I was born in 1970 and by the time I was 12 years old, I owned four Styx records: Crystal Ball, The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight and Paradise Theater. If I recall correctly, at the time those were the only four rock albums that I owned. The only other vinyl that I had was a “Star Wars” soundtrack and a horror story/sound effects record. When I wanted to listen to music, I tuned to the local Top 40 radio station: 107.3 in Washington DC.
My small record collection can all be traced back to the summer before I started fourth grade. A new family had just moved into the house that shared a fence with our backyard. One afternoon my mom called me out to the fence and introduced me to our new neighbors. Their daughter, Karin, was the same age as I was and about to start going to the same school. After the introductions, I was ‘volunteered’ by my mom to walk with Karin to school in the mornings. It was a task that I not-so-secretly relished, due to my almost immediate crush on Karin (that’s all I am going to say about that).
Over the next three years, I would come to view Karin as my best friend. We never shared a class, but almost every morning we would walk to school together with another of our friends, Holly. In order to avoid being teased by my other friends (all boys), I would never walk up to the actual school with the girls and would instead slow down and arrive a minute or so later. It is not a behavior that I look back on with fond memory. But, even with my incredible immaturity and nerdy behavior, Karin was always kind to me… except of course for the time that I accidentally kicked her broken arm and she chased me around the outside of the entire school. I am still amazed that she accepted my apology.
While I had an overwhelming obsession for all things “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Mork & Mindy,” my musical knowledge was limited to whatever was playing on the aforementioned Top 40 radio station. Karin, on the other hand, was really into music. She was the one who introduced me to the concept of owning records. She would get 45s and LPs regularly, while I would work to convince my mom to buy me “Star Wars” action figures.
Whenever I would go over to Karin’s house to hang out, she would play her records for me. That was when her bubbling enthusiasm for Styx began to rub off on me. She seemed to have every picture of Tommy Shaw (Styx’s guitarist and vocalist) that she could find on display in her bedroom. In 1983, when Kilroy Was Here was released, she managed to convince the owner of the local record store, Waxie Maxie’s, to give her the life-sized standee of Mr. Roboto they used to display the album. To say she was a fan is probably the greatest understatement that I can make… but I am skipping ahead a bit.
One year for my birthday, my parents got me an all-in-one stereo system complete with a record player, cassette deck, 8 track and radio. That same birthday, Karin gave me my very first Styx record and started me down my own musical obsession. I began getting 45s of my own, as well as adding to my music collection by taping my favorite songs off of the radio. Of course, if Karin introduced me to a band, I became an instant fan. That said, nothing stuck to my heart as much as the music of Styx.
I would listen to Paradise Theater over and over, for hours on end while I read or played with my action figures. Eventually I added other Styx albums to my collection, never delving too far back into their history. In fact, until I was a teenager, I preferred Styx’s later albums and didn’t listen to anything earlier than Crystal Ball. Another peculiar quirk of mine was that I had convinced myself that bands only put their good songs on the A-sides of records. I would seldom listen to the B-sides for that reason. So, even though I had a growing Styx collection, I was not hearing half of their songs. It took the release of Kilroy was Here to finally change that misconception.
When Styx was out on their Kilroy was Here tour, later documented on Caught in the Act, I failed twice at convincing my parents to let me attend the concert. My mom just did not feel comfortable with her little boy going to a loud rock and roll show, even if I had an adult with me. I remember very clearly the night that we were in Charleston, West Virginia visiting family and Styx was playing just down the road. I begged and pleaded to go, but to no avail. It was just not meant to be.
Of course, that was the last tour that the band ever performed with that lineup of musicians. By the time I was finally able to attend a Styx concert (almost 30 years later), original drummer John Panozzo had passed away and Lawrence Gowan had replaced original keyboardist Dennis DeYoung.
I tell you that last story in order to tell you this one:
When I was interviewing Lawrence Gowan two weeks ago, I told him that same tale of woe. He commiserated with me and regaled me with one of his own. The exact same thing had happened to him when he was a boy. A neighbor had an extra ticket for a rock and roll concert that he desperately wanted to attend. Like my mother, his mom would not let him attend a rock and roll show at that age. Instead, she promised that the next time the band came to town, he would be a bit older and she would let him attend. The name of that band was The Beatles, and he is still waiting for that band to come back to town.
At least my story has a happy ending. A few years ago, when Styx was out on the road performing their “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight” theater tour, I bought a ticket to their performance at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. The opportunity to attend a Styx show in which they played two of my favorite albums in their entirety just could not be missed.
There I was, 41 years old and thinking about all the things in my life that had occurred since Karin introduced me to Styx so many years ago. The lights went down, the band started playing and I suddenly realized that I was there cheering on Styx, literally “from the shadow of the 14th row.”