Precious little has been written in book format about Styx. Cynics may argue there's a reason for that, but one of the biggest bands of the Seventies deserves a platform to tell its story. At least part of that story, along with way more than many fans likely will expect, comes in The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies and My Life With Styx — founding bassist Chuck Panozzo's autobiography. Because Panozzo is a gay man pushing 60 years old and living with AIDs who came of age playing in a rock 'n' roll band, The Grand Illusion is by no means the definitive story of a group that's survived it own share of drama. But it's as close as we're going to get for awhile, and it works on several levels — ultimately revealing Panozzo to be a much more likeable person than the stoic musician he appears to be on stage.
The bass player reveals his struggles to reconcile his public image with his private sexual identity, while also chronicling the journey of Styx: its humble Chicago beginnings with his late brother, drummer John, and accordionist/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung; DeYoung's controversial departure and subsequent lawsuit; and the group's current status as road warriors. (Panozzo is no longer a full-time member of Styx but makes occasional guest appearances.) Some of the best band details come when Panozzo describes his reservations about signing the band's first deal with tiny Wooden Nickel Records, which he noted at the time had released only one album by each of its artists — never two. (Styx broke that streak by releasing four studio records with the label.)
Along the way, Panozzo takes listeners on his emotional, raw and disturbing journey into manhood – first realizing he was gay and then keeping the secret from his bandmates for fear of destroying the group, seeing John Panozzo deteriorate and ultimately die from alcohol-related complications, battling his own depression and diagnosis with HIV, and finally emerging from the darkness of heavy medication and hopelessness to find new life as a gay rights and HIV awareness activist.
Panozzo and New York City-based co-author, Michele Skettino, write in a straightforward style that makes for fast and easy reading, and they rely on delicate prose when describing Panozzo's past affairs, his visits to gay-porn houses and other touchy topics. The final section of the book reads like a politically motivated public service announcement in support of gays and lesbians. But who can blame Panozzo for wanting to inspire others to do exactly what he spent so much of his own existence avoiding — the opportunity "to live a proud, truthful life"? Until other famous rock musicians who also happen to be gay summon the inner courage to write their own stories, you probably won't read another rock bio quite like this one.