It has become suburban habit to gather in gated communities on a summer night, congregating in a park beneath stars and moon and the steady sedation of bottled cocktails, awash in anticipation of some forgotten musician bent on squeezing a few final pennies from the remnants of our memories. Saturday night in Mission Viejo, CA, it was Dennis DeYoung, the former lead singer and songwriter for Styx. He played mostly Styx music, the sole exception being “Desert Moon,” a hit from his days as a solo artist.
Here’s are seven things I learned that night:
1.) DeYoung, at 66, is still an incredible vocalist. He doesn’t have the strength and range to sing every song, but he comes through with surprising vocal polish in those classic ballads, like “Lady” and “Babe.”
2.) All of the big wind-up songs — “Grand Illusion,” “Come Sail Away,” “Best of Times” — sound formulaic by today’s standards: the heavy dose of synthesizer, the perfunctory pause for the obligatory guitar solo, and the slow build up from drippingly sweet ballad to all-out guitar rock-outs.
3.) Not that DeYoung and Styx were ever, you know, Ozzie and Black Sabbath, but it’s still difficult to see him prancing around in a white pants and a vest, telling corny jokes and, it must be said, seeming more like Barry Manilow than long-haired rock star. It makes me cringe to think that, 25 years from now, my kids will have to watch Billy Corgan croon “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” with kick-line dancers or something.
4.) Of all the Styx hits, who would have guessed that “Mr. Roboto” would be the most anticipated? For me, though, it was “Renegade,” and the memory of it caught me a little by surprise.
5.) DeYoung wrote “Babe” as a gift for his wife and recorded it as a simple demo. Styx producers heard it and thought it might make for a hit. DeYoung met his wife when he was 17, and she 15, at a high school dance. They’ve been married for 43 years. I’m unclear, but dazzled that his marriage lasted through a successful musical career. Bravo.
6.) Suburbia is an easy target. It is sport to identify the archetype. But there is an unabashed spirit there, too, one that champions love of family and friends, even if the chicken wings come from Costco.
7.) Children will always surpass your expectations, and in ways you hadn’t imagined. As I drove my 20-something daughter home at the end of the night, after another painful week of family implosion, she reminded me that despite what often feels like the defiant daily refrain of failure, our family had accomplished incredible success. I drove off renewed, and in my head I heard Dennis DeYoung’s words from “Lady” again: “your hands build me up when I’m sinking.”