Thursday, October 4, 2007

Postcards from WeHo: A Grand Illusion

It's a half hour before my panel discussion at the West Hollywood Book Fair when I walk into the green room -- a land of bottled water, Oreos and people wearing badges you can't quite make out. There's only one open table left. It's a big one -- a ten-seater -- but it's either that or sit down with strangers and try to make conversation (presumably about why I sat with them instead of taking the open table). So I plunk down my stuff at the empty table and head to the ladies' room.

Five minutes later I'm back, freshly lipsticked, and there's a man sitting at the other end. Nothing left to do but schmooze. "You know, you're going to have to talk to me now," I tell him, doing my best Gen X Katherine Hepburn thing.

"I'll talk to you," he says.

And he does. He introduces himself as Chuck. He lives in Florida, where I'm from. So we talk that for a while. Then we get to the meat of the conversation, "So, what do you do?" (i.e. "Why are you here in the green room at a book fair and are you someone whose butt I should be kissing?" That's my inner voice talking, by the way. He doesn't seem nearly as interested in finding out whether I'm J.K. Rowling or Danielle Steele. I'll soon find out why.)

"Oh, I started out as a teacher. But then I got into the music business."

He looks the part. He's in his 50s, with funky, clunky silver bracelets and an overall look of someone who doesn't make his living in insurance or banking.

"Oh?" I ask. "Anything I'd know?"

"I don't know," he says casually. "Ever hear of a band called Styx, S-T-Y-X?"

That's right, "Come Sail Away," "Fooling Yourself," "Too Much Time on My Hands," "Miss America," "Grand Illusion," four-consecutive-platinum-albums, 54-million-records-sold Styx. I was talking to Chuck Panozzo, bassist for the band and subject of the new book, Grand Illusion: Love, Lies and My Life with Styx.

Per a website I found: "The Grand Illusion is a no-holds-barred, backstage pass to the journey of one of the world’s most revered bands, and the true story of Chuck Panozzo’s 50-year struggle to reconcile his public life as a rock star with his private life as a gay man."

"How many people," I ask, "when you say, 'Ever hear of a band called Styx?' actually say 'No'?"

"Oh, you can never assume," the platinum-selling rock star of three-decades-long fame tells me.
We talk a bit about his struggles as a kid coming to realize that he was, in fact, a gay kid. Then, before we can get to any of the juicy stuff, it's time to leave for my panel.

"I'm going to tell everyone that I'm one of your good friends and a close confidante you talk to about your childhood."

"That's okay," he says. "You can do that."

And now I have.

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