Aug 142007

In response to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Shame thread, Townsman Alexmagic chimed in with a treatise on Styx that needs to be brought front and center for the good of future generations of rock nerds.

Styx may deserve a spin-off thread from this spun-off thread. Everything about the band is worth discussing in this context, from the name, to their costumes, their moves, their lyrics and their Look. A vintage Styx band photo gets you a lead singer who looks like the Living Mannequin from Today’s Special, a guitar player who looks like Muppet Show-era Mark Hamill and another guitar player who looks like Red Rose Speedway-era Linda McCartney with a moustache.

If you can find the video for “Rockin’ the Paradise” online (click this link!) – one of the first ten videos played on MTV – you would indeed see that a competent prosecution could build a pretty mean case in a Rock Crimes Trial of Styx. But that would miss the point, miss how the video showcases the sad truth at the heart of the band, miss how five men could at once be together and yet so very, very alone. The inherent duality of Styx, the battle of Tommy Shaw’s all-consuming need to rock vs. Dennis DeYoung’s refined desire to add a sense theatre and lyrics about robots, is on full display. And so while the band is triumphantly captured at the height of their popularity, we can also see the inner turmoil that would drive them apart.

To start with, everybody in the band is working a different costume gimmick. This is presumably intentional, to serve the conceptual needs of DeYoung’s vision, but it betrays the fractured nature of the band. DeYoung (also bringing a perm and moustache to the table at this point), is some kind of cabaret circus barker with decidedly tight red pants, James Young is accentuating his Linda space-mullet with a pseudo-spacesuit, the drummer has a pilot’s outfit with shorts, the bass player has chosen a Michael O’Donoghue beard to go with his tuxedo and Tommy Shaw may or may not be wearing O.R. scrubs.

The video opens with a very tasteful and moving DeYoung/red tights preamble, and then he introduces the blinking Paradise sign, which signals us that it’s time to ROCK like only Styx can. Enter Young and Shaw, and the two of them are so moved by their own rockin’ that they have to stop hopping in place so they can run over to each other and perform an impromptu Face-To-Face Dual Guitar Rock Team-up Move. DeYoung becomes self-conscious at this display, contemplates the rift at the core of Styx, and considers trying to do a Microphone-Assisted Air Guitar move to fit in with the guys, but he gets confused and has to settle for some spread-legged posing and modified jazz hands. Young, however, appreciates the way their tortured genius has tried to bond with them, so when DeYoung retreats to the safety his white piano, “JY” comes over to attempt a Piano/Guitar Rock Team-up.

At this point, there’s a quick cut to a shot of Tommy Shaw hopping angrily in place, seething at Young’s efforts to bridge the rock/performance gap with DeYoung. “Judas!” he must be thinking. Young remains blissfully unaware of the sudden tension in the air and literally prances back to the drum riser for a quick Guitar/Bass Team-up, trying to spread the love. But from that moment on, the bond between Young and Shaw has been inexorably broken. Tommy broods, shredding away by himself (occasionally and symbolically on one leg), thinking of the future and throwing a dirty sideways glance across the stage at JY, who is now bathed in a mocking spotlight which harshly illuminates how truly in the dark he is about his band.

So anyway, to wipe Styx out would mean losing more than their catalog of beloved multi-platinum hits. It would mean losing a living document of the creative turmoil dormant within all bands: the eternal war between comfort and growth, success and challenge, Art and Rock. And also, losing dystopic stories about killing robots and hiding inside them as a means to save the world from warped forces of morality via the power of theater-tinged rock. But mostly, that living document thing.


  4 Responses to “A Living Document: Styx”

  1. Great Post! Your description is much more vivid than the actual clip

    The drummer and bassist are brothers, right? And both dead?

    The “captain look” has to be one of the most un-rock looks

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    andyr sez:

    The “captain look” has to be one of the most un-rock looks

    I say:

    Agreed! I feel like I’m watching Gavin McLeod up there behind the skins. Unacceptable. Idiotic!

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    Gavin McLeod in an afro wig, that is.

  4. The drummer is John Panozzo. He died a few years ago. Bassist Chuck Panozzo is alive, and came out about a year ago.

    I always considered John Panozzo to be The Most Awkward-Looking Musician in Rock. He plays OK – appropriately for the material, anyway. But he looks like a drunk brother-of-the-bride who talked his way behind the drums. No wrist action – all elbow and shoulder.

    Any other awkwardness contenders?

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