To my ears, the Smithereens were the band that sounded most like the bands I would go see when I was growing up here in Syracuse. A band that while maybe not punk, their sound was informative that punk had happened. Let me explain.
For so many bands I loved back in my youth, many of them had a punk rock ethos, loud, fast, DIY. But they took that ethos and meshed it with other music they loved, be it the Beatles, The Who, The Kinks or (in one notable case) The Raspberries.
The result was an infectious bouillabaisse of punk rock urgency with catchy melodies, clever lyrics, and hooks a plenty.
The Smithereens fit that recipe like a well worn leather jacket and a brand new pair of Chucks, and the voice of the band, the front man and songwriter, Pat DiNizio wrote a steady stream of good old fashioned heart on the sleeve rock n roll. Sadly Pat passed away last night at the age of 62.
It had to be 1986 or 1987, the Smithereens were booked to play here at a local rock club. I went with my buddies and as was our practice in those days we opted to drink beer in the back parking lot rather than pay the club’s way too expensive beer prices and deal with the club’s way too surly staff.
We had a cooler of PBR back there and a GE boombox. We created our own happy hour. That night a van pulled back there and out of it stepped Pat DiNizio. We offered him a beer which he accepted and sat with us for about 25 minutes just shooting the shit about music, touring and he asked us what the band should open with that night. The consensus was “Behind The Wall of Sleep” “you got it guys, thanks for the beer” he said as he scooted into the club.
He didn’t have to stop and hang out with me and my motley crew of music obsessives, but he did and acted like one of the guys. Very gracious, very approachable and a nicer guy you couldn’t hope to meet.
The band did open with our requested song but I think it may be their standard set opener. I’ve seen them a few times and that is a typical opener, but to us it was still a gracious nod to the music lovers in the parking lot that day.
Pat’s body had started to betray him over the past few years, he was unable to play his guitar but still soldiered on with The Smithereens and had plans to tour in 2018 including some dates with original bass player Mike Mesaros.
Today I see Pat up there, on stage at the great Maxwell’s of Hoboken in the sky, he’s standing there, playing his Fender again and teaching Smithereens songs like “Maria Elaina” to Buddy Holly.
I think old Buddy would get a kick out of it.
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