Pat DiNizio dies — Why the Smithereens’ music mattered to me
I can't claim to own the Smithereens' entire discography, and I'm too young to have experienced them in their heyday, but hearing about the death of Scotch Plains' Pat DiNizio, the band's lead singer, on Tuesday hit me unexpectedly hard.
For some reason, I've always gravitated toward the music of the '80s, even though I only lived through two-and-a-half years of the decade. By the time I finished high school, with digital downloading — both legal and yes, I admit, illegal — at my fingertips, I'd built up quite a collection.
But there were inevitably some bands, and some songs, that fell through the cracks. The Smithereens, who came together in Carteret in 1980, were one of those. I'd been raised on Jersey artists: Springsteen and Bon Jovi, Whitney and Sinatra. How had I missed these guys?
So, I must have been about 18 or 19 and sitting around flipping channels one day when I came upon VH1 Classic (now MTV Classic — and it actually shows videos!). A video slowly faded onto the screen, black-and-white but tinted various shades of blue, along with a bass line unlike anything I'd ever really heard. It was "Blood and Roses," the centerpiece of the Smithereens' 1986 full-length debut, Especially for You.
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I could not get enough of this song. It haunted me for days, weeks, with DiNizio's brilliant leadoff line in the chorus, "I want to love, but it comes out wrong," ringing in my ears. No wonder Kurt Cobain was such a huge fan. This was an earlier, cleaner version of Nirvana, specifically Nevermind, but just as mysterious.
Cut to my college radio station, a year or so after that. I found an original vinyl copy of Especially for You in the back room, a relic from radio shows some two decades prior, and boy did I play the heck out of that thing (whatever wasn't scratched). And in fact, when I returned to that station as an alumnus to host a weekend '80s show, I played 1989's "A Girl Like You," the Smithereens' biggest hit, on my first night as a nod to New Jersey and the station's history.
Over the last couple of years, driving into Pennsylvania on Route 202 on the way to see my in-laws, I've passed the New Hope Winery countless times. The sandwich board out front, more often than not, would be advertising an upcoming appearance by the Smithereens, and I always said to my wife that we should check them out. Sadly, that never materialized, and now their main voice has been silenced.
But from a distant admirer, thank you, Pat DiNizio, for the 30-plus years of terrific songs, and what you invaluably added to the New Jersey music scene.
Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. From 2006 to 2009 and again from 2011 to 2014, he hosted a late-night '80s music program on WTSR, the student-run radio station at his alma mater, The College of New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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