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Smithereens, Meet the Beatles

The other Fab Four, the Smithereens: Pat DiNizio, from left, Jim Babjak, Mike Mesaros and Dennis Diken.
The other Fab Four, the Smithereens: Pat DiNizio, from left, Jim Babjak, Mike Mesaros and Dennis Diken.

DiNizio, who has continued to offer solo CDs, DVDs and downloads on his Web site, lived in Washington for three years in the late '90s while working as program director and host of XM Satellite Radio's "XM Unsigned," the first national radio station to focus solely on the music of unsigned bands, emerging artists and independent record labels. In an odd job segue that might have extended his stay here, DiNizio then ran for one of New Jersey's Senate seats, challenging Republican Rep. Bob Franks and Democratic multimillionaire Jon S. Corzine as a Reform Party candidate.

"I got a little more than 1 percent [of the vote]," DiNizio says. "Considering that I managed to raise $8,000 [in campaign funds, from a kegger concert], I would say I got a bigger bang for my buck than [winner] Jon Corzine, who, I was told by the people who did his marketing, spent $96 million."

Concurrent with his Senate run, DiNizio embarked on his "Living Room Concert Tour," an idea generated by his work as a grant giver for Jim Beam Brands. One grantee, a musician from Washington state who needed money to refurbish her touring vehicle, explained she did house concerts, networking with fans online, driving to their homes, playing in people's living rooms and passing the hat.

DiNizio later learned that in folk and singer-songwriter circles, house concerts had been around for decades. "But my entrepreneurial wheels started spinning when I realized no one who'd been lucky enough to achieve any national prominence musically with a band or otherwise had attempted those sorts of things."

So he put word out on the Internet and two weeks later found himself doing "acoustic rock-and-roll concerts in the homes, back yards and living rooms of 90 Smithereens fans and supporters from coast to coast. I rented an SUV from Budget Rent a Car and set out on the road with just a couple of acoustic guitars and a small P.A., and it was one of the most joyous, life-affirming experiences of my life. I crisscrossed the country five times. When I returned that rented vehicle with those 50,000 'free unlimited miles,' they were not pleased with me!"

DiNizio didn't exactly pass the hat: For $2,000, he would drive to a fan's house, unload his guitar and a keg of beer, and play Smithereens requests. The story of both the house tour and his Senate race are told in Joshua Tunick's documentary "Mr. Smithereen Goes to Washington," which follows DiNizio's campaign from the day he filed his petition to place his name on the ballot to the final tally on election night.

The baseball cap DiNizio sported on the campaign trail served him again in July on ESPN's "7th Inning Stretch," which details his efforts at age 50 to make the Somerset Patriots minor league baseball team. Calling it "George Plimpton meets Ken Burns," DiNizio describes the show as "an exploration of baseball in America and following your dreams and your heart no matter how old you are" as well as "an attempt to fulfill a childhood dream that fell by the wayside when I decided to pursue music."

He did get some coaching from such baseball legends as Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, David Wells and Don Mattingly, as well as from some sports-focused pals in music: "Gene Simmons, talking about the relationship between the immigrant experience and baseball . . . Joan Jett, who's a huge fan, as is George Thorogood . . . me and Bruce Springsteen playing baseball and talking about growing up in New Jersey and the relationship between rock-and-roll and baseball." A soundtrack is available on Koch, with some quirky extras, such as the Ramones' "Beat on the Brat (With a Baseball Bat)."

Now DiNizio has embarked on another, for now untitled, project that he calls a logical extension of "7th Inning Stretch," and he's looking for a hit.

"It's about my attempt to write the greatest album of all time with my songwriting heroes and mentors -- Barry Gibb, Neil Diamond, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Elton John, Jimmy Webb, Carole King. It will show people who are curious how songs are written, and you will hear the story of rock-and-roll and the evolution of the pop song in America as told by the people who created the songs."

Appearing Friday at the State Theatre

Sounds like: Remember the Beatles? The Smithereens sure do.

Listen to an audio clip of the Smithereens

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