How the Smithereens outlived grunge


January 16, 2003|By Bill Sulon

Pat DiNizio will tell you his influences include the Beatles, the Who, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers "and really, anyone who could write a great, memorable and melodic three-chord pop song."

But the lead singer and songwriter of the Smithereens has been influential as well, and proud of it.

"I'm of the opinion that the Smithereens were the original grunge band," said DiNizio, who along with guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken will perform two shows tonight at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis.

It's an opinion most in the rock world don't share, and a tag that Neil Young has more of a right to. Still, snippets of grunge can be heard on such early Smithereens songs as "Blood and Roses" and "A Girl Like You."

And it is true that the late grunge king Kurt Cobain paid homage to the Smithereens' debut album, Especially for You (1986), in his diaries, and he reportedly listened to many of the band's releases when he and his Nirvana bandmates were putting together tracks for the groundbreaking Nevermind, released in 1991.

DiNizio says Cobain "loved our records" and asked the Smithereens' producer Don Dixon to produce Nevermind. Dixon declined, and Nirvana tapped Butch Vig to produce the album, which launched grunge to the masses and Nirvana to superstardom.

"Yes, in a sense, we were left behind by the so-called grunge movement, but everything has its season, and life is a series of adjustments," DiNizio says. "The fact remains that we are still here, and most of those bands, and certainly that entire scene or movement, is long dead."

Founded 24 years ago, the Smithereens peaked in popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but never fell out of favor with hard-core fans. It's an understatement to say DiNizio, 47, is grateful for the support.

In 1990, he performed in the homes of more than 90 Smithereens fans.

The Living Room concert tour lasted five months, during which time he logged 56,000 miles driving himself across the United States. He is now nearing the end of a smaller Living Room tour.

"I am absolutely living my dreams," DiNizio says. "What could be better than recording and performing songs you write for an audience that appreciates and perhaps even loves what you do?"

DiNizio says that at the Rams Head the Smithereens will faithfully perform "the more popular songs that everyone remembers from radio and MTV airplay," but also will add lesser-known cuts from each studio album, several unreleased songs and selections from the band's last release, 1999's God Save the Smithereens.

The Smithereens will perform tonight at 7 and 9:30 at the Rams Head Tavern, 33 West St., Annapolis. Tickets are $35. Call 410-268-4545.

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