Showgrid Story #4
So there I was at a Styx show with a woman who proudly declared she was old enough to be my mother passing me a vape pen and asking if I would suck some dude in the band’s member. A weird question to ask a stranger at a Styx concert on a chilly Saturday night in May. Really, just a weird question to ask in any setting, but I’m a professional, so I handled it with grace.
She directed that comment toward Tommy Shaw, the lead vocalist of the band. Shaw joined Styx in 1976 when the then lead guitarist suddenly left the band days before they began a nationwide tour.
Now, to be frank, Tommy Shaw is a gorgeous man. He has long blonde hair and if the room is dark enough, you might take that head of hair to be a woman’s. I can’t speak for the rest of him, but man, that hair was incredible. It practically glowed from the stage. It was an instrument unto itself, adding an extra dimension to every synth note. I must know more, I thought as I opened the Styx Wikipedia page between sets and walked to obtain a beer.
A brief perusal of the Styx Wikipedia page won’t tell you about the shimmer of Tommy Shaw’s hair, but it will tell you that the band went through a few different names, released a few albums to relatively little fanfare until on July 7th, 1977 (yes, the date reads 7/7/77) they released The Grand Illusion
The Grand Illusion launched Styx into the stratosphere. The best biggest hit off the album is ‘Come Sail Away,’ penned by the prodigiously talented Dennis DeYoung. DeYoung and Shaw had a Lennon-McCartney dynamic to them. Differing, competing song styles that ultimately left DeYoung marooned by the rest of the band somewhere in the 90s as Tommy Shaw took firm control.
DeYoung tended to write more theatrical numbers. He coined the idea for Styx’s best selling album, Paradise Theatre, that spins a story around Chicago’s Paradise Theatre and uses it as a metaphor for the changing of the times between the 70s and 80s. He had the vision of a theatrical rock opera. A galavanting circus show that told a story through rock and fucking roll. This drive in direction led to Kilroy Was Here (1983) that gave us the gem ‘Mr. Roboto’ and tells of a future where rock music is outlawed by a fascist government.
There was a massively produced tour that accompanied the album involving each band member playing a character in the story. DeYoung, of course, was the protagonist. The heroic Robert Orin Charles Kilroy who is imprisoned by the fascist leader Dr. Righteous. He escapes from prison, as detailed in ‘Mr. Roboto’, and joins with Tommy Shaw’s character who is determined to bring rock music back.
Tommy Shaw, on the other hand, could do without the theatrics and tended to harder rock ballads like ‘Renegade.’ It was probably his strict subscription to the rock religion that kept Styx from drifting too far into the theater rock arena under DeYoung’s lead. Shaw was the Yin to DeYoung’s Yang.
Now, it’s mostly all Yin because DeYoung left the band under questionable circumstances when he was unable to tour in 1999 because of eye problems. And, look, if I were a hardcore Styx fan, I would lament the absence of DeYoung. Lennon without McCartney? To some in this crowd, Styx was the Beatles. The center of their musical universe. The sun around which all other things orbited. I was just a visitor. An astronaut flying past this curious planet, peaking into the world Styx created that seemed to consist of multi-colored beams of light, hover cars, mullets, galleons that float through space, a generally positive attitude and a penchant for sappy love songs…
At about this point in my musings, I was standing in the bathroom line as every single man in the vicinity was whistling ‘Renegade’ in unison. I looked around at men with grey hair, all older than me and likely to ask me for my Styx credentials if I stood out too much and thought God Bless Rock N’ Roll. God Bless You Rock and Roll. God Bless You.