Smithereens, with PD at left: photo courtesy of Star-Ledger
Only a Memory
Tribute by Peter Crigler
When I heard of the passing of Pat DiNizio, singer and songwriter of New Jersey's best musical export since Springsteen, The Smithereens, I was crushed. He had suffered a myriad of health issues over the years including nerve damage and numerous falls but through it all, the band kept touring, remembered by those who loved to reminisce about their youth in the eighties as well as those who just love timeless rock music.
The year was 1999, my friends and peers were listening to the following: Korn, Insane Clown Posse, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, Orgy and Rammstein, among others. Clearly, I needed to hear something better. Around this time, I was watching a lot of VH1 because I was different. It was around this era I was also perusing the cassette collection of my public library and through this, I discovered Sugar, Violent Femmes and The Dead Milkmen. But I was also watching "Where are They Now?" on VH1 and one day, there was a piece about this band called the Smithereens. I was 13 or so and wasn't very familiar with them but I liked what I heard in the brief snippets of various songs that were played.
Cut to a few weeks later and I was visiting Echoes, the closest record store to home and lo and behold I found Blown to Smithereens, a best of compilation their label Capitol had put out around 1995. I took it home and put it on. Right away from the opening bass riff of "Blood and Roses," I was blown away. Simply put, Mike Mesaros' lick is one of the most identifiable bass riffs of the alternative, 'new wave' era. From that 1985 track, the band only got better, heavier and more eclectic. From the bossa nova "In a Lonely Place," inspired by the Humphrey Bogart classic and featuring a duet with Suzanne Vega to the crunching rock of "House We Used to Live In" and "Only A Memory" to the full on rock assault of "Top of the Pops" and the pop songcraft of "Yesterday Girl" and the top 40 hit "Too Much Passion," they proved time and time again that they were in this music thing for keeps.
I listened to this disc religiously all throughout high school and when I started buying vinyl, one of the first records I was able to find was Especially for You, a landmark record if there ever was one. Once I moved on to college, I sort of put the band aside and moved on to other bands but I always kept "Blood and Roses" very close by. By this time, the band had been out of the record racks for some time but came back with a complete re-recording of Meet the Beatles! in 2006. I remember liking "This Boy" but had really lost interest in the band by this point. I had already moved into a punk and hardcore movement that had swept me up but over the years if I was in a thrift store or used CD emporium, if I came across a Smithereens disc, I would pick it up.
Cut to a few years ago, I was in some thrift store and came across a copy of Blow Up and picked it up. I had forgotten how good "Top of the Pops" was with its powerful drumming and undeniable chorus. There's also a fantastic little pop song "Anywhere You Are" that just encapsulates all that was great about the band and DiNizio's songwriting. Then just about two months ago, I finally found Attack of the Smithereens, a long out of print B-sides and rarities compilation Capitol put out the same time as the best of. Kicking off with a recording from their first EP, "Girls About Town," the record shows off all the band's influences including covers of The Kinks, Beau Brummels and many others. One of the cool takeaways is an acoustic take on "Maria Elena" a track from 1989's 11 that serves as a dedication to the late Buddy Holly's widow. Just amazingly beautiful and stunning all at once.
In recent years, DiNizio had had some health concerns but the band persisted and kept playing. Not too long ago, I went back to my greatest hits CD and began listening to "Beauty and Sadness," one of the band's earliest recordings and without a doubt, one of their best tracks. All it did was prove to me how interesting this band was and how fascinating it is that I can still find great things from them.
By 2017, I was working on a book about alternative rock in the '80s and '90s and was trying to get in touch with the band to get their insight on sometimes being labeled as 'alternative rock.' But unfortunately, none of my communications got through to the band so I decided to move on without them. Then I got the news that DiNizio had passed away. I, like a lot of other fans was completely shocked, he had just posted on Facebook three days earlier about getting better and wanting to get back on stage and see the fans again.
It's still hard to believe that he's gone and while we don't yet know what the future holds for the Smithereens, their legacy is secure in the hearts of those who like plain, ol' fashioned rock and/or roll. I just wanted to express how discovering and listening to the Smithereens when I was still a pimply middle schooler in 1999 helped expand my musical horizons and start my path towards musical enlightenment. Without their help, I don't think I would've wound up where I currently find myself musically. Thank You Pat DiNizio for your incredible songwriting and vocal ability, you helped me see what was possible in the world outside of "I did it all for the nookie."
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