Any brush with fame can be a deeply meaningful and resonant experience. In terms of music, if we meet an artist who we have listened to for any period of time, the music may take on new meaning as we listen through a new lens of familiarity and intimacy. I have met the person who made this song that I love. I shook his hand. We made eye contact. We had a conversation.
That we have met, we are connected in a new way.
I had the honor of meeting Pat DiNizio, lead singer for power pop band The Smithereens at the Newark Airport in 2016. We had a nice conversation. I talked about the time I saw the band in concert 30 years ago, and amazingly, he was able to tell me who the opening act was. He introduced me to other members of the band. He gave me a guitar pick. He gave me a sticker. We had a really nice conversation.
When I heard that Pat DiNizio died last week at the age of 62, I reflected on our conversation, but even more so, I reflected on his music. Though the Smithereens were mostly known for their boisterous rock songs like “Blues Before and After“, “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and “Only a Memory,” they also made beautiful ballads, like “Blue Period.”
The Smithereens were always huge fans of The Beatles. “Only a Memory” features an intro inspired by George Harrison’s brilliant “I Want to Tell You.” The band released a song by song remake of “Meet the Beatles!” in 2007 called “Meet the Smithereens,” in 2008 they released an album of Beatles’ B-side songs, and in 2014 they released a song by song recording of The Beatles February 11, 1964 concert in Washington D.C., their first concert in the United States.
The Smithereens carry the Beatles legacy forward through beautiful power pop, and gentle, introspective ballads driven by DiNizio’s sometimes ethereal, sometimes bluesy voice.
“Blue Period” is off their masterful 1989 album “11” (as in “this amp goes to 11!“), and it starts with a simple cello introducing what is sure to be a sad song.
“Blue period, black comedy
Such a joke, I’ve played on me
I let you go
And now I know a world of uncertainty”
Though drums play along, it is the chunky cello that keeps the time while an acoustic guitar keeps the momentum. Dinizio’s voice is melancholy.
“My apathy is tragedy
I’m content to stay inside
This emptiness is killing me
I can run but I can’t hide”
We hear a generation of pop ballads in this one song. Smokey Robinson crying tears of a clown. John Lennon crawling off to sleep in the bath. Mick Jagger just sitting and watching as tears go by.
Harmonizing with DiNizio throughout the song is Belinda Carlisle, former lead singer of the Go-Go’s. Giving shape and color to his sadness. Relieving some of the loneliness. Reminding us we are never alone in our blues, no matter how long the period. Along comes the bridge, and we hear a harpsichord, directly inspired by the beautiful harpsichord solo in “In My Life” by The Beatles.
At the end of the song comes a sense of realization and resolution. All good things must come to an end. Love. Happiness. Relationships. This is just a period of sadness, and just like the relationship, the blue period will end.
“Now I don’t want to pretend
I was glad to see us ending this way
That’s the time I want to cry
And the time I wonder why, and pray”
I had a nice conversation with Pat DiNizio in a crowded airport as we were getting ready to board a plane. I immediately texted family and friends who also loved The Smithereens, and I have told the story many times since. Probably, Dinizio forgot about the conversation as soon as the plane took off. That’s OK. I’ll always remember. I’ll always have the music.
Written by Pat DiNizio
Recorded by The Smithereens
Released July 1990