Innocently enough, I picked up Styx’ 1977 classic album The Grand Illusion and put it on my turntable. After cleaning the vinyl, a fine habit I picked up during my college years, I began to listening. And, all of a sudden, I got hit upside my head with lyrics ironically reminding me that tomorrow is the primary in Indiana. Over the years, beginning way back in elementary school when I first became aware of political science, I have seemingly always been fascinated by the political process. And, even though I graduated with degrees in Biology (an emphasis on Microbiology)/minor in Chemistry, another degree in Medical Technology, as well as earning my teaching certification for Biology, Chemistry & Life & Physical Science, I took many political science and history classes. Why? Because I am fascinated with the whole thing and how science fits neatly into all things political.
Therefore, Styx’ The Grand Illusion seemed to be a great album to write about today. Historically speaking, our people will vote against our best interests in order for attaining an illusion that may be nearly impossible to attain. But, history is on my side to say that. And, that’s what Styx was getting at during this album, The Grand Illusion.
The album begins with the title song, a rocker that works well on two levels. The first being that it musically sets the stage for the beginning of the album, or even the concert. It works well on the album that it sets the tone for the album lyrically. Throughout the song, the band describes mankind as a group of people looking to emulate the rich and famous all the while attaining this status without working hard. Basically, the band was able to read the tea leaves of what it goes to happen throughout the Eighties and beyond. Let’s use credit to reach out level of status, screw the consequences because it would NEVER happen to us. As we all know, the market went bust in 2007 and 2008, and millions of people lost their homes and their retirement nest eggs. The song describes the whole economy, and dare I say society, as part of this Grand Illusion.
Next, Styx follows up their album’s thesis statement with an individual’s first attempt to adhere himself to the philosophy of Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged) where the individual completely ignores others in order to grab wealth for himself. Yet, this man ends up angry all the time. The hero of the song “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”, is going against the talents with which he was given: the ability to care for others. What our hero is missing is that his happiness will not come from the things that society wants him to believe are good, but rather he should follow where his heart is leading him in order to find that place in society where he will do the most good.
So, our angry young man now finds himself in the album’s third song as a “Superstar.” Now, he has reached the pinnacle of success, but he is unhappy and unsatisfied. And he discovers what is missing in his life is love. He is missing a love for another human, love for a profession, love for life.
The rest of the album is the journey of our hero toward self-realization, which in turn shows him his true place in society. It’s almost like when you give up your ego in order to play second base instead of strengthening your team by moving to center field. Or, giving up the lead guitar in your band to play bass so your band can hire an exceptional guitarist to take your place but make your band better.
By the end of the album, our hero has found happiness by making his team better than grabbing headlining success for himself. Therein is The Grand Illusion. Plus, how many albums have three classic songs all on Side 1 of the album? This one does!