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Chuck Panozzo Steps Out

Bassist delivers The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies, And My Life With Styx

by Duke Egbert

It’s not very often that two of my passions intersect, so I take the moment when they do. As a music reviewer, I cheerfully and shamelessly admit I like big-screen, bombastic rock and roll, and Styx – specifically the Crystal Ball to Paradise Theater stage – is one of my favorite bands. As a men’s movement activist and a man with many, many gay and HIV+ friends, I love to support and fight for gay rights and HIV+ rights. In his new autobiography, The Grand Illusion, Chuck Panozzo allows me to share two passions at once -- and even better, he does it with an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

The Grand Illusion pulls no punches. The story of Panozzo’s lifelong struggle with his identity as a gay man is juxtaposed with the story of Styx; the highs, the lows, the disagreements and the continued evolution of the band’s sound and membership. Panozzo speaks candidly about the dispute between himself, James Young and Tommy Shaw on one hand and Dennis DeYoung on the other, as well as painting a stark picture of his brother John’s alcoholism and death. (John was the longtime drummer for Styx.)

Perhaps more importantly, he talks about being a gay man and an HIV+ man; the candor with which Panozzo discusses his own fears and hopes is stark and refreshing. Despite knowing he was gay from an early age, Panozzo didn’t come out of the closet until 2002; in The Grand Illusion, he is straightforward about the combination of societal and family pressures and his own fears and perceived inadequacies that resulted in him staying in the closet as long as he did.  

Very few rock and roll stars have admitted their homosexuality, and Panozzo takes a long hard look at the implied heterosexuality of the rock culture and what it does to people.

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Don’t think this is all heavy stuff, however. Panozzo and co-author Michele Skettino kept me entertained, as well, with a brisk, drily funny writing style. (Line of the year: "If you’ve never been the grand marshal of a parade, I highly recommend it." I don’t know why, but that just tickled me.  [Editor's note: Possibly because it's a paraphrase of a line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which of course includes a famous scene involving a parade through Chicago -- Styx's hometown.])

In summary, The Grand Illusion is a worthwhile read for many reasons. You can read it as the story of a band, or the story of a man living with HIV and AIDS. In the long run, though, it is a story about love and life overcoming fear, and in this day and age we need those stories. Ironically enough, The Grand Illusion is, in the end, about truth.

 




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