One of the biggest surprises of the Pat DiNizio tribute concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, Jan. 13, was a letter sent by the Boston band, The Bristols, whose bassist, Kim Ernst, inspired DiNizio’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep.”
The song is about being obsessed with a woman who “had hair like Jeannie Shrimpton back in 1965/She had legs that never ended/I was halfway paralyzed.” DiNizio has said in interviews that in the mid-’80s, when he wrote the song, he had a crush on Ernst, but she gave him “the brushoff.”
Former Smithereens producer Ed Stasium read the letter at the Basie before the surviving Smithereens and guest vocalists Robin Wilson (of The Gin Blossoms) performed the song.
It read: “Pat, we are forever grateful for our friendship, your kindness and generosity, and your big hugs We are forever fans of your beautiful music, and honored forever to have unwittingly been your muse for ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep.’ We are forever regretful to not have known that the last time we saw you would actually be the last time, and we are forever saddened by your early departure from this side. So, our dear friend, we’ll catch you on the flipside. Lots of love from Kim, Michele and Kelly — The Bristols.”
Two other letters — from Suzanne Vega and Garland Jeffreys — had been read earlier in the evening. And video message from six musicians who couldn’t be there — Mark Hudson, Pete Yorn, Southside Johnny, Graham Parker, Don Dixon and Willie Nile — were played.
Here is the text of the letters and videos:
Letter from Suzanne Vega: “I met Pat DiNizio when I was in my early 20s, in 1983. He needed a job, I had a job for him, so for a while he was my assistant, a receptionist in an office at a typesetting company in midtown New York. He called his mom in New Jersey every morning, first thing. Unfortunately, a couple of months later, my boss told me I had to fire Pat, which I then did. I was gone myself in a few months, as I had gotten a record deal. We both laughed about that later, and he asked me to sing on … the track, ‘In a Lonely Place,’ which I’ve always been proud of. I loved doing the video, too. I ran into Pat constantly through the years, and he was always the same: smart, funny, driven, confident but never arrogant. Full of soul. Playing at his 60th birthday bash so recently brought it all home for me. I was shocked to learn of his death. He is still a part of my life. I feel the loss.”
Letter from Garland Jeffreys: “Pat was a force of nature. Every interaction I had with him over the years was positive. And the one thing I always got from him was perseverance. He was creative, finding ways to get his music out there, keep performing and making it work. When he did house concerts, I was really taken by that approach — adjusting, being realistic, bringing it directly to fans. He was ahead of his time with that, and so many things. He was humble. He was also proof that you grow and take strength from your local fans, and the great state of New Jersey was his home base. I’m sure he’d be thrilled to hear and see and experience all the love and appreciation from here tonight, and every day since his passing. We miss you, Pat. You were one of the greats”
Video from Mark Hudson: “Pat DiNizio was a friend of mine for almost 30 years. Both Italians, going way back, and every time we would meet, we would always talk music: Beatles, Stones. You name it, we would talk about it. R&B. And then we would talk Italian food, we’d talk The Yankees, And we’d call each other a mamaluke. But he was one of my favorite mamalukes. When I started playing The Iridium, he was the first on my list to ask if he would come and jam, and as usual he did, and he brought the house down. Pat was a real artist, from the bottom up, from the inside out. And usually that doesn’t go along with being a wonderful human being. He was. And I’m so sad that he’s left us. And he’s making great music now, in heaven. I’m sure of it. And I bet he’s still wearing that hat.”
Video from Pete Yorn: “Hey, everybody, it’s Pete Yorn. This is amazing. Thanks for showing up to celebrate Pat. He was an amazing, gifted singer and person. I wish I could be there to sing with y’all tonight, but I’m so glad that you guys are all here. (sings) ‘Please don’t look my way, when you see me on the street, we will still be strangers when we meet.’ ”
Video from Southside Johnny: “Hi, this is Southside Johnny. Sorry I can’t be there for Pat’s little thing. I’m sure he would have enjoyed it, and I’m gonna miss him. He was a great guy, and a great talent, and I’m glad he was in the world.”
Video from Graham Parker: “Hi, everyone, I’m Graham Parker in fabulous Tooting Bec, London. And I just wanted to pay tribute to Pat DiNizio. Sorry I’m not there for this. I’m sure it’s gonna be a great celebration of his music. The first time I heard The Smithereens, way back when, it was like a breath of fresh air: Pat’s songs, his vocals, the whole band. And I’ve been honored to interact with Pat and the band, over the years, on one of those early MTV ‘Unplugged’ things, and opened for them. Pat and me have been on the same bill, solo. I think the last time I played with them was Scotch Plains, one of Pat’s big bashes down there. And I just liked Pat a lot, and I was very shocked by his death. It hurt quite a bit, and I’m sure everyone felt the same. But now it’s time to celebrate his great work, and that’s what you people are doing tonight. So, onwards and upwards. It’s not an end, it’s a new beginning. Love you, Pat. Still do. Your music goes on, always.”
Video from Don Dixon. “Hi, I’m Don Dixon, and I sure wish I could be there tonight. I know that Marshall (Crenshaw) and Robin (Wilson) and everybody else is going to be there, but I just … I’ll be there in spirit. Pat was complicated. Pat had an instinctive musicality that cannot be taught. He learned songwriting craft, he learned from the British Invasion, he learned from Laura Nyro, and Buddy Holly, and the Brill Building guys. He learned the craft part, but he had something that you cannot teach. And together with Jim (Babjak) and Dennis (Diken) and Mike (Mesaros), they created something that was fully familiar, while still being unique. That is no small feat, what they did. I’m gonna miss Pat. He was a complicated guy. He could be very kind. He could be incredibly generous. But he was also brilliant. And sometimes brilliant people don’t suffer fools well. But I’m gonna miss him. I’m really gonna miss him.”
Video from Willie Nile: “Hello, it’s Willie Nile. I wish I could be there tonight, to honor Pat, but where I am now, we’re going to honor him tonight, playing some music at The Stone Pony. From … my heart, to Pat, God bless you, thank you for all the great songs. Godspeed. I wish I could be there. Here’s to The Smithereens, long may you reign. God bless, Pat.”
There will be at least two more DiNizio tribute concerts in New Jersey. The Court Tavern in New Brunswick will present “Blood & Roses: The Court Tavern Memorial Tribute to Pat DiNizio,” Feb. 3 at 9 p.m., featuring The Grip Weeds, Jim Babjak, Lost Romance, Mike Daly & The Planets and members of True Love, The Swingin Neckbreakers, Mr. Payday and The Rockin’ Bricks. And Crossroads in Garwood will present a tribute, Feb. 25 at 2 p.m., with DiNizio’s side band The Scotchplainsmen and Friends. Proceeds from both shows will benefit DiNizio’s mother.