|Anyone expecting this book to be a tell-all of one of the greatest rock groups of all time will be sorely disappointed. This is not tabloid fodder. It is not a he-said/she-said tale filled with accusations and unfounded theories. Yes, there are some revealing moments from behind the scenes of the multi-platinum rock legends, and there are a few statements that could be taken as controversial. But the boys in the band are secondary players. They are the background material to Chuck's life, and his constant fear of being outed in an industry that wasn't - and in some cases, still isn't - forgiving or understanding.
From his beginnings in Chicago, being raised in a strict Catholic Italian household, to the beginnings of Styx, to his struggles with personal demons, Chuck is eloquent and frank about his life. He speaks with love about starting Trade Winds with his brother and Dennis back in their early teens, and chronicles the development of his musical career to the pinnacle it is now. He not only covers music, but the education he received at the hands of the nuns in Catholic school. His focus in this book is not on music, although it is a constant theme through the story. He lets us in on the secrets of his family - John's drinking, his sister's denial of his sexuality, his mother's constant smothering, and his father's early demise, at which I choked back a tear for the man who would never know that his sons became world class musicians.
He talks at length about his self discovery; about how hard it was for him to accept himself as gay, and how he fought to suppress his true self. He tells us of the early days of AIDS, and how, since there was little known about the disease, those that contracted it just sat around and waited to die. He educates us and tells us that there is hope out there.
We ride along with him on this journey, and we experience what he does. I nearly wept with joy when he finally revealed himself to the boys and was accepted. I cringed at some of the ignorance that he experienced. His description of John's decline after the band's first break up in 1984 is heart wrenching, especially for those of us that know the sad ending to John's story. His downward spiral lasted for twelve years, despite the interventions and two stints in rehab. Reading of Chuck's resigned acceptance that he could no longer help John, and his subsequent distance from his twin brother brings home the importance of family, but more importantly, the importance of self help as well. His regret that he wasn't there when his brother passed in 1996 comes through loud and clear.
Meanwhile, the legend that was Styx refused to die. Two reunions and several albums ensured their place in history. Panozzo remained in the closet the entire time, terrified that his secret could threaten the career that he had worked so hard to establish, and the careers of those around him. In 1991 Panozzo was diagnosed as HIV positive, and even then he hid his secret from the band and the world until the late Nineties, when he was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. He holds nothing back when talking about the ravages of the disease on his body, mind and spirit. He speaks with frankness about the ignorance of the world in general, and how sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to let someone go.
When Panozzo speaks about his decision to finally come out publicly, you just want to cheer. His courage is infectious. His choice to come out and become a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign was a wonderful gesture and tribute to those he'd lost in life.
He also speaks frankly about love - how hard it was for him to find it, and how he wasn't sure he actually COULD love someone in his newfound life, after almost sixty years of having to only worry about himself and his family. But when he finally does meet that person who would become his partner, you feel the sparks fly right off the page. And the readers can sympathize with his reluctance to relocate from his childhood home to the sunny shores of Miami. BUT, we also experience his joy when he finally finds a place of acceptance and a supportive community.
His time with Styx is given its due attention - after all, as a co-founder and the only original member left from the days of Trade Winds, it was a huge part of his life. But, what fans might not have known, is his stint in parochial school to become a priest, and his subsequent education to get his teachers degree. I also did not know that Chuck is an artist, and his artwork was the cover for The Grand Illusion (the 30th anniversary of which is coming this July 7). Little gems of knowledge like that pop up throughout his story, and by the end, you feel like you've not only run a marathon of emotions, but you feel like you've found a friend.
Chuck recently graced us with his presence at Styxfest in Orillia, Ontario. He was good enough to sit and speak with us about the book, and answer any questions we might have had, regardless of the subject. He spoke at length about the books content, but his parting comment, what he left us with, was the best lesson anyone could learn in life. "We're all human. Once we start labeling people as gay, straight, black or white, we lose our humanity." What a profound, and true, statement.
For anyone who's a fan of Styx, music fans in general or even just those who are looking for a good read, it's a must for your bookshelf. This book not only tells the story of one courageous man, it teaches us about love, guidance, and tolerance. It's not loud, it's not preachy. Like all of Chuck's accomplishments, it's a work of art.
|The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies and My Life With Styx|
|Book Review by Andrea Maclam|
|Source: The Trades|