DECEMBER 12, 2017 -Singer/songwriter/musician PAT DiNIZIO (b. October 12, 1955 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey) died while recovering from injuries sustained during a fall. The news came as a shock to Smithereens fans as the band just announced they were about to head out on a tour in January.
The trek included a date at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey with Scandal.“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Pat DiNizio, lead singer and songwriter of the influential New Jersey rock band, The Smithereens – America’s Band. Pat was looking forward to getting back on the road and seeing his many fans and friends. Please keep Pat in your thoughts and prayers,” read a post on the band’s Facebook page.
“Today we mourn the loss of our friend, brother and bandmate Pat DiNizio. Pat had the magic touch. He channeled the essence of joy and heartbreak into hook-laden three minute pop songs infused with a lifelong passion for rock & roll. Our journey with Pat was long, storied and a hell of a lot of fun. We grew up together. Little did we know that we wouldn’t grow old together. Goodbye Pat. Seems like yesterday.” Shortly after the band posted the sad news, several radio personalities and musicians expressed their grief on social media.The group was forced to cancel three fall tour dates after DiNizio sustained injuries from a fall in his home in September.
When fans expressed concern on his Facebook page, he calmed fears writing “Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated! Trust me, I am not on my deathbed or anywhere near it.”DiNizio was previously injured in 2013 after slipping on ice outside of his Scotch Plains home. The injury required surgery to repair damage to his nerves in his right arm and hand, preventing him from being able to play his guitar. Smithereens supporter Victor Erlanger and the group’s fanbase rallied to help DiNizio pay for his surgery with a GoFundMe campaign, an effort that touched the singer, who expressed his feelings in song with a cover of “Days” by The Kinks.DiNizio formed The Smithereens in 1980 with Diken, singer/guitarist Jim Babjak, and bassist Mike Mesaros. DiNizio was working in his family’s trash-hauling business when he placed a classified ad in The Aquarian Weekly looking for a drummer to help on a demo tape After Diken answered it, he later introduced his schoolmates Babjak and Mesaros as well.
The band’s name comes from a Bugs Bunny cartoon when antagonist Yosemite Sam yells “Varmint, I’m a-gonna blow you to smithereens!”The Smithereens were known for writing and playing catchy 1960s-influenced power pop. Such songs as “A Girl Like You,” “Blood and Roses,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and “Only A Memory” were radio-friendly and instantly memorable. The group gained publicity when the single “Blood and Roses” from their first album “Especially for You” (1986) was included on the soundtrack for “Dangerously Close” and the music video got moderate rotation on MTV. “Blood and Roses” was also featured on the 1980s TV show “Miami Vice” during the episode “The Savage” that first aired on February 6, 1987.
The “Especially For You” album today is highly regarded by most critics, and was one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite albums, as noted in his journal.The group spent some of its initial semi-celebrity phase defending itself in Rolling Stone against thinly-veiled accusations of sounding too much like the Byrds and the Beatles, pointing out that its Marshall amp-heavy live sound was closer to heavy metal than it was to the Beatles. Along with a basic Eastern-coast roots-rock sound that owed much to the inspirations of DiNizio, including the Who, the Clash, Elvis Costello, and Nick Lowe, the Smithereens deployed a uniquely retro obsession with Mod, the late British Invasion pop of John’s Children and the Move, and other artifacts of 1950s and 1960s culture that lent its music substance. But DiNizio had stated that his single biggest influence was Buddy Holly: “Listening to Buddy Holly, I rediscovered my enjoyment of simple pop structures and pretty melodies….I’ve always thought of him as a kindred spirit.”The title and lyrics of their song, “In a Lonely Place,” appear to be based on the 1950 Humphrey Bogart film of the same name because of Bogart’s lines: “I was born the day I met you, lived a while when you loved me, died a little when we broke apart.” The title and artwork for the album “11” were a nod to the original 1960 “Ocean’s 11” film.
The Smithereens starred as themselves and were featured as the entertainment in the indoor beach party scene of the Troma film “Class of Nuke ‘Em High” playing the song “Much Too Much.” The soundtrack to the film was not released until 2014.The highest position a Smithereens album attained on the Billboard pop charts was in 1990, when “11” peaked at #41 on the strength of the #38 single “A Girl Like You” which was originally written to be the title track for the 1989 Cameron Crowe film “Say Anything…”Despite a decline in popularity after the rise of grunge acts in the early 1990s, the group remained active and toured frequently. The basic tracks for their latest studio album of original material, titled “2011” were recorded in early October 2010 and the album was released on April 5, 2011. They were the final band to perform at the fabled Bleecker Street nightclub Kenny’s Castaways in Greenwich Village, New York City, in October 2012. In June 2013, The Smithereens toured as support for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Original bass player Mike Mesaros reunited with the band for a few performances in late 2016 and early 2017.Apart from his work with The Smithereens, DiNizio also released a number of solo albums, “Sounds and Songs” (1997), “This is Pat DiNizio,” a collection of cover songs arranged for piano and vocals (2006), “Revolutions” (2 CDs plus 1 DVD, limited edition of 300 copies, 2006), “Pat DiNizio” (2007), and “Pat DiNizio/Buddy Holly” (2008). An expanded 2-CD version of “This is Pat DiNizio” was issued in 2011.Hyper-creative, DiNizio was not content with his recording success. He made his own independently produced film, “King Leisure,” and in 2000 made an unsuccessful run for the New Jersey seat of the United States Senate, running on the Reform Party ticket. He finished 4th with 19,312 votes (0.64%).
The campaign was chronicled in the 2001 documentary film “Mr. Smithereen Goes to Washington.” The same year, he launched the “Living Room Tour,” a five-month jaunt where he performed solo, by request only, in the homes of fans. The tour was a success, and he still occasionally booked similar concerts for a nominal fee. DiNizio’s music appeared on numerous film soundtracks, including “Bull Durham and “Backdraft.”In 2001, DiNizio was one of the first musicians to throw his support behind XM Satellite Radio, becoming host and program director for the XM Radio Unsigned station. He was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards’ judging panel to support independent artists. In 2006, he was the focus of 7th Inning Stretch, an ESPN2 reality special. The special focused on DiNizio’s recovery from a “life-threatening and debilitating nervous disorder” by training and attempting to try out for a Minor League Baseball team (The Somerset Patriots), along with tales of baseball folklore from other musicians such as Joan Jett, Gene Simmons, and Bruce Springsteen.
DiNizio also released an audio book titled “Confessions Of A Rock Star” and continued to perform both solo acoustic shows and with The Smithereens. From November 2011 to June 2012, he presented a condensed, live adaptation of the book (with storytelling and full band accompaniment) in nightly performances at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.