Styx and Groans

The sheer bombast of the approach -- often dismissed as pomp rock -- was what lent Styx its great resonance with young listeners (read: me). To a fourteen-year-old, all of this pretense seemed heavy. The allegorical lyrics and convoluted arrangements -- which shifted moods with jolting regularity -- offered the desired patina of sophistication, as did the band's name, cribbed from mythology.

Yet the music itself was eminently accessible. Seething with hormones and nascent misanthropy, I regarded the rollicking rebellion of "Renegade" as mythopoeic, the escapist smarm of "Come Sail Away" as epiphanic. Paradise Theater was, in actuality, a kind of working-class lament. But to me and my peach-fuzzed buds at Camp Tawonga, the treacly melodies and bubblegum beats spoke directly to us. "Too Much Time on My Hands"? "Nothing Ever Goes as Planned"? "Fooling Yourself (the Angry Young Man)"? Shit, how much more succinctly can one sum up adolescence. Of course beneath all the tough-guy angst we were still simpering suckers for the naked yearning of "The Best of Times" and the slow-dance sway of "Babe."

In the final analysis, Styx mapped, with touching devotion, that terrain where inner child meets inner schlock. It is for this reason, finally, that I had to make such a violent break from the band. My devotion was too bound up in my identity as a miserable teen. Simply put, Styx hit too close to home.

I think it only fair to note, though, that just as I have grown up (sort of), Styx has grown up too (sort of). The band that scored its last major hit in 1983 with "Don't Let It End" seems to have taken the song to heart. A precipitous plunge in popularity led to temporary dissolution of the band in 1984. Both DeYoung and Shaw pursued solo careers. DeYoung's Desert Moon scored a minor hit with its title track, as did Shaw's Girls With Guns. But these solo ventures quickly fizzled. In 1990 the band reunited, with drummer Glen Burtnick replacing John Panozzo, and released the comeback disc Edge of the Century, which yielded two hits, "Show Me the Way" and "Love at First Sight."

Thanks to the classic rock format, much of the Styx oeuvre remains alive and well. In fact, the group's decision to launch a tour with Kansas this summer precedes the upcoming release of Greatest Hits Volume II, which will include two new songs, "Little Suzie" and "Takes Love to Make Love."

Prior to the regrouping, Shaw hooked up a few years back with meat-eating, guitar-slinging, right-winger Ted Nugent, ex-Night Ranger bassist/vocalist Jack Blades, and a no-name drummer to form Damn Yankees. Whether you heard it as the nadir of corporate rock or its quintessence (is there a difference?), one thing's certain: The band cranked out a pair of hit albums in the pre-grunge era of the early Nineties before Kurt Cobain closed the door on their brand of glossy pop claptrap.

As for DeYoung, aside from his duties in Styx, he has pursued an interest in theater. Last year he played Pilate in the Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, and his latest project is a musical theater production based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The piece, titled Q-Modo, will combine the traditional sounds of Broadway show tunes with hard rock, and is slated to open this fall. An absurd career move, perhaps, but DeYoung's Broadway pretensions are not surprising, for Q-Modo promises to incorporate all the elements that have made Styx such an embarrassing touchstone: a half-baked concept, what will most likely be cheesy music, and an overweening sense of mission. I, of course, wish DeYoung and his mates all the luck in the world, and I'm sure they'll enjoy all the success they deserve. I'd even consider attending the opening of his Q-Modo, provided, of course, I could bring along my therapist.

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