1. Melissa Lindley
At first glance, Pat DiNizio appears to be just another somebody on campus, with
a worn woolen cap, faded blue t-shirt, sweatpants, and sneakers. He converses quietly
with several people by the doorway; chuckling at the odd joke and watching students
make their way through the halls to their classes. The 5 o’clock shadow of a growing
beard is peppered gray, his eyes weary and tired from months of touring across the
United States with a guitar in hand.
DiNizio is the frontman of The Smithereens, a power-pop band that originated in
Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Their 1986 hit Blood and Roses received a considerable
amount of airplay on MTV and radio stations, and they’ve released eighteen albums and
compilations since their formation in 1980.
Thirty-one years ago, DiNizio would have never thought that he’d be sharing
stories about life as a rock star with inquiring students. Raised in a working class family,
he grew up as just another kid who loved sports and pop culture.
“It was baseball, rock and roll, and motion pictures,” he remembers fondly.
He initially aspired to have a career as a writer, and graduated from New York
University with a journalism degree in the mid 1970’s.
2. “I always had an interest in words, and I found that I couldn’t write features very
well. And I couldn’t write short fiction or novels, so I distilled it down to its essence, and
I became a lyric writer, a songwriter in a sense.”
His change of heart led to his full time pursuit as a musician, and DiNizio formed
The Smithereens with friends Jim Babjak, Mike Mesaros, Dennis Diken, and Servero
Jornacion in 1980. For six years, the band struggled in obscurity, playing local gigs
around New Jersey and practicing day after day in DiNizio’s basement. Numerous
rejections from record labels left DiNizio frustrated and yearning for the band’s potential
to be recognized until they were signed to Enigma Records in 1986.
The Smithereens’ exposure into the mainstream happened unexpectedly. Enigma
had a dual partnership with the now defunct Cannon Films, which had them contracted to
appear on a soundtrack for one of the company’s productions. They gained notoriety
when their song Blood and Roses was featured as the theme song for Albert Pyun’s
thriller Dangerously Close.
The band’s break almost didn’t happen. DiNizio recalls finding out from the wife
of a lawyer at Cannon Films about their initial rejection.
“Apparently (the lawyer) hated the name (The Smithereens) and threw the
cassette in the back of his Mercedes, and it landed on top of a Big Mac wrapper or
something. His wife was pissed off because she had to clean the car out, and she found
this unopened cassette and liked the name The Smithereens and listened to it. Had she not
found the cassette in the back of the car, (Blood and Roses) would’ve never been released
as a single.”
3. The band continued to have some modest success on the charts throughout the
mid 90’s with songs like Behind The Wall Of Sleep and Only A Memory. While the group
still continues to tour and make records, they’ve struggled to stay relevant through the
constant changes and trends of the music industry. They’ve released a series of tribute
albums, and just released 2011, their first studio album since 1999. The tributes were a
combination of a new musical direction and musically thanking their influences, and
served as a way to finance a new studio album.
“(We’d done the tribute albums) for commerce. Nobody wanted to finance a new
album. I had a tight connection with the guy who ran the label and I’d said that I had
some new songs for a Smithereens album, and he said, “Let me see some demos.”
DiNizio has since taken the opportunity to pursue other interests and careers while
still keeping the band active and touring.
The 2000’s became a very busy period for DiNizio, with numerous projects and
endeavors keeping him on his toes. DiNizio was among the first to stand behind the
support of XM Satellite Radio, and became the host and program director for the XM
Radio Unsigned station, promoting up and coming musicians on the music scene. He also
ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate in 2000 as a member of the Reform Party.
His experimentation on the political scene was highlighted in his documentary Mr.
Smithereen Goes To Washington.
His childhood passion for sports and rock and roll was portrayed in his 2006
ESPN documentary 7th Inning Stretch, which followed the journey of his recovery from a
serious health condition and his tryouts with the Somerset Patriots. The documentary
4. features appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Joan Jett, and Cal Ripken Jr., comparing the
lifestyles of musicians and professional athletes.
Perhaps the most unique and satisfying deviation DiNizio has taken in his career
is the introduction of the Living Room Concerts in 2001. Growing disillusioned with the
direction of the music industry, he sought out ways to reinvent himself musically. He got
the idea while working in a grant program for aspiring musicians with Jim Beam. At the
time, he was working with a young woman from Spokane, Washington who needed
money to refurbish her tour van.
“When I queried her about the venues she was playing, she said, ‘I play house
concerts. I network and speak with my friends and supporters online, and I tour
throughout the Pacific Northwest. I pull up to their house with my guitar, and we sit
around the living room and I play my songs.”
DiNizio decided to take this idea and make it his own, and the tour became a
success amongst his loyal fans. He still continues the intimate approach that the band was
founded upon, playing stripped down acoustic sets and interacting with the fans that kept
the band afloat for so many years. From reliving his roots in New Jersey to playing to a
small Texas town of thirty-five people, the experience has made him realize how many
people he’s reached since the band’s early beginnings. As a teenager, he had several
negative interactions with the rock gods he idolized growing up, and swore he’d never
come across as arrogant or apathetic to his fans. It upsets him that many artists never
appreciate the impact they have on their fans or take advantage of the good they can do
“If it’s not real for me, people will see it.”
5. Today, DiNizio continues to be active with numerous projects. He is filming yet
another documentary about his journeys through life called Confessions of a Rock Star. It
premieres at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on November 2nd. While it’s
been years since The Smithereens have had a hit single, the music means just as much to
him now as it did thirty-one years ago. His passionate nature, determination, and refusal
to change for the expectations of others make him a unique presence in an industry of
self-indulgence and overnight exposure.
DiNizio’s lyrics are full of references to struggling, heartbreak, and falling in
love. Songs like Girl In Room 12 address a failing marriage, while others like Room
Without A View reflect the yearning to be someone. Each song he performs represents
another chapter in the story of his life. The only approach he takes is to write as soon as
he becomes inspired. He doesn’t approach his songwriting with specific goals, but rather
sees how his life can inspire him. For him, all he needs is desire.
“Someone said, ‘Why don’t you write political material?’ And I said, well, I do.
It’s about the politics of relationships.”