Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Our Thoughts On The Ongoing Feud Between Styx and Dennis DeYoung
For anyone growing up in the general vicinity of Chicago over the past 40 years or so, the rock band Styx are almost as much a part of this city as the Cubs or the Blackhawks.
For rock fans throughout rest of the country, they were one of a handful of hugely popular bands during the 1980's, right up there with Journey, Foreigner, and REO Speedwagon, that got saddled with the "corporate rock" tag.
In the case of Journey, REO, and Foreigner, the tag fit, but Styx, for all of their success, could hardly be criticized for playing it safe. While they had their share of radio hits, there was nothing at all run-of-the-mill about their songs. They were operatic, with songs that alternated beautifully between balladry and all-out rock. Dennis DeYoung's theatrical leanings complemented rockers Tommy Shaw and James "JY" Young and the result was a sound that was uniquely their own.
Despite my teenage tendency to shy away from anything that was considered "Top 40", I had dug the "Mr. Roboto" single and decided to catch the band during their '83 Kilroy Was Here tour, where they acted out parts of the album and, while Roboto mastermind Dennis DeYoung may have had high hopes for pushing the boundaries of rock and theatre, he really only succeeded in giving most in attendance a real good excuse to take a pee break.
I didn't, of course. Nope, I stuck around and chuckled at Tommy Shaw, who visibly seethed through gritted teeth, traded lines with DeYoung and no doubt thought to himself, "One day, I will get you, you bastard."
Of course, with two such different factions within the same band, there was bound to be tension and, having had enough of DeYoung's control over the band, Shaw left to form Damn Yankees with Ted Nugent and Night Ranger's Jack Blades.
Styx carried on without him and, in 1990, released Edge Of The Century, which included a song called "Show Me The Way" that became a huge hit during the Persian Gulf War, rising to #3 on the Billboard Singles chart.
In 1995, the band reunited with Tommy Shaw for the sole purpose of re-recording "Lady" for their Greatest Hits album. Energized by that experience, the band undertook the hugely successful "Return To Paradise" tour.
The band released Brave New World, their first new studio album in close to a decade, and was once again set to take on the world. The problem was, behind the scenes, they were taking on each other and a serious rift developed within the band with DeYoung on one side and Shaw/Young on the other.
To make matters worse, DeYoung than contracted a disease that made his eyes unusually sensitive to light, making it impossible for him to tour at the time. He asked the band to wait while he recovered, but the band refused, choosing instead to carry on without him.
This, after all, was Shaw and Young's chance to rock! No more having to tolerate DeYoung's "Broadway bullshit" (my words, but you know damn well that's what they were thinking). Of course, they soon realized that they still had to play certain DeYoung songs. The fans would be up in arms if they didn't, so someone would have to be hired to sing the tunes.
Now, if Styx were really dedicated to re-branding themselves the hard rock act Shaw and Young had long dreamed of being, they'd have chosen to drop the DeYoung tunes completely and focus on Shaw's material. He'd penned his fare share of hits for the band. Hell, he'd written more hits than most other hit acts of the day. They could still headline, no problem.
But no, Shaw and Young chose to get some even more obnoxious bozo to sing DeYoung's tunes. Of course, he'd have no say in the decision-making and, for that, he could have worn a fucking Bozo clown suit and Shaw/Young would not have cared because Styx was now a full-fledged hard rock band, man!
Meanwhile, DeYoung continued his recovery and licked the wounds of having been quite unceremoniously kicked to the curb by his own bandmates. Arguably, it was his fucking band. Shaw and Young had undertaken a mutiny.
And to this day they have continued to capitalize on DeYoung's huge creative contribution to the band. Any mystique that remains to this day does so because of the care DeYoung took in overseeing everything, right down the the album cover artwork. Sure, he may have lost the plot with the "Kilroy Was Here" stage play crap, but "Mr. Roboto" was still their biggest single to date and introduced them to the MTV generation. You can dismiss that all you want, but it kept them viable when other bands from the 70's were doomed to the has-been bin.
DeYoung has been as gracious as anyone can be for having gone through such a bizarre set of circumstances. In 2004, he released The Music Of Styx, Live With Symphony Orchestra to remind people that Styx isn't just a hard rock band. Of course, he too proved himself capable of rocking out on his most recent solo album, One Hundred Years From Now.
One might wonder why he might do such a thing, but, to me, the reason is quite obvious. He's extended an olive branch to the guys in Styx, saying, in essence, "Look, I can rock...I'm not just some Broadway guy. We can work together, I know we can."
Whatever wounds he may still have from the experience of getting tossed out of the band are nothing compared to the phantom pains he must feel with Styx no longer a part of his life. It's gotta be like losing a limb.
To Tommy Shaw and James Young, I say simply:
Get Dennis back. You've had your fun, spending the past decade touring to diminishing returns, releasing completely unnecessary albums, and having to team up with the likes of REO Speedwagon (who really need to get back together with guitarist Gary Richrath, but I digress) and Journey to make the rounds of the Indian Casino circuit. Enough already.