I thought, "I've got to talk to this guy," you know? The next day, I went up to him--he had his name on the side of his books with one of those label makers, James Babjak--and I go, "Hey, Jim, I saw you had those pictures of the Who, you like the Who?" And he says, "Well, I really like the Beatles and I kind of like the Rolling Stones. I just liked the way those pictures looked." He came over for lunch a couple times and we played records, and he had a cheap guitar and an amp, and we started playing that week.
NT: I hear you've had some recent chance meetings with celebrities? Diken: We did this charity baseball appearance in Norfolk, Virginia, and Pat got up to bat. He gave it his all but he struck out; he turns around and the ump was Ollie North! We went up to him, "Hey, Mr. North, can we take a picture with you? We're with the Smithereens." "You guys are great!" is what he said. And he made sure--by his own design--that we took two photos, one of me shaking his hand and one of Pat shaking his hand.
NT: Anybody else?
Diken: We were flying from LAX to Seattle, walking through the airport, and I spied this man--That's Allen Funt!"--and indeed it was. I always have my camera in pocket and hand it to our tour manager immediately upon celebrity sightings, so the four of us got around Allen Funt and said, "Mr. Funt, you don't know us, but we're a band called the Smithereens and we're real big fans of yours." He says, "Well, aren't you boys nice!" As our tour manager was snapping the photo, Pat says, "Mr. Funt, thanks for all the happy memories!" It was one of those great moments.
NT: How's this tour going? Diken: I think we're doing some of the best shows we've ever done; we really like playing the stuff from the new album. The stuff is easy to play, mostly because of the nature of the songs and the way we recorded them. They really lend themselves to live performances. . . . We recorded the album more live than any album we've done. The first two were done on the run. We did this one, in all honesty, in four weeks, though we're telling people two weeks cause it sounds better.
NT: The Smithereens were recently dropped, after seven years, from Capitol. You've said there "was a feeling within a certain part of the industry that we were done or washed up or too old or whatever, in the wake of all this alternative mania." Yet the band signed three weeks later to RCA. What's your take on the record industry?
Diken: I'll tell you, the whole "label industry" really has got its head up its ass, I firmly believe it. It's always been a bandwagon type of thing, but, man, when the standards get set so low by a band like Counting Crows or even Pearl Jam--I fucking hate Pearl Jam--who's selling zillions, so that's the standard, it's just breeding shit.
NT: How about MTV?
Diken: I cannot express to you the disdain I have for the whole video thing. I just fuckin' loathe the idea of having to put a visual image out there just to have people dig music. It has nothing to do with music at all. I just think it takes away the joy of loving music; to have to sit and look at an image to enjoy music is so bass-ackwards, it's so detrimental. I had a really good interview with this guy in Seattle yesterday, and we were talking about how music should take you somewhere else, and it should have that fire--that's what's missing anymore. It's not just about playing your instrument real loud, it's about the heart and the fire and the emotion.
NT: Do you feel that's what's missing from music in general today? Diken: Oh, yeah. There's always that thing about danger and rebellion that made rock n' roll great, too. And I kind of saw that in Nirvana's music and some other bands, but not a whole lot of em. NT: But danger and rebellion aren't all that makes great music.
Diken: That's true. I mean, I love Neil Sedaka and there's nothing particularly rebellious about him.
NT: Though maybe just admitting you love Neil Sedaka is rebellious enough.
Diken: Oh, I love old Neil Sedaka records, and I will go on record to say that I love "Laughter in the Rain." Come on, it's a great song. . . . There's another thing that I recognize in a lot of great records, and that is a real yearning; you find that in a lot of stuff in the early Sixties. Even in a record like "Diana" by Paul Anka, that record blows me away. That stuff doesn't wear at all, doesn't wear one bit.