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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,366

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This is the grave of Pat DiNizio.

Born in 1955 in Plainfield, New Jersey, DiNizio’s life is almost a classic story of working class white kid rock dreams and rock reality. He was by no means a wealthy kid. His dad owned a trash company, so he was pretty middle class, but working middle class. DiNizio was no real student. He graduated from high school, took a few community college classes, even took a few classes at Seton Hall and NYU here and there, but he was working for his dad just picking up trash most of the time. However, DiNizio did love the guitar. In this, he was no different than so many young kids of this era, very much including his fellow New Jerseyite Bruce Springsteen. And while he would not become BRUCE, he would see some rock dreams come true.

This took awhile though. In 1980, DiNizio was a 25 year old guy, playing his guitar and working blue collar jobs. You could see these guys in any bar in Jersey on any Saturday night. He was working on some recordings and he did what you used to do–he put a classified ad in the local alternative paper (remember those!) looking for a drummer to help out. A guy Dennis Diken responded. They got along and Diken introduced DiNizio to some of his old high school friends. They decided to form a band called The Smithereens, a name that came from an old Yosemite Sam cartoon.

The Smithereens did surprisingly well. They cut an album and then the film Dangerously Close, which is an awful movie but whatever, used the song “Blood and Roses” from that album in the soundtrack. That got them a good bit more attention. They were focused on jangly 60s rock and roll, which is an interesting move for an era in which straight ahead rock was not what really ruled the airwaves. This was the glam and electronic era. There was a lot more room for hair bands like Bon Jovi or pop acts like Madonna or British whine-rock like The Smiths than there was for a bunch of Jersey dudes playing that old time rock and roll, although Springsteen’s continued success demonstrated there was a path there. DiNizio was more of a Beatles/Costello/Holly guy than anything else and he tried to project that through his band.

In 1990, the band had the biggest hit they ever would, with “A Girl Like You.” That only hit #38 on the charts, so it was more a minor hit, but I definitely remember that song.

But that was about it really. The band kept playing, sure. They had their fans. They were a great opening act for big rock acts. But they would never have another meaningful hit. These were still just Jersey guys. When they needed money, DiNizio would go back to working blue collar jobs. Then they would tour some, play around Jersey a lot, and go back to the life they had led before getting sorta famous. Their last album was 2011, released in that year. It was reasonably positively reviewed. It remained a solid band until the end. They even got to open for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on their 2013 tour.

Oh, DiNizio also had dumb politics and ran for the Senate in 2000 on the Reform Party ticket. This was the year Pat Buchanan was the presidential “nominee” from that party. So one probably has to assume that DiNizio also shared some good ol’boy Jersey white ethnic bitterness too.

Unfortunately, the end came fairly early for DiNizio. He was a big man by the end and while the only real information on his death came from his band that noted he had been suffering from some nerve related issues, it’s hard not to imagine that his general unhealthiness was not the real problem. He died in 2017 at the age of 62.

Let’s listen to The Smithereens.

Pat DiNizio is buried in Hillside Cemetery, Scotch Plains, New Jersey.

If you would like this series to visit other rockers of the 80s, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Randy Rhoads is in San Bernandino, California and Hillel Slovak of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is in Los Angeles. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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