The Grand Delusion by Sterling Whitaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Grand Delusion is subtitled “The Unauthorized True Story of Styx,” and it’s a comprehensive account of the band from its beginnings in 1962 to the present. As such, it’s truly fascinating. However, the book is far from perfect.
First of all, let me say that I grew up listening to Styx as a kid in the ’70s. They were rarely hip, but they were a guilty pleasure. One of my first albums was Paradise Theater. I’ve long loved many of their notable songs, and even like some of the early stuff from their first four albums (which weren’t all that good). In this book, we find Dennis DeYoung meeting the Pazzano brothers and teaming with JY and JC to form a band in Chicago in the mid-’60s. At first they did covers, but JY was a hard rocker who wanted to jam (while Dennis turned out to be a balladeer), and they started writing their own stuff. Signed by a local label, they put out their first four albums to little acclaim in the early ’70s. Finally, they did pretty well with Equinox, their fifth album, which featured “Suite Madame Blue,” one of my favorites. At this point, JC left the band. He would later die at 37 of alcoholism. Tommy Shaw was recruited from rural Alabama to come in and replace him. His songs were featured on the next album, Crystal Ball, and it sold well. Ultimately, they would have four (I believe) triple platinum albums with The Grand Illusion perhaps being the best (featuring “Come Sail Away”).
The problem was, the band was disintegrating. That was disappointing to read about. Dennis became so power hungry that everything had to be done exactly as he said, and he would only tour so many dates, and since he wrote most of the hits, he earned most of the money. JY and Tommy wrote the other songs; the Pazanno brothers were left out in the cold. They made practically nothing.
This is a book built on interviews, both its strength and its weakness. The author interviews Styx’s former manager, tour manager, publicist, and crew members, while also having quotes from various band members. Virtually everyone painted Dennis as the biggest prick to ever walk the face of the earth (although a book I’m reading on Lyndon Johnson portrays Robert Kennedy as that…). Dennis was the prima donna of the world and thought he was perfect, that he wrote the hits, had an amazing voice, had a vision, etc. It was pretty disgusting to read about. Of course, I had heard a lot about Dennis before reading this, but EVERYONE in this book bagged on Dennis. Apparently he’s quite the jerk. The thing that disappointed me, however, was it seemed like they were ALL prima donnas! They were all in it for the business, for the money that they finally started to make. They had separate pensions. They wouldn’t talk to each other. Had separate dressing rooms. Dennis had to bring his hideous wife on the road with him, where she tried to dominate the others. Styx fired Dennis in 1979, only to bring him back. Tommy quit after the Kilroy album because Dennis was out of control and Tommy couldn’t take it anymore. He went on to play in Damn Yankees. Dennis, Tommy, and JY all recorded solo albums in the ’80s, with none of them doing very well. They reunited in the late ’80s without Tommy and put out an album, which went nowhere. They then reunited in 1995 without John Pazanno, the drummer, who was on his way to dying from alcoholism too. They toured and put out a live CD/DVD which did pretty well, and the tour was very successful since Tommy was back, so a label picked them up and they put out Brave New World in 1999. I have it; it’s okay. However, the old infighting had returned and it was tiresome to read about. Finally, the band fired Dennis permanently and moved on with a Canadian singer who had some platinum solo albums in his home country. This didn’t go over well with some fans, while others were excited that the band was touring and recording again. Dennis went on to do Broadway and symphony stuff, with some success, while Styx has toured with Journey and REO Speedwagon, among others. The book touches on while classic rock stations like to play classic Styx, no one would play current Styx material. That’s why they toured with other bands — for greater exposure to more people. I think all of the bands benefited from that arrangement.
The reason why I wrote the interviews are a weakness for the book is because the author relies so heavily on them. Honestly, 80% of the book is straight quotes from interviews. The author writes almost nothing. He was more of an editor, to be honest. He didn’t even close the book out with his own stuff; he ended it with quotes! I don’t think a traditional publishing house would have let him get away with that. I actually suspect this book was self published. The author got an ISBN for it and got Amazon to list it, which is where I purchased the book, but you can tell. There’s no copyright page. There’s no publisher’s insignia. The cover is pretty pathetic, like a newbie graphic artist gave Whitaker (the author) their first draft and he went with it. There are so many typos in the book, that it really deserves two stars instead of three. I’m only giving it three because I did enjoy reading it. But seriously, there are multiple spaces between words on virtually every page. Yo Whitaker — get a proofreader, please! Pathetic. So it’s self published. Big deal, everyone’s doing it these days, right? At least he got some good band photos in. That’s something.
This book is interesting, but it’s almost entirely quotes from people who were interviewed, many with a bone to pick, even while they denied it. It could have been written so much better if only the author had decided to actually write. Still, it was cool to read about how the hits were made and read about the albums and tours. I enjoyed it, but can only cautiously recommend it as I think only a Styx fan would enjoy it — your casual reader won’t. Three stars.