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Monday, February 26, 2018

Southern California Vol. 13 - The Unarius Academy of Science

Previously we talked about George Adamski.  If you don’t remember (or didn’t read the post), Adamski was a pioneer in the UFO Contactee world who wrote a number of books about how he was contacted and told secrets about the universe by aliens from Venus.  He also started a commune of like-minded individuals near Mt. Palomar.

Now, Adamski may be one of the first people to try to organize a religion of sorts around UFO contact, but he was definitely not the most colorful.  That title would have to go to another San Diego area resident whose efforts to start a contactee “religion” (they hate when it’s called that) paid off so well that it continues to this day.  I’m talking about the Unarius Academy of Science, founded by Ernest and Ruth Norman.  Their headquarters is located in a strip mall in El Cajon (just outside of San Diego). 

Visiting there isn’t something I’d recommend to everyone, but for those of you who do things like volunteer for the free screening by the Scientologists in Hollywood just for the experience, this is your kind of excursion.  It’s also one of the kitschiest places on the planet, so if you like your Las Vegas with a heaping helping of Liberace, this may be the religion for you.

Ernest and Ruth started their contactee group in 1954.  Ernest had been lecturing on the topic of “inner contact” and when he met Ruth, he realized she was the woman who could help him bring this message to a larger audience.  He wasn’t wrong.  She changed her name to Uriel (which stands for Universal Radiant Infinite Eternal Light) and began writing down what Ernest was channeling from these beings beyond the stars.  The result was a philosophy (they are very adamant that it is not a religion) that involves reincarnation, channeling past lives, an alien federation and the preparation for the arrival of our “space brothers”. 

That latter part concerns the imminent arrival of aliens who will bring us up to speed in matters of science, technology and ethics so that we can join the intergalactic federation of planets.  The Unarians have even purchased the site where the spaceships will land and they maintain it while we all wait.  You can thank them yourselves when you visit.

My favorite part of this is that the spaceships will arrive and stack on top of each other, becoming a tower of learning (a shining university of spacely knowledge).

Now, the Unarians don’t believe in death.  They believe that we just transition from one life to the next and so when Ernest transitioned in 1971, Ruth/Uriel stepped things up a notch.  Here’s where the kitsch comes in.  She began wearing flowing satin robes, a crown and began carrying a scepter and a single rose.  The “research” by the Unarians uncovered that she had led many past lives and was actually a reincarnation of Socrates, Queen Elizabeth, Confucious and others.  In fact, they found that she was also a reincarnation of Mona Lisa and that Ernest was a reincarnation of Da Vinci, which is why he painted her.

Makes sense, I guess.

Anyway, that outlandish sense of style that Uriel had carried over to the Unarius Academy of Science as well.  Inside, you’ll find columns, statues and an abundance of awesome paintings as well as a model of what the futuristic city will look like once those spaceships finally get here.

If you’re wondering about whether we can expect the Unarians to do something like that Heaven’s Gate group did and kill themselves, well fear not.  The Unarian beliefs warn strongly against suicide.  Instead, they believe that by studying and dedicating yourself to looking inward, you’ll be able to contact the aliens yourself and will be prepared for the next phase once you “transition”.

I don’t know about all that, but I do know that they have a kickass 1968 El Dorado, so they can’t be all bad.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Great Concept Album Horror Success Story #1: Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera

So, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about concept album losers.  The fact is, there are some fantastic winners out there also.  I want to wrap up this series by talking about a few of them that deserve mention.  The first two won’t be ones you’ve likely heard of before, but you owe it to yourself to give them a listen.

This week, I want to talk about Drive-By Truckers’ masterful album Southern Rock Opera.

There may not be an album released in the last twenty years that was more important to me personally than this one.  Drive-By Truckers is a band that my wife and I used to see regularly when we lived in Athens, GA.  We rarely missed a show and saw them play probably twenty times or more while we lived there.  

Years later, after we moved to Southern California, we made more than one trip back to Athens to visit family and organized the visits around shows they were playing.  I have an autographed poster from one of those shows where the entire band thanked us for making the trip.  It's even signed by the artist, Wes Freed, who was playing in the opening band The Shiners.  It was given to us after a show at Tasty World in Athens.  

It was completely unexpected and meant more to us than they could possibly know.  The day I part with it will be the day it's pried from my cold, dead fingers.  

Drive-By Truckers will always be one of my favorite bands and a very big reason for that is Southern Rock Opera.  Whether you like their style of music or not, there is no denying the incredible achievement this band made when crafting this album.  It uses the story of legendary band Lynyrd Skynyrd as a framework to address the American South in general.  Songs explore topics as broad and deep as racism, religious conservatism and the conflicting feelings of the modern southern man.  That last part is what resonated with me.  It has to do with recognizing the mistakes of the past while embracing your roots unapologetically.  In other words, being proud of the deep sense of family, community and strong moral ethic, while acknowledging all of the racist and cultural shortcomings that personally make me sick to even think about. 

Southern Rock Opera tackles all of that and more by playing to the Truckers' strengths.  What this band does best is tell stories.  Their songs are character studies that do more with three verses and a chorus than many authors do with three hundred pages to work with.

For instance, take the song "Zip City".  It never once preaches to you.  The entire song is sung from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old boy who has a fast car, too much time on his hands and "no good intentions".  He's traveling to see a girl in Zip City because it's something to do.  He's been dating her despite the fact that she won't sleep with him, he doesn't love her and there's absolutely no future in what he's doing.  The song paints a picture (which the best songs always do), but this song isn't about how great it is to be in love or how awesome the party is.  This song is showing you a moment in time as this kid reflects on where he is, why he's there and what (if anything) he's going to do about it.

Almost every song on the record takes a similar approach; never preaching at you but instead just presenting the picture as it is and letting you make up your own mind about what it's trying to say.

Southern Rock Opera is a beast of an album.  It’s not apologetic, but faces the issues and flaws of its subject matter head on.  It contains a song (“The Southern Thing”) that truly encapsulates feelings I've had my entire life which had never, EVER, been properly articulated by another artist.

In short, it’s one of my all-time favorite albums and if you listen to it from beginning to end, you'll feel like you've been on an epic journey by the time Hood and guest vocalist Kelly Hogan sing "Angels and Fuselage" (a song about the plane crash that took Skynyrd down). 

One of the coolest things about Southern Rock Opera is the story of how the band brought it to market.  The Truckers had released two albums on their own label.  They knew just how ambitious releasing a double album was going to be, especially a concept album like they had in mind.  Instead of seeking a record label to foot the bill, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley put together a business plan.  They presented it to potential investors and pitched to them exactly how they would pay that investment back with touring over time.  Remember, this was happening at a time when the internet was still fairly young.  In fact, there was no model out there like Kickstarter for them to raise the funds.  They did it through presentations, e-mails and getting in front of people. 

The idea was ingenious and so well thought out that years later, Hood was invited to speak about it to a class of business students at the University of Georgia.  While that alone is impressive, you have to think about the motivation behind what they were doing.  By raising their own funds, they were able to craft their vision exactly as they saw it, with zero interference from a record label.  

In past installments, I’ve discussed how creating in a vacuum completely killed concept albums, however in this case there's one key difference.  This album was a band effort, not the vision of one songwriter with an ego to stroke.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the band put Southern Rock Opera out on their own label at first.  They toured behind it and sold copies out of the van as they went.  In less than a year, the buzz about the album was so big that Lost Highway records came calling and agreed to distribute it nationally.  The Truckers' investors were paid back with interest and it cemented the band as an American success story.  

Critically, it is hailed as a great album.  It was given 4 out of 5 stars in Rolling Stone, 5 out of 5 stars on and has been featured in dozens of books and articles as one of the best rock albums of all time.

Eight studio albums later, they are still putting out amazing music.  I literally can't point to one album and say it's not worth listening to.  If you’ve never heard it though, Southern Rock Opera is a great introduction to the band and you can find the entire album on YouTube.  Below, is a link to an animated video of “Zip City”, the song I mention above.  

Should you want to hear a different album though, I would point you toward American Band, their latest record which, while released prior to his election, became a rallying cry to those frustrated by Donald Trump’s rise and the racial tensions that bubbled up to the surface.  

Even if you don't agree with the politics, you have to admire the way they frame the issues of gun violence and police brutality in modern day America.  Below is a link to "Ever South" from that album, a song where Patterson Hood sings about how no matter where you are, if you're from the American South, you bring that with you.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Southern California Vol. 12: George Adamski and the UFO Commune

Growing up on the east coast, I heard the joke about California all the time.  You know the one. 

California is full of fruits and nuts.

Well, there’s a little bit of truth to that.  The fact is that in California’s storied history, there are more than a few famous residents that leaned toward the oddball side of things.  Remember backwhen we discussed Zzyzx Road?  Springer was definitely one.   Another example is the hippie movement that made San Francisco famous in the 1960’s.  Then you’ve got the Jonestown cult that started out in Los Angeles before moving down to Guyana.  Those are just a handful of examples.

One that many people don’t know about is the commune started by George Adamski down near San Diego.  It’s definitely one that stands apart from many others because it was founded on a belief in the guiding hand of space aliens.  To get the full story though, you have to go back to the late 1940’s.  Adamski, a WWI veteran, had moved to Pasadena, California and began handing out business cards touting himself as a public speaker and teacher.  He announced himself as the founder of “Universal Progressive Christianity”, a member of the “Royal Order of Tibet” and of the “Monastery at Laguna Beach”.  His goal was (obviously) to found a religion.  The basis of that religion centered around a science fiction book he’d written called Pioneers of Space: A Trip to the Moon, Mars, and Venus.

Things didn’t work out for him though.  He ended up moving to a campground called Palomar Gardens just north of San Diego.  The owner of the campground was Alice Wells who had ghostwritten Adamski’s science fiction book for him.  While on the campground, Adamski had a stroke of luck (or planned a stroke of luck depending on what you believe).  One night, he and five other people saw a UFO through Adamski’s telescope.  The craft hovered above the campground and was reported in the local papers.  A few months later, Adamski dropped a bombshell.

He came out with photographs of the UFO’s that he claimed visited the campground.  He also claimed that the UFO’s were drawn to him.  Then on November 20, 1952, Adamski was visited by the UFO’s in front of witnesses and he was approached and held a conversation with a “human being from another world” named Orthon the Venusian.  All of this came out in the form of a book titled Flying Saucers Have Landed.  It was a smash success and catapulted Adamski to fame.

He followed that up with more books and then took to speaking tours where he related his experience firsthand and passed along knowledge he’d gleaned from his visitors.  By this point, he had actual followers and they started a small commune on the Palomar Gardens property.  All of this continued until Adamski died in 1965.  At that point, the campground was sold and changed hands quite a few times.  It’s now called the Oak Knoll Campground and it sits on Hwy 76 by the Palomar Mountain turnoff.  It’s close to the Palomar Mountain Observatory.

Even after Adamski’s death though, Palomar has been a center for UFO activity over the years.  Most recently there were two sightings in 2016.   First in March there were six objects spotted flying over nearby Valley Center by a retired Air Force Major and his wife.  Then in November, witnesses reported seeing a “green orb” in the sky being chased by Marine helicopters.  There are plenty more going back for years before that.

If you want to see the place for yourself, you can visit anytime and if you decide to head there, take the time to visit the Valley Center History Museum.  There you’ll find a permanent exhibit about Adamski and his UFO commune.

So yeah, fruits and nuts… fruits and nuts. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Great Concept Album Horror Vol. 5: Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans

I have a love/hate relationship with what is called “prog rock”.  I love it because without it, I likely would never have gotten my beloved Sex Pistols.  The punk movement was a direct reaction to the excesses of progressive rock.  

Okay, that was a cheap shot, I admit.  In actuality, I'd do like some "prog rock", especially when the music takes me on a journey (preferably non-drug induced).  At the same time, I hate the vast majority of it because to me, it feels like a bunch of musicians just trying to show how technically great they are.

With Yes, it’s even more convoluted for me.  While I hate some albums, I love others.  In some cases, there are albums where I can’t stand ninety percent of what’s there but one song will be so good I can’t get it out of my head. 

Tales from Topographic Oceans is not one of those albums.  It’s hailed by fans as one of their greatest achievements.  It’s derided by critics as ego-driven bombast.  Amazingly, both things are more or less true but it makes the list of bad concept albums for me for a number of reasons.

Let’s start at the beginning though.  Yes had been climbing in prog rock circles for some time.  Every member of the band was/is a masterful musician.  These are people who dedicated their lives to becoming the best they could be on their respective instruments.  Their previous six albums had already produced songs that still play on rock radio today (“I’ve Seen All Good People”, “Roundabout”, “Starship Trooper”).  Each album had been more successful and more technically accomplished than the last.  Detractors said the music had no heart and was losing that primal connection the best rock music always had.  Fans of progressive rock saw them as a band that could potentially write an album that would stand up there with the greatest compositions of our time.  In fact, some thought they could surpass the classical masters.

Unfortunately, singer Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe bought into that latter vision but instead of involving the rest of the band, they decided to write their masterpiece mostly themselves.  Anderson was reading a book called Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.  He became fascinated by a long footnote and started writing the concept.  He enlisted Howe and the two began hammering out basic musical ideas.  The result is the purest example of rock and roll excess that I know of.

Tales From Topographic Oceans is a double album.  Each album side contains only one song or suite as the case may be.  Each song speaks to a different spiritual subject.  Since there are only four songs, let’s take a quick look at each with a little help from the band themselves as they describe what’s going on.  WARNING:  Things are going to get snarky.

Track 1 – The Revealing Science of God: Dance of the Dawn (Running time – 20:23)

This track is based on Hindu scripture called the Vedas which are “revealed” to the practitioner.  Anderson is quoted as saying, “It should have just been The Revealing, but I got sort of hip.”

Hip, indeed!  Nothing is more "rock and roll" than a nine word song title with a colon.

Track 2- The Remembering: High the Memory (Running time – 20:35)

This track refers to epic poems called “smriti”.  Anderson described it as, “A calm sea of music”.  He supposedly directed the band to “play like the sea” with “rhythms, eddies, swells and undercurrents.”

Remember, none of the other musicians were included in the writing so being directed by their singer on what to do became a little bit of a sore point.

Track 3 – The Ancient – Giants Under The Sun  (Running time – 18:37)

This track is supposed to be about ancient times and supposedly contains eighteen “ancient” allegories.  Anderson commented on this one by saying, “Steve’s guitar is pivotal in sharpening reflection on the beauties and treasures of lost civilizations.”

Yes, you read that right.  You're supposed to be reflecting on the "beauties and treasures of lost civilizations" while listening to this track.  Remember, this is only fifteen years after Buddy Holly sang about the beauties and treasures of Peggy Sue.  

Track 4 – Ritual – Nous Sommes du Soleil (Running time – 21:33)

The final track is about the rituals or rites of the Hindu religion.  Anderson described the bass and drum solos as a representation of the struggle between “evil and pure love.”

I've been to a lot of concerts and I've been in more than a few bands.  The bass and drum solos I've heard have always been a struggle between "yawning" and "Beer-run".  

(That was for you, Tommy Warren.)

All of the examples cited above bring up another point about concept albums in general and Yes as a band.  Rock music was born from and has ultimately always been about two things:  Sex and Rebellion.  Maybe the song lyrics weren't specifically about sex, but the guy singing usually portrayed himself as a rebel, whether he wore a leather jacket or a cardigan.

When it comes to concept albums, the majority of them usually happen when an artist takes himself/herself way too seriously.  Even the most successful concept albums are rarely fun as concepts.  Most are trying to pass along some lesson or truth within their story.

Yes as a band embodied this "taking yourself too seriously" concept long before Tales From Topographic Oceans.  The result is that when they are "on", they make fantastic music but when they are "off", they're so full of themselves that it really lands with a thud for all but their most devoted fans.  

What I'm saying is that your mileage may vary based on how much you love Yes, which is what I meant earlier when I said the album can be described as both a success and a failure. It reached number one on the UK album charts and number 6 on the US album charts, however critics gave it mediocre reviews overall.

No matter how you look at it though, one thing is absolutely undeniable.

Tales From Topographic Oceans is 100% completely full of itself.

Keyboardist Rick Wakeman left the band after the tour because he felt his contributions had been pushed aside for Howe and Anderson’s vision.  However it’s his frustrated quote to a journalist that sums up this album better than most. 

When asked why he was leaving, he supposedly said, “I got tired of fans asking me what the hell that album was about.”

If you want to hear the whole thing in one hour and a half shot, here's a link to it on YouTube.

Next week we're going to change things up a bit.  We're going to start looking at success stories for the last three entries in this series.  For many of you, there will be some surprises in here.

Speaking of surprises, why not check out my book, The Wash.  It's available on Amazon and I guarantee there are at least a few things in it that you won't see coming.

See you next week!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Southern California Vol. 11 - The Ghosts of the Whaley House, San Diego

The Whaley House.  Chances are, if you have any interest in ghosts or have ever watched one of those shows on Travel Channel about supernatural stuff in California, then you’ve heard of The Whaley House.  It is officially recognized by the U.S. Commerce Department as the most haunted place in California.  Located in Old Town San Diego, the house was built by Thomas Whaley in 1855. 

Prior to the house being built, the site had been used once before to hang a criminal named Jim Robinson.  He’d been convicted of trying to steal a boat and having a long record of previous crimes, the locals strung him up on a gallows.  Unfortunately for Robinson, he was taller than most people and so when he was hung, he was able to get his toes on the boards and occasionally lift himself to get a breath.  It took him forty-five minutes to die.

Most accounts mark this as the source for the first occurrences on the land.  Once Whaley built the house, he moved his family in and according to the docents and historians my wife and I spoke to when we visited Whaley House, they were the first to report seeing and hearing ghosts.  Whaley was not a superstitious man though and while his family reported hearing strange footsteps, he refused to be alarmed by it.

The Whaley family lived in the house all the way up to 1953, with only one exception.  There was a period where Thomas Whaley refused to live there because he was overcome with grief over the death of his daughter.  Otherwise, with the Whaley family spending almost 100 years in the house, you can imagine that there is some history there and that history includes some tragedy.  Overall, six family members died in the house.  Also, a small neighbor child died there in an accident involving a clothesline. 

Throughout its history, people living in the house have reported ghostly presences.  Now that it’s a historic site and museum, the volunteers who work there are the ones who see things most often.  Which brings me to our visit.

Karen and I had lived here for eighteen years and never bothered visiting the Whaley House.  We would go to Old Town San Diego about four or five times a year on average but just never bothered checking the place out.  Last year, we decided to visit it before heading home from a long weekend.  The tour is self-guided and the house has been set up to show the various things it has been used for over the years.  For instance, one of the great rooms is set up as a court room, since Whaley House acted as the courtroom for San Diego at one point.  Upstairs, there is a room that set up with a stage.  This room was used as a theater at one point.  The rest of the house is what you’d expect of a semi-wealthy family’s home from the 1800’s.

As Karen and I walked into the theater room, a docent was just beginning to give her speech.  There were about ten other people in the room, all sitting on chairs facing the stage.  We took two seats on the far side.  On the side nearest the door, there was a family of four (mom, dad and two daughters who were in their late teens or early twenties).  As the docent talked about the theater, the mother from this group jumped.  She said she felt something tug her hair. 
The docent stopped and then told everyone that there was a young child ghost that often liked to prank people in the house.  She went on to say that she was very susceptible to feeling the ghosts presence when they were in the room and that indeed there was one there.

Now, understand that I love horror movies, horror books, and all things spooky, yet I have never seen a ghost.  As much as I want them to exist, I highly doubt that they do.  Karen and I watched this whole thing unfold as if it were a theater of the absurd performance.  The docent continued her talk but occasionally broke it up by pointing and saying, “There’s a presence there.”
As she did that, this woman continued to get more and more freaked out.  She described her hair being pulled.  She felt someone tickle her neck.  She felt someone grab her arm.  After about ten minutes of this, she insisted her family leave and they did. 

I set my phone camera on “burst” mode and took a ton of pictures during this.  Every time the docent pointed somewhere, I turned and shot pictures.  The whole time this other lady was squirming, I was taking pictures.  When I got home, guess what I had?
Yep, a bunch of pictures of this lady and that room.  There was not one single ghostly image.

Don’t let that deter you though.  Go to Whaley House and check it out yourself.  At the very least, it’s a part of California history and it’s right next to Old Town San Diego where you can find fantastic Mexican food.  Not to mention there are a ton of great breweries all close by.  Maybe after a night of eating a drinking, you’ll see your own ghosts.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Great Concept Album Horror Vol. 4: Styx - Kilroy Was Here

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto, indeed.

There was a time when I was in high school that I loved Styx's album Paradise Theater so  much that I wore the cassette tape out.  Then something happened.  My taste changed.  The stars fell out of alignment.  I don’t know.  The bottom line is that now,  I can’t stand the vast majority of their music.  Other than a few cuts from Paradise Theater and the whole of Grand Illusion, I no longer own anything by Styx.  Something about the songs gets under my skin and I’m telling you this not to say I’m in any way “cooler” for not liking them.  I’m just saying that as you read this article, there is definitely a bias at play here. 

At the same time, history cannot be argued when it comes to the events surrounding Kilroy Was Here, so I’ll try to keep things as objective as possible. 

Styx was a HUGELY popular band in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  The two things that ultimately tore them apart are the same things that produced the album we’re going to discuss today.  Those two things are Egos and Greed.  The band had spent almost a decade releasing album after album and touring relentlessly to build an audience.  They reached a huge commercial breakthrough when their single “Babe” went to number one in 1979 and on the heels of that album (Cornerstone), they went into the studio and created what many consider their greatest album.

Paradise Theater is a concept album.  It was conceived by Dennis DeYoung who was one of three songwriters in the band (Tommy Shaw and James Young being the other two).  DeYoung had always striven to drive the band in a more theatrical, pop direction while Shaw and Young pushed back, wanting to play straight ahead rock and roll.  As long as those two forces reached a balance, Styx was cranking out huge hit albums, but the success of “Babe” (a song written solely by DeYoung) changed the dynamic slightly.  Thus, when DeYoung presented the Paradise Theater concept, he was able to push his bandmates to go along. 

The thing that made Paradise Theater work was that there was room to move within the concept itself.  The story centered around a theater whose heyday was in the 1920’s but had over the years fallen on hard times.  The songs didn’t tell a story so much as just painted a picture.  The opening song, “Rocking the Paradise” started things off in those early, heady days after the theater opened and by the time you got to the end of the album, you had heard songs about drug addiction (“Snowblind”), desperate people (“Half Penny/Two Penny”) and could piece together that the neighborhood around the theater had deteriorated.

It was a huge success and the subsequent tour was one of the highest grossing of that year.  As I said above, it’s considered by many to be the band’s best album and thanks to another huge DeYoung hit (“The Best of Times”), he once again leveraged his position to try to steer the band into a more pop/theater path.

This time, DeYoung pitched another concept album but it had a more focused narrative.  In fact, each band member would play a different character and the story would play out on stage with props, set pieces and a short film full of special effects to set the tone.  By most accounts, Shaw and Young fought back but through record company pressure (re: Greed) and DeYoung’s insistence (re: Ego) the concept was eventually forced upon the band.    

Thus Kilroy Was Here was born.


It tells the story of a world where rock and roll is outlawed by an evil dictator named Dr. Emmet Righteous.  Censorship has been enforced in order to maintain control over the populace.  Our hero (naturally played by DeYoung himself) is Robert Orin Charles Kilroy (get it?  The initials spell ROCK!).  He is a former rock star who was imprisoned on trumped up murder charges.  However, there is an underground rebellion looking to bring rock music back and overthrow the government.  They hack into the television signal that Dr. Righteous sends out to the public and they broadcast bootleg footage of Kilroy’s final concert.  Back at the prison, Kilroy sees this and is inspired to escape.  He overpowers one of the Japanese robots (a Mr. Roboto model) and hides inside it to get out.  Then he arranges to meet with the underground to bring back rock music (which of course will save us all).

Let’s just say this now.  That concept has a number of things going against it.  However, I should point out that times were different when it was conceived.  In the late 1980’s, there was a large push in the U.S. by Christian conservatives who wanted to censor rock music.  There were stories on the national news about people who supposedly discovered satanic messages hidden on rock albums and only a few years after this album was released, a group of Washington wives would form the Parents Music Resource Council (P.M.R.C.).  That organization actually forced hearings in Congress on the issue and ultimately got record companies to voluntarily sticker albums with explicit content. 

So while the concept is pretty heavy-handed and silly on a number of levels, it was actually DeYoung’s response to what he saw happening in American society.  When it was released, it was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm.  The record was a commercial success.  It made it to number 3 on the U.S. album charts and scored two top ten singles (“Mr. Roboto” and “Don’t Let It End”) which were both written by DeYoung.  

Even so, the concept was so strict that it hogtied the other two songwriters.  The rest of the album consists of songs that were written strictly to connect scenes together so neither Tommy Shaw nor James Young had much room to stretch out.  Where their songs were generally highlights on a Styx album, on Kilroy Was Here, they are completely forgettable. 

Critics slammed it and after that initial excitement from fans who bought it based on the first single, things got ugly.  Kilroy Was Here divided Styx’s fanbase because it was not a rock album.  It had more in common with the electro-pop that was dominating the airwaves at the time (think bands like Thompson Twins, who relied heavily on keyboards instead of guitars).  In retrospect, this makes sense as it was exactly where DeYoung wanted the band to go.  Unfortunately for their fans, Styx couldn’t come to the middle again.  Despite being successful, by the end of the supporting tour, the band decided to call it quits. 

DeYoung went on to a solo career and eventually ended up right where you would expect him to go. 


The rest of the band pulled a Pink Floyd and got together without him.  There was a lawsuit involved and the two sides don’t really talk any longer, however Styx continues to tour to this day.  When you look at the setlists though, you’ll notice they don’t include any songs from Kilroy Was Here

Also, to their credit they are not just a nostalgia act.  They’ve released six new studio albums without DeYoung, the latest of which was last year’s The Mission.

Guess what!  It’s a concept album.

It’s about a mission to Mars in the year 2033.  I personally haven’t heard it, but it was critically well received and actually touted as a worthy follow-up to Paradise Theater.  Unfortunately no matter how good it is, Styx will never completely erase the taste of Kilroy Was Here.  This is especially true as long as “Mr. Roboto” continues to be used in car commercials, sit-coms and is a staple on karaoke nights around the world.

This album will be my soundtrack in Hell.  Seriously.

Perhaps you don't agree with me though.  I'd love to hear from you.  Leave your opinion in the comments section or on Facebook.  

Also, if you haven't already, please check out my Author Page on Amazon.  It's got links to short stories as well as my horror novel The Wash, which I hope scares you but doesn't end up on your "worst horror novels of all time" list.