When the rock stars you grew up with pass away, they take a piece of your heart and soul with them. It’ll never be 1979 again but whenever I hear Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That” I’m immediately transported back to my childhood home in Hagarville, Arkansas… listening to that song on KKYK-FM (K-Kick), the rock station out of Little Rock. 1982 is long gone, but whenever I hear David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” I hearken back to my freshman year at Xavier and hearing all the fantastic songs on Kevin Fagan’s cassette of Changesonebowie. 1992 is way back in the rear view mirror, but when I hear a Smithereens song – which isn’t often enough – I think of my time spinning those tunes at 97X in Oxford, Ohio.
Petty’s gone. Bowie’s gone. And now the lead singer of The Smithereens is gone. Pat DiNizio passed away Tuesday at the age of 62, after battling health issues over the past several years.
If you’re looking only for Top 40 appearances, The Smithereens catalog of tunes pales in comparison to Petty and Bowie. But if you’re looking for pure, unadulterated power-pop, The Smithereens could go toe to toe with anyone.
The music writer for the Buffalo News, Jeff Miers, wrote a wonderful appreciation piece for Pat, a woefully underappreciated garbageman turned singer/songwriter/band leader. Check it out here. I love this excerpt:
On Dec. 12, we lost a beautiful musician whose name is not likely to be mentioned on Entertainment Tonight or during the local news broadcast. Pat Dinizio, a former garbage man from New Jersey, wrote some of the finest power-pop tunes this side of Big Star and Cheap Trick. His band, the Smithereens, released a string of indelible guitar jangle-driven gems that actually became hits at the tail-end of the ’80s. Then the bubble burst, and DiNizio and his band-mates spent the next 30 years touring like madmen, releasing great records that only true fans and rock aficionados appreciated, and making a living through a string of club gigs and the occasional casino date pay-off.
The Smithereens represent the old music business model. They played scummy clubs, they became very good at what they did, they built a following one enthused concert-goer at a time. Their integrity was hard-earned.
I wonder where the next generation of bands like that will come from… or if they’ll even come at all. It’s all laptops and Auto-Tune these days. Pat saw that even back in ’88, in an interview with NPR’s Terri Gross:
There are hooks today in a lot of popular music, but it seems as though the song itself is being ignored in favor of writing songs around a beat or a drum machine.
I’m still a sucker for the type of hooks that the Smithereens mastered. Always have been, always will be. Even in 2017. R.I.P. Pat DiNizio. Long live rock.