Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of posts on music rants. If you are a local musician or writer and have a opinion, rant, gripe, beef, stance or just want to jump up on the soapbox to express something coherent to the music community please contact us. Today, we present local writer Robin Wheeler with her a take on Styx. Out of a modicum of respect we shied away from publishing around the recent birthday of singer Dennis DeYoung. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the author are his own and do no necessarily reflect those of the owners of this site. – Scott Allen
By Robin Wheeler
In 2009, my husband Brian and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by making one hell of an impulse purchase – a 1978 Rock-Ola 476 Grand Salon II jukebox. I never had designs on the ’70s yacht rock of music machines – a dark, scrolled faux wood console with a photo of a beach sunset on the lid. But when your husband finds an ad for a $150 jukebox on your otherwise-ignored wedding anniversary, you jump on it.
While Brian and our friend Will navigated the giant beast from the back of our truck into our basement’s rumpus room, my friend Erin and I sat on our asses upstairs while the boys did all the work. We dug through the stack of 45s that managed to survive my childhood, then ditched them in the basement.
I was an early adopter of cassingle technology in 1987, but what remained were some mid-’80s gems. Like most of Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” singles. And the punk dance schlock of M/A/R/S/S and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Not too shabby for a ‘tween in the age of Madonna and Michael Jackson. He was in the collection, too.
At the bottom of the stack – yes, I stored my singles in a stack without sleeves and they survived – we found the guilt records, the ones that when I protested, “These weren’t mine! Really! My cousin gave them to me!” elicited a, “Yeah, right. Sure. Your ‘cousin’.”
I have a cousin ten years my senior. As a child, I thought she was the end-all, be-all. In retrospect, I can recognize and accept that frankly, she just wasn’t very bright. Even at age seven I was suspicious when she told me that you can’t lay on your side in the sun because you’ll get sideburns.
Two years later I also believed her when she told me that Styx was the best band ever and I had to listen to the genius of their masterpiece, “Babe”, foisting a stack of records my way that included most of their big hits.
Being the young innocent, looking to the feathered-hair elder for guidance, I listened.
It’s twinkly, not unlike the Disney albums my mother was still buying for me. Chirpy. A little spacey. Why do I feel like I’m about to get a fluoride treatment? Oh, because this is just like the music at the dentist office, but with words.
When my cousin asked what I thought, I pretended to love it, feeling like I must be missing something, probably because of my youth. Or because I wasn’t smart and sophisticated enough to understand the nuances of grown-up music. Surely it was deep and mysterious, and my brain was too full of candy from Blondie and Pat Benatar to get it.
It took years before I understood the truth: my cousin was a fucking idiot.
Styx, specifically the works of megalomaniac Dennis DeYoung, aren’t deep and mysterious. They’re just boring. An uninspired precursor to New Age synth noodling peppered with juvenile lyrics about the most simplistic version of human relations.
“Babe, I’m getting on a train and abandoning you, but I still love you. For real.”
The song might have been more interesting had he been leaving on a spaceship, since that’s what it sounds like. The one good thing about the song was wasted.
I don’t have as much of a problem with the Tommy Shaw-steered Styx. “Too Much Time on My Hands” has a nice groove, a bit of wit in the lyrics, and enough energy to give it some propulsion.
And yet, thanks to the early stages of the MTV era, I can’t hear the song without visualizing a moment from the song’s video in which guitarist James “J.Y.” Young, in his white jumpsuit, staggers backward, bent at the waist, his face contorted into an expression that indicates he’s either made an unexpected trip to “Paradise Theater”, if you catch my drift, or been kicked in the balls.
(The offending image begins at the 3:33 mark and needs to be a .gif so very, very badly)
And every time I get that image in my head, it’s accompanied by Butthead saying, “Ooooooh, sexy!”
This caused at least 37% of all sexual dysfunction in women who are now ages 40-45. When that’s the image of male sexuality presented on the cusp of puberty – jumpsuits, leers, eyebrown-waggling, promises of love, babe, even though I’ve got to break free and you can only have me if you ditch your life and sail away with me, babe – it makes the whole boy-girl relationship thing mighty unappealing.
If this is what they mean by sex, I think I’ll stick to playing softball and pretending to be Debbie Harry and avoiding my once-idolized cousin because clearly we are not on the same page.
That’s a lot of innocence to lose at once.
Overblown, sexist, shallow, and dull. And it’s all DeYoung’s fault. Which is what makes Styx that much worse: they didn’t go down that road of mediocrity until he wrangled control. Listen to “Renegade”. It’s good! It doesn’t fall into the pomposity DeYoung foisted onto the band, eventually killing it with a rock opera about a Japanese robot.
Think about that, won’t you? Rock opera. Robots. Done without a lick of the heart and humor the Flaming Lips would bring to the same subject twenty years later.
And yet, Styx still lives. While channel-surfing on a Sunday afternoon in January, I found the only good use for Styx’s music: improvisational figure skating done while the current incarnation of of the band plays at the edge of the ice.
Damn if I didn’t watch the whole show. It was like I’d stumbled into a pit of aerosol cheese and couldn’t eat my way out of it. I allowed myself to sink, because what else can you do when you’re drowning in artificial cheese?
Aside from cheese production, my husband found another use for Styx on the day we celebrated our union with the 400-pound jukebox I didn’t help him move down our precarious basement stairs. After he and Will had done all the hard work, they called Erin and me to the basement to see that they hadn’t broken the machine or bones.
As we descended the stairs, Brian punched the wobbly buttons on the jukebox, forcing me to make my anniversary entrance to the childlike tinkle and girlish whine:
I’m sailing away
Set an open course for the virgin sea.
Fuck you. I want a divorce.
No, of course I didn’t divorce my husband because he soiled something sacred – the first song played on my first jukebox – by putting my idiot cousin’s ripe-ass copy of “Come Sail Away” in the spot of honor. But I promise you that, for the rest of our union, I will spontaneously and publicly serenade him at inopportune moments with the only version of that song that matters: in the style of Eric Cartman.