The Smithereens Play Songs Especially For You


THE SMITHEREENS The Coach House May 1

The Smithereens released their debut album, Especially For You, 30 years ago in 1986. Their signature mix of 60’s harmonies and pop jangle with punky, new wave attitude won them legions of fans. Songs like “Blood And Roses,” “Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” and “In A Lonely Place,” made them college radio darlings and a touring fixture, earning rave reviews for their live ferocity, and touring spots with everyone from Tom Petty to the Ramones.

Concert Guide Live caught up with The Smithereens drummer, Dennis Diken, and talked nostalgia, New Jersey, and their upcoming dates at The Rose in Pasadena Apr. 30, and The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on May 1.

Dennis Diken remembers 30 years ago, very well. He remembers touring with the Ramones (“Johnny would go up to his room, Joey was the guy who was the most congenial and hung out), he remembers hanging around the Tower Records on 4th and Broadway in New York city waiting for his girlfriend to get off work at The Bottom Line, who remained notoriously loyal through the years, (“It was always fun to browse and run into people. I miss it, I do miss Tower Records.”), and he remembers having cautiously hopeful expectations for The Smithereens’ first LP.

“When that album came out in July of ’86, we had already been shuffling around for six years, and we had other releases, two EPs prior to that. When we finally finished our first album, we thought, ‘It would be so cool if we could sell 10,000 copies of this’ and maybe make some in-roads into the college radio scene. Fortunately, the album resonated with a large number of listeners and gave our career some legs. It got us off the ground.”

The album sold over 1,000,000 copies, going platinum, success they sustained with 1988’s Green Thoughts and 1989’s 11. Contrary to most musicians, who claim they never would have expected to be touring and in-demand some 30 years after their careers began, Diken knew he would be out on the road.

“Once we followed [Especially For You] up with another album that did well for us, we figured that we could probably do this for a few years. I think we all had the desire to keep doing it. So I think back then my feeling was probably, I can almost say for sure, that yeah, we would still be doing this 30-40 years from now.”

Things slowed down when grunge hit, and frontman Pat DiNizio’s melodic, British-Invasion flavored tunes couldn’t have been more off-trend, no matter how glum he made the lyrics. Like many other bands effected by this development, The Smithereens could have faded off into the background, but they refused, a feat Diken contributes to perseverance, and the band’s notoriously loyal fans.

“We didn’t see any reason to give up just because things were changing. We really like to play and we felt were creating something unique and special. There’s always going to be ups and downs in your life, and in your career. You just have to roll with the punches, and get out there. I mean, if people had stopped coming to see us, we might have thought differently, but that didn’t happen. There was always an audience for us.”

According to Diken, this refreshing, workmanlike attitude comes from the band’s blue collar upbringing in New Jersey.

“It comes with kind of a no BS attitude. We do this, because it’s what we do. It’s what we’ve been doing professionally for 36 years. What keeps us motivated is the motivation for anybody’s gig, be it a day job or whatever you love to do. You get up in the morning and you do it.”

Contrary to these humble quotes, The Smithereens don’t just chug along, they’re sounding better than ever. Diken assures us that DiNizio is on the mend after taking a nasty spill and having surgery, (“He’s singing better than ever, actually”), and the addition of keyboardist Andy Burton (John Mayer, Ian Hunter) allows the band to play songs more true to record. The set-list touches on other albums and excellent covers, but is largely made up of Especially For You, a commemoration that fans seems to be appreciating.

“It’s the album that introduced us to a large part of our listening audience, and it has special meaning for us, and it has special meaning for them. When we play it live, it seems to really connect with them, and bring back memories of those days when we were all younger [laughs].”