You Say It’s Your Birthday: The Smithereens’ Dennis Diken

John Doe, once of X, celebrates his birthday today.

Today is the birthday of Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken,
who was born in 1957 in Belleville, New Jersey. The Smithereens’ hard-edged pop
appeared amid the late-’80s scene — just as arty, guitar-based rockers like
R.E.M. and Dinosaur, Jr. were finding homes in America’s record collections —
predating grunge with its guitar-heavy sound. Although the group has never
broken through in a big way, at least two of their songs–“Blood & Roses” and
“Behind the Wall of Sleep”–are classics.

Diken, along with high school
buddies Jim Babjak and Mike Mesaros (a guitarist and bassist, respectively),
placed an ad in a music paper that led them to vocalist Pat DiNizio. They
released an EP in 1980 called Girls About Town, which contained three
originals and a cover of the Beach Boys’ “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” That EP and
their follow-up earned almost no attention, and the band had to support
themselves by playing covers and backing old fogies like Otis Blackwell and
Beau Brummels.

Their fates turned when DiNizio sent a demo to Enigma
Records; they were signed in 1987 and released Especially For You, with
guest appearances by Marshall Crenshaw and Suzanne Vega. Their follow-up,
1989’s 11, scored a hit with “A Girl Like You” and went to #41 on the
album charts.

They have released three low-scoring albums since, including
1994’s A Date With the Smithereens (featuring Lou Reed) and a live
record. Aside from his work with the band, Diken wrote the liner notes for a
compilation record, It’s Hard To Believe It: The Amazing World Of Joe

Other birthdays: George Harrison, Stuart “Woody” Wood (Bay City
Rollers), Jim “Daryl” Gilmour (Saga), Mike Peters (Alarm), Foster Sylvers
(Sylvers) and John Doe (X). — Beth Winegarner