First posted on Mark Is Cranky:
This issue has been addressed, pummeled, stomped on and beaten to death in many an Internet shooting match: a particular piece of music has intrinsic worth, a sort of objective scorecard whose total puts the record on some kind of pop music number line.
I’m in the latter category. It’s one of the reasons that I don’t bother with writing negative reviews. Something’s not to my liking? Look I’m no expert. Maybe I missed the point. This is particularly true when I’ve never liked the artist. I mean, what’s the point of blasting out 500 words on how much the new Belle & Sebastian sucks? Save the pencil lead & keystrokes and just ignore the danged thing.
Now, here at Blogcritics we had ourselves a great Internet hooey about the band Styx and their big hit record The Grand Illusion. The lead hooey-meister was our own Al Barger. Some folks thought that the brazen act of liking this band was indefensible. ‘Bad’ lyrics, uninspired dreck…blah, blah, blah.
The thing is, one of the reasons I liked Styx so much (aside from nostalgia, which of course I’ll get to) is that their evolution was fun to watch. They started out as a Chicago-area working class band with a built-in time-bomb: the more blue collar guys in the group were at some point bound to clash with the white collar guy: lead singer/synthesize guy Dennis DeYoung. The first explosion seemed to occur on Cornerstone. Yea, “Babe” was a huge hit, but you can just imagine the look plastered on guitarist James Young’s face as Dennis played that one through the first time.
Rock group soap opera antics aside, I just plain liked the music. The contrasts in the band members’ tastes were exactly what made it so interesting. DeYoung might have been a synthesizer Liberace, but his whorling lines made James Young’s snarling guitar that much more intense. A perfect example is on “Miss America”, where the synth introduction gives way to some blissfully distorted guitar.
Then there’s the issue of musicianship: that one group/artist is somehow better and/or more deserving because their successful use of certain songwriting devices combined with an ‘acceptable’ level of chops. So obviously a group like Styx were ‘better’ musicians than say (to use Al Barger’s example), Iggy Pop. That conclusion leaves out all sorts of other reasons that people become enamored of tunes: passion, power, aggression, lust. Iggy, being the appropriately named ‘Godfather of Punk’ had all of those traits in spades. That and a killer growl of a voice. It was like the man was possessed or somethin’!
Lastly, there’s the nostalgia factor. Sorry, but I can’t get away from this. It applies to nearly every single recording in my collection. The Grand Illusion has attached to it my cousin Andy’s bedroom (where I first heard Pat Metheny while getting my game-pacifist ass kicked in backgammon…but hey, he had a cool Styx poster on the wall), the television ads for Styx at the Moncton Coliseum (WLBZ 2, Bangor, Maine), the time I saw them in concert with my old buddy Tyler (on the Pieces of Eight tour, where we stopped on the side of the Maine Turnpike just outside of Augusta to lob full bottles of beer at a huge exit sign….we missed), Dennis DeYoung’s piano rising from the chemical fog during the intro to “Come Sail Away”, Chuck Panozzo calling a crowd member a “big fucking asshole” for hitting him in the face with a bottlecap, my confused reaction to the release of Cornerstone, my even more confused reaction to the release of Kilroy Was Here. All of those thoughts are there, they just can’t be denied.
And, like William Hurt’s character said in The Big Chill:
- You’re so analytical! Sometimes you just have to let art flow over you.
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