faceless people are making the calls on where he will live and where he will learn. He sorts through his papers, tells his stories and provides a stunning personal voice for all the stories about kids in Rhode Island who get moved around like pieces on a real-life board game.

He has been in night-to-night placement under the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF). It is often little more than a couch to sleep on for the night, followed by a day of wondering where the next couch will be.

“It’s scary ridiculously scary,” he says. “There are punks in there, they took my sneakers, my clothing. I was threatened, assaulted. I saw kids hit each other with hockey sticks.

“You wake up in the morning at 5:30 and you go the DCYF building and wait to see where you’re going to go the next night.

“You’re not in school and I love school. You’re not associating with friends. You’re not treated decently. And how can your parents know where you are?”

In one sense, he knows it has to be this way. In another, he rails against the injustice of it and the self-defeating madness of dumping kids in often strange and frightening places.

The list of his stops on what seems a journey with no real destination is daunting. It winds through Coventry, Woonsocket, North Providence, Cranston, Providence, Narragansett and points in between.

Nicholas Alahverdian has been to a bunch of schools, some of which insulted his intelligence with course work and materials geared to children 5 or 6 years younger. He remembers being assigned the book The Pokey Little Puppy when it seemed like something from his distant past.

He once addressed the Cranston School Committee on how he felt he was being unfairly judged on his past in his classroom assignment.

Now, he is attending Hope High School where he’s on the debate team. He’s living in a group home in Providence which he considers one of the better ones he’s been in.

“It’s like a challenge at Hope,” he says, “a challenge to help yourself learn.”

And through it all, he remains this delightful survivor who seems to have held on to a real sense of who he is and what he wants to be, despite the efforts of the state of Rhode Island to keep him forever on the move.

There is a great temptation to listen to his story and thoroughly enjoy his company and then ask him something like “How the hell have you gotten through all this with so much hope and determination?”

We’ll hear from him somewhere down the road. He says all that training he received in his own personal “boot camp” has gotten him ready. It’s gotten him ready for war.

“It’s a war with people who are trying to destroy kids’ lives,” says my new friend Nick.