The best interviews are less tit-for-tat Q & A and more of a conversation, a thoughtful, relaxed exchange of ideas that garners all of the details required but then wanders, seamlessly, to places no one would have imagined.
So it is that a conversation with Pat DiNizio starts with the concert that the Smithereens, the band he’s fronted for 33 years, is playing this weekend on the West Palm Beach waterfront. It then veers towards the damaging effects of free downloads on the humble songwriter and the need for creative entrepeneurship.
All of which account for a half an hour well-spent.
“A woman I dated years ago told a friend of mine after a concert I gave in the East Village - it was a successful show - that ‘Pat is happiest when he’s onstage entertaining people,” says DiNizio, 57, writer of hits like “Blood and Roses” and “A Girl Like You.”
“That’s a very telling comment. Each of us has a reason. This is the reason I was put here, to write and play songs that people seem to love, and to give concerts that make people feel better when I see them walk out. That’s the best I can do, and if I can do that, I feel better.”
DiNizio’s need to be onstage, no matter the size or setting, has led him to some unlikely places for a guy from New Jersey with bonafide rock credentials, from fans’ living rooms to the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. And he’s gladly gone where other rockers wouldn’t have been cool about going before, just for the love of playing.
“There are places I’ve been where most people in the industry would be loathe to be the first out of the box to go, or risk being criticized by others,” he admits, referring to his series of “Living Room” shows, which he launched as a solo venture in 2000. It was unheard of for a musician with actual hits playing by request in fans’ homes. But then it caught on.
“Within five years, Bob Dylan was doing them, only you had to pay him $25,000 to play in your living room,” he says, laughing.
Later, DiNizio encountered those same naysayers when he performed the show “Confessions Of A Rock Star,” based on his audio book of the same name, “six nights a week for a year at a major Las Vegas hotel and casino, in the showroom, not the lounge. I had never done Vegas before, but I remember having my ear to the ground to see where the music industry was headed. I determined that the ability of most songwriters to make a living (was affected) because you get paid only if records are sold.”
Of course, those terms changed with the digitalization of music, and DiNizio saw “my income go down exponentially in terms of publishing,” not just because of the fact of things like Napster but because of the change in fundamental attitudes about the price of music.
“A culture of entitlement began to grow,” he says. “They thought music should be free, that intellectual property should be part of the public trust. That being said, suddenly you’re seeing your ability to make a living and support your family be put in jeopardy. Kids realized rather quickly that so much time and work and effort has to go into (the business), so if you can’t make a living at it, you have to do something else. That’s why I came up with those Living Room shows…You have to be entrepreneurial. We’re still standing 33 years later, where most other (contemporaries) are gone or dead.”
DiNizio’s story, which he told in his Vegas show, is that of a guy who never shirked hard work or long waits. He was in his late 20s when the Smithereens got a record deal, and about 31 before their first hit. The payoff is that the fans that first came to see them all those years ago still show up, even though “they got married, entered the work force, had kids and even grandkids, but still have that 16-year-old rock and roll heart.”
Currently, the Smithereens have out their first new album of original material in years, “2011,” after recording a couple albums of Beatles and Who songs. DiNizio loves the music he grew up on, so he’s also watching a lot of rock documentaries on people like Jan and Dean, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Mama Cass and The Monkees.
They not only provide entertainment and potential song inspiration, but cautionary tales that make DiNizio pleased that his band never shattered into…well, you know.
“I’m happy to be in the Smithereens. We never got into scandal,” he says. “That’s one of the negative aspects of the business, the road to ruin for so many people, drug addiction and depravity. We’re really nice people.”
With the Livesays, Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Meyer Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach. Free.
TODAY IS RECORD STORE DAY!
Remember record stores, the places you bought music before Amazon and iTunes? Remember vinyl records? Once a year, indie record stores across the country encourage people to bask in the old tradition and physically browse for music. National artists release special vinyl discs to be sold exclusively in these stores, and there are usually other deals as well.
Two Palm Beach County stores are participating in Record Store Day:
Confusion Records, 848 Park Ave., Lake Park, 561- 848-1882.
Music Movies and More, 2640 Forest Hill Blvd., Palm Springs, 561-969-0002.
And in Port St. Lucie:
Sounds Good Music, 1018 SE Port St Lucie Blvd., 772-380-0777.
For more information and a list of exclusive records being sold in some stores today: recordstoreday.com