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#1: KILROY WAS HERE by STYX

Contra my last post, there is nothing inherently shameful about the nostalgic return to something remembered from youth. Everyone does this on occasion. I myself do it with a depressing frequency; alert readers may remember that I recently paid five dollars, which I will wish I had back when I get too old to work, on a DVD of Rocky III because I like watching Mr. T yell at people. I stand by this judgment; there are few pleasures in this world greater than watching Mr. T yell at people, and one of them is watching Mr. T pound on people, which Rocky III also contains in abundance. However, the combined total of Mr. T yelling/hitting minutes accounts for less than half of the movie's run time; the remainder of it, with the brief and and enjoyable exception of Hulk Hogan saying "meatball" a lot, consists of an intensely homoerotic Sly Stallone pouting and wearing things made of lamé. It is definitely not worth five dollars, even if you turn it off halfway through and pretend that Clubber Lang never lost the championship.

The sin lies in returning to those things and then pretending, against all available sensory input, that they are in fact wonderful things worthy of adulation instead of giant moist gushy piles of horse shit. One must learn one's lessons, however brutally, and move on.

Take a few years back, for example, when I briefly labored under the misapprehension that Styx's 1983 rock opera, Kilroy Was Here, was not only not an immensely terrible record, but it was in fact a good record. Now, I did not believe this based on any tangible evidence; all one has to do is listen to Kilroy Was Here just once to learn that it is a heap of crap. I believed it because I had not listened to the album in about 20 years, and I had somehow gotten it into my head that it was an underrated classic. So I went out and spent actual American money on a CD of Kilroy Was Here, and I gave it a spin. It was an unbelievably foul-tasting suck cocktail which went down even less smoothly when I realized how colossally wrong I had been. It was not an underrated gem by a critically unappreciated band at the peak of their powers; it was a justly reviled snot blob by a rightfully despised band well past their sell-by date.

One of the biggest problems with the album is that it is a rock opera. People often ask me at parties: Why do rock operas, as a rule, suck the big nozz so much? My answer to this is always the same: because rock stars are not very smart. That's why they're rock stars instead of novelists or physicists. Try this: think of the smartest rock star there is. He or she isn't really very smart at all, is he/she? You probably have half a dozen friends smarter than the smartest rock star you can think of. This rock star only seems smart in comparison to other rock stars, who are dumber than dry cleaning bags. They have no business attempting to construct a sustained narrative, especially one involving music. Dennis DeYoung, in particular, is not so much a classically trained composer as he is a mulletted, dungaree-wearing clod from Chicago's south side. I bear him no malice in this; I have actually sat with him at a Chicago White Sox game and found him to be a personable, kind, and open-hearted fellow. I am merely saying that he is a man who has no business using the word "modren".

The whole concept of this cookie-dough concept album is typically ridiculous '80s ROKK! stuff: a fundamentalist preacher named Dr. Everett Righteous comes to power and bans rock 'n' roll. A famous rock star named Robert Orin Charles Kilroy (GET IT? HO HO) is framed for murder and, teaming up with rock rebel Jonathan Chance, disguises himself as a as a 'Mr. Roboto' mechanical servant in order to infiltrate the ranks of the Majority for Musical Morality. Remember, folks, a 36-year-old man wrote this. The album was also a boffo success, but the subsequent tour -- which cost a fortune and included retroactively hilarious live re-enactments of the asinine 'plot' of the album -- was a massive financial disaster, justly punishing DeYoung and company for their crimes against humanity.

Let's go to the tracks.

TRACK 1: "Mr. Roboto". The boffo smash single from the album, and the only song on the whole record worth listening to. Why? Because it has robots. Otherwise, it's pretty limp, but any song that has Vocodered robots speaking Japanese can't be all bad. Five minutes and twenty-eight seconds of glorious cheese.

TRACK 2: "Cold War". Written by lead guitarist Tommy Shaw, so at least DeYoung can't shoulder the blame for this plodding snoozer. Shaw doesn't have the voice that DeYoung does, which is both a blessing and a curse, but here it just makes a boring song more boring. Sort of like those songs on The Wall by David Gilmour: you know you're not going to be embarrassed by any over-the-top symbolism, but you also know you'll struggle to stay awake to the next track.

TRACK 3: "Don't Let It End". This is DeYoung back in the saddle again, in full-blown 'working man's Steve Perry' mode. He obviously meant for this to be a big, romantic anthem, but it falls short by virtue of sucking. It's almost five minutes long and nearly as excruciating as "Lady", but even more so because it doesn't have a rockin' part at the end -- and we haven't seen the last of it.

TRACK 4: "High Time". Kilroy, or Chance, or someone, gets all naughty and rebellious and says it's time for us to bring back the rockin'. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the song itself utterly fails to do. Despite different authorships, I challenge any listener to tell the difference between this song and "Cold War".

TRACK 5: "Heavy Metal Poisoning". Part of the key to why I bought this record is that I misremembered this song as being kinda good. It's not good. It's bad. It's very, very bad. It's bad in almost every way a song can be bad. It's meant to be a Dr. Righteous solo number where the demagogue condemns heavy metal music while singing a heavy metal song, but this is not a heavy metal song, even by the weak-sauce standards of mid-'80s heavy metal. Recorded only two years after Venom's first album came out, "Heavy Metal Poisoning" is actually less metal than Vixen. It's less metal than Bon Jovi. It comes within a hair's breadth of being less metal than Journey. Worst of all, it's sung with histrionic vigor by rhythm guitarist James Young, who's an even worse singer than Tommy Shaw, and combines his rotten voice with a flatulent synth solo that makes the whole thing sound like Barry White in the midst of liquefaction.

TRACK 6: "Just Get Through This Night". Much as "High Time" was a Dennis DeYoung song that sounded like a Tommy Shaw song, "Just Get Through This Night" is a Tommy Shaw song that sounds like a Dennis DeYoung song: soaring vocals (or, given his limitations, high-jumping vocals), pseudo-anthemic power ballad form, and lyrics designed to appeal to 13-year-old girls and 15-year-old boys with no capacity for embarrassment. This song, along with the fact that the storytelling sucks, is why I can never tell Kilroy and Chance apart.

TRACK 7: "Double Life". Surprise, surprise: the Jerry Falwell character in this benighted black mark on the word 'opera' is a big fat hypocrite! This confessional song by Dr. Righteous serves to prove only two things: James Young should not be let anywhere near a ballad, and he is in fact capable of sucking even worse than he does on "Heavy Metal Poisoning".

TRACK 8: "Haven't We Been Here Before?". We sure have, and we're getting awfully sick of it. Those, like me, who had terrible trouble spotting the difference between the transcendent blandness of Dennis DeYoung and the existential boredom of Tommy Shaw will be delighted to learn that this amazingly gay song is a duet between the two of them, as Kilroy and Chance finally meet and the universe collapses screaming upon itself.

TRACK 9: "Don't Let It End (Reprise)". Any joy the listener feels at having finally arrived at the end of the album is immediately canceled by the realization that he or she has to sit through the relentless soul-suck of "Don't Let It End" for the second time. This is much like getting your walking papers after an incredibly dangerous tour of duty in WWII, and then getting sunk on a transport ship home on the last day of the war. Or, as Joe Queenan put it in a slightly but not altogether different context, it's like surviving the Black Plague only to discover that there is something called the Blacker Plague. "PLEASE let it end", you cry, hoping that the obvious joke will somehow alleviate your agony, but it won't end, not for one hundred and forty-two of the longest seconds of your life.

Someone pay me to write these, the end.

Comments

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lester22
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC)
Try this: think of the smartest rock star there is. He or she isn't really very smart at all, is he/she?

For your consideration: Dr. Brian May.
ludickid
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:39 pm (UTC)
Fair enough, although I am uncertain of the quality of Dr. May's research, and I submit that no truly intelligent person would have that haircut for 30 years.
lester22
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
Well, some board at some university read his research, orally examined him, and conferred a Ph.D on him, so that's gotta count for something, right?

Also, for your hairdo consideration:

ludickid
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
Well, someone gave Chris Matthews a PhD too. And Newt Gingrich. And David Horowitz, who is so dumb I want to kill myself.

Also, I submit to you that unlike Brian May's, Albert Einstein's haircut is awesome.
lester22
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)
Let's not get off the main point though -- remember, Dr. May is a bona fide rock star, unlike that ship of tools you just listed.

And yeah, Brian's hairstyle leaves a bit to be desired, as against Einstein's, but still, the man is smart. Legitimately.

ludickid
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
Again, fair enough, but let me ask you this: would you want to listen to a rock opera by Brian May? No, you would not. And why would you not? Because it would be stupid. He might be a brainy science guy, but like Dennis DeYoung, he is also clearly kind of a moron.
lester22
Jan. 22nd, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
Has Brian May recorded a rock opera, of which I am unaware? I think that perhaps his inherent smartiness has stopped him from doing so. Or maybe he is working on transforming his Ph.D thesis - "Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud" - into an epic spectacle of light and sound to be played by Queen with Paul Rodgers and accompanied by the London Symphony.

That's actually a hell of a good name for an album, come to think of it...
calamityjon
Jan. 22nd, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)
I'll make your head spin with further pedantry, and point out that founding Sha-Na-Na members Rob Leonard and Al Cooper are now professors of linguistics and theology, respectively...
archaica
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:39 pm (UTC)
You suffered so that we did not have to. Thank you.

(Also, I like the songs on The Wall by Gilmour. At least they're not so whiny.)
ludickid
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
As I made clear, they have their strong points, but you put them on an album all by themselves, and you've got a not very good album.
archaica
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
True.
thehighhat
Jan. 22nd, 2008 07:45 pm (UTC)
rock operas worth a damn
I was going to write a High Hat article on rock operas I like about a year back before I realized that there's not many, they don't have much in common, and they're less rock operas trying to tell a coherent story than thematically linked song cycles or single-song mini-operas.

But there's the Who's "A Quick One," The Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat, Joanna Newsom's Ys (and yes, I know you can't stand it), The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday, and, of course, Zen Arcade. Things get a little loose afterwards. Is Smile a rock opera? The Kinks' Arthur? I dunno. So I never wrote it.
ludickid
Jan. 22nd, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
Re: rock operas worth a damn
I am not saying that they all suck. There are quite a few that I like. I just think that the ratio of bad ones to good ones is at least 4:1, which I think means, statistically, that they suck as a rule.

However, I'm bored if you are, so we could probably do "dueling rock operas that aren't awful"...maybe vs. "dueling rock operas that ARE awful", just for balance.
rkstevens
Jan. 22nd, 2008 09:56 pm (UTC)
Counterpoint
The big question that forms in my mind is "Why do people enjoy bashing Styx so much?" And it's usually not just a simple "this sucks stay away from it" type of bashing, but an all-out, passionate rejection; so much that the writer probably spends all night coming up with disparaging remarks about the band members and their music. "Kilroy Was Here" is a perfect example.
First of all, the album has a love-it-or-hate-it reaction, even with Styx fans. But allow me to address some of the points that you made:
Rock stars are dumb. This could depend on your definition of "dumb". As far as education, all of the members of Styx hold college degrees. Several (including DeYoung) are certified teachers. James Young has been recognized by many people for his knowledge of the business side of the music business; which I am to understand he is much better at than his song writing or vocal abilities. Dennis DeYoung had a vision and a plan to be successful. This included, after the bands success in the late 70's and being given the People's Choice Award for favorite band, getting the band on film. When Kilroy was conceived, there was no such thing as MTV. Highly popular bands preceding Styx had made films, so it was the next step to take.
Concerning your comments on DeYoung: "..he is a mulletted, dungaree-wearing clod from Chicago's south side.." Spoken like a north-sider that would rather root for the St. Louis Cardinals over the White Sox in the World Series. Yes, he is a south-sider who is true to his roots, and proud of them. The hard-working blue collar people of this Country built it up and made it strong; something that I feel is forgotten nowadays, when blue collar work is looked down on. And I don't think DeYoung has had a mullet since the 70's.
The whole theme of the Kilroy concept came about from real life events. Styx had been accused of being a satanic rock group. These claims were never proven, and Kilroy became the band's response to these negative remarks. The album included a warning label, stating that there were "evil backward messages" on the album. While these messages were quite harmless and certainly not evil, this action predated the actual warning labels that are now on every album that contains "adult language."
I would have preferred a rock tour, then a feature film, but the show was done with a 15 minute film at the start of the concert/stage show instead. The majority of the comments that I have heard concerning these shows were positive. Even bassist Chuck Panozzo has stated in interviews that they were fun to do, except for the infamous "Texas Jam" show.
Track comments:
Mr Roboto: Only to be a transition from movie to stage show, and not a single.
Cold War/Just Get Through This Night: Reflect Tommy Shaws inner feelings about being in Styx at the time.
Don't Let It End: A double entendre. Rock or relationship.
High Time - With a 50's feel, it IS different than Cold War. Track supports concept only.
Heavy Metal Poisoning: I agree with you, completely. While it does fit the theme of the album, the lyrics are shoehorned into the music. While JY has a blues-style background, this does not make his songs "metal". Same with Double Life
Haven't We Been Here Before - Tommy Shaw has the ability to write some very nice melodies, and I feel this is one of them. But, it is totally out of place with the concept of the album.
Don't Let It End reprise - Mistitled, as a reprise brings back the melody mentioned. This sounds nothing like Don't Let It End. Ends the stage show.
The biggest disapointment of someone who is interested in the concept presented is simple: It isn't complete. The back story is given, rock music is outlawed, Kilroy escapes, meets Johnathan Chance, then...? ENDS. The album. The story. The stage show. And for many fans, Styx. The personalities, ambitions, and egos of ALL of the members involved completely crashed. I feel that if the members had been more unified, Styx would have had greater success with a "rock opera".
"Kilroy Was Here" is not as strong as "The Grand Illusion" or as successful as Who's "Tommy", but it certainly is not the product of dummies.
ludickid
Jan. 22nd, 2008 10:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Counterpoint
The big question that forms in my mind is "Why do people enjoy bashing Styx so much?"


Well, I can't speak for other people, but for me, it's because they are terrible.

so much that the writer probably spends all night coming up with disparaging remarks about the band members and their music


Okay, you've got me there.

When Kilroy was conceived, there was no such thing as MTV.


Well, the album came out in '83, and MTV debuted in 1981, and bands have been making music videos and concept records since the mid-'60s, so I dunno about that.

Spoken like a north-sider that would rather root for the St. Louis Cardinals over the White Sox in the World Series.


Dude, did you read my post? I met Dennis DeYoung AT A WHITE SOX GAME I WAS ATTENDING. I have been a Sox fan for over 20 years. I was at one of the 2005 World Series games. Our mutual love of the Pale Hose does not prevent me from noticing that the guy is a total hesher.

The whole theme of the Kilroy concept came about from real life events.


Yeah, but that doesn't make it not stupid.
rkstevens
Jan. 23rd, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
Re: Counterpoint
Well, the album came out in '83, and MTV debuted in 1981, and bands have been making music videos and concept records since the mid-'60s, so I dunno about that.

The idea for Kilroy came around early 1981. While MTV was just beginning, the impact that it would have on the music business would not be immediate. I did not doubt the idea of concept albums being around. In fact, Kilroy was not the first Styx concept album. Just that previously once a band reached the amount of success that Styx did, the next step would be something on film. This would require at least some sort of plot or concept, no matter how poor or crappy it may be. Even though the album was released in '83, it took several years to create, especially the way Styx was touring back then.

Dude, did you read my post? I met Dennis DeYoung AT A WHITE SOX GAME I WAS ATTENDING. I have been a Sox fan for over 20 years. I was at one of the 2005 World Series games. Our mutual love of the Pale Hose does not prevent me from noticing that the guy is a total hesher
I can read. It was just your tone and bashing him for being from the south side that made me draw the comparison, nothing else.

Yeah, but that doesn't make it not stupid
Says something about events in real life, doesn't it?
thehighhat
Jan. 23rd, 2008 01:36 am (UTC)
Re: Counterpoint
I actually wrote a whole article about how much I loved Styx back in 1983 and how embarrassing I find that today. It didn't even take me all night! This is mainly because Styx is not just the worst band I used to love back when I was a kid and more susceptible to crappy music, but one of the worst bands I've ever heard. Also, I remember watching the much-hyped Kilroy Was Here concert on MTV.
ludickid
Jan. 23rd, 2008 03:29 am (UTC)
Re: Counterpoint
The greatest thing about the Kilroy Was Here concert is that it lost like a berjillion dollars.
(Deleted comment)
ludickid
Jan. 23rd, 2008 03:28 am (UTC)
Certainly.
flying_blind
Jan. 23rd, 2008 04:50 am (UTC)
"Mr. Roboto" is from a rock opera?

I learn so much from reading LJ!
lucifrix
Jan. 24th, 2008 06:23 pm (UTC)
Run, Tommy Shaw, run!
If I were in a position to do so, I'd pay you to do more of these.

I can't imagine you haven't seen this already, but just in case:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b--lOyp45z4 --> Intro film for the Kilroy tour

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcyI1LQ6xp0 --> A remake of the film done by a Styx tribute band called What Not To Do To Your Roboto (some good DID come of this, really)

I think I can die happy now that I've seen a Roboto curl up gasping "Oh, my balls!"
crepedelbebe
Jan. 26th, 2008 03:57 am (UTC)
You are the biggest dork of all time, and I love you for it.
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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