Only a Memory: Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens, R.I.P.

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The New Jersey music scene, and the world of rock and roll, lost someone special this week with the passing of Pat DiNizio, lead singer and songwriter for the Smithereens.

He died in Summit on Tuesday of undisclosed causes. He was 62.

DiNizio had a knack for transforming intensely brooding lyrics into power pop gems that made you want to jump from your seat and bop around.

“Pat had the magic touch,” surviving bandmates Jim Babjak, Dennis Diken and Mike Mesaros said on the group’s website.

Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens at MPAC, Aug. 8, 2014. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens at MPAC, Aug. 8, 2014. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“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.”

FM radio was filled with Smithereens songs in the late ’80s and early ’90s: Behind the Wall of Sleep, Yesterday’s Girl, Room Without a View, Only a Memory, Blue Period, Cigarette, Cut Flowers, Top of the Pops, Especially For You, In a Lonely Place, Time and Time Again, Blood and Roses and a Girl Like You, to name a few.

They appeared on Saturday Night Live, inspired Kurt Cobain, recorded homages to The Beatles and The Who, and toured as openers for the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and, in 2013, Tom Petty.

Although they never reached the “Top of the Pops,” the Smithereens retained a cult following thanks to their unapologetic love for straight-ahead rock. 

The Smithereens were very good when I saw them at William Paterson College in the ’80s. They were flat-out great when they roared through Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center in 2009 and 2014.

Our video clip from the 2012 Black Potatoe Music Festival in Clifton captures some of the band’s explosive energy.

Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens teaches the Jersey Salute to his L.A. bass player, Severo 'The Thrilla' Jornacion, at the Black Potatoe Music Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens teaches the Jersey Salute to his L.A. bass player, Severo ‘The Thrilla’ Jornacion, at the Black Potatoe Music Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

DiNizio was a thoughtful, humorous guy who wasn’t afraid to take chances. He tried out for the Somerset Patriots baseball team for an ESPN series. He ran for Senate in 2000.

Once, I saw him bomb at The Sanctuary, the late, great folk venue in Chatham. Unplugged, DiNizio’s morose lyrics were…morose. But add his fellow Smithereens, crank the amps to 11, and KA-BOOM!

DiNizio and his mates were preparing for a Red Bank gig in January, according to an appreciation by Jay Lustig of NJArts.net.

Sadly, as his song foreshadowed, DiNizio now is Only a Memory.

But what a memory.

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