When a man came up to The Smithereens after a June performance, Pat DiNizio – one of the founding members of the band – knew something was wrong.
“He was in his mid-40s and looked like a cancer survivor,” DiNizio said. “He told me he had just had the worst day of his life, and that everything had gone wrong until he came to see us. He said we lifted his spirits. That made me feel great.”
He continued, “Our goal is to make sure that people who come to our show walk away feeling better than when they came. Moments like that one make you pause and take stock of what you’re doing. This is what my life has been all about.”
Despite the fact that The Smithereens have hit the national charts several times since coming onto the music scene in 1980, many people still consider them a local band – a perception that has some Bayonne residents excited about the band’s upcoming appearance at 16th Street Park on Aug. 13 at 7 p.m.
DiNizio said part of the Jersey-based band’s lasting appeal has to do with loyalty to its rock and roll roots, and the fact that the band still plays its songs the way they were originally conceived.
While the band has created some waves with the release of seven albums over the last two years, including “Meet The Smithereens,” a tribute to The Beatles’ first American album release (“Meet The Beatles”), The Smithereens are considered a very hot live act, full of the passion and fury that has kept rock and roll viable for more than six decades.
New Jersey success story
The Smithereens are a New Jersey success story.
Over the years, they have played with other local legends, such as Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.
Founded in 1980, The Smithereens have become a tour de force of live performances and album releases, with gold and platinum albums and top 40 radio hits such as “A Girl Like You,” “Too Much Passion,” “Blood and Roses,” “Only a Memory” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep.”
After a brief interruption in the mid-1990s, The Smithereens reunited with a vengeance, releasing “God Save The Smithereens,” delving into the powerful world of punk.
Their release of “Meet The Smithereens” had brought them renewed acclaim and significant anticipation for their follow-up album, “B-Sides The Beatles,” on Sept. 2. Born in Scotch Plains (where he was also raised), DiNizio said that for a time he followed in his father’s professional footsteps and took a job, even though he harbored dreams of making a living as a musician.
“My father quit school to work as a trash hauler,” DiNizio said. “That was during the [Great] Depression. I sort of inherited that from him and I worked with my dad until I was 30. Then I quit the family business to follow a career in music. Dad was dead set against it, but supported my dream anyway. He gave us a place to rehearse.”
Starting in 1980, The Smithereens became a very popular local band at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick.
It took time for the band to make it, so, for a while, the words of warning about the music career seemed to become more and more valid.
“It took us six years before we got a record deal,” DiNizio said.
His father again tried to talk some sense into DiNizio, but he resisted, and within six months the band had a gig at Radio City Music Hall as the opening act for the red-hot band, The Pretenders.
“My dad was right there in the audience,” he said. “Anyone who has a dream owes it to themselves to at least try and follow it.”
The band has wandered across the county over the years and its members have returned to their roots, most moving back to Carteret, N.J., where many were born and raised.
Over the years, the band has been known for its unique ’60s-like power pop, and the new album easily confesses how huge an influence The Beatles played in their songwriting. DiNizio compared the songwriting skills of John Lennon and Paul McCartney to the best songwriting combos in music history.
“If you’re going to model yourself after somebody, why not the best?” he said.
This has allowed The Smithereens to be featured at Beatles festivals from Secaucus to Chicago, although they perform numerous venues – often with some of the most historic acts in every musical genre.
They were even recently featured in media outlets as diverse as The New York Times and ESPN. DiNizio also has the distinction of trying out for professional baseball at the age of 49.
A live act to envy, The Smithereens are expected to give the people of Bayonne a classic performance.
“While we can never go back to 1986, we’re going to play like we played back then,” DiNizio said. “We’re not going to dilute the music or soften it. This will be real rock.”