Chuck Panozzo Strips the Facade off of Paradise

by David T. Bruce

Musician Chuck Panozzo (with Michele Skettino) wrote The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies, and My Life with Styx. His story was published five years ago, but the message Panozzo relays to his readers is especially essential today when you consider the varied beliefs that divide and splinter our society.

When I chose to read Panozzo’s biography, I was hoping to get a glimpse of the story behind the birth of the rock group, Styx. As this book was written by and about the bass player for Styx, this seemed to be a reasonable anticipation. While there is indeed some back-story that fleshes out the genesis and evolution of the Chicago-based band, I became most engrossed by the story of Chuck Panozzo.

Panozzo introduced his story as one that chronicles the “story about one gay man’s struggle to come to terms with himself.”  Throughout this book, Panozzo describes how he has wrestled with defining who he truly is spiritually and emotionally, measured against how society defines the essence of a person. He critically examines Chuck Panozzo: the brother, the son, the musician, and the man (who happens to be gay), evaluating these parts separately and also combined as one to help understand the whole individual.

I was initially taken aback by Panozzo’s candor and level of comfort as he discussed identifying and accepting his sexuality. The reader does not sense that this frankness and
self-acceptance came naturally to the author. On the contrary, as we read of Panozzo’s reclusiveness as a youngster, his passion for music as a young adult, the heartbreaking loss of his brother and close friend, and his daily battle with HIV and AIDS, we sense that he has grown to realize his individual self and embrace who he is, regardless of how he is perceived by others.

Until I read The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies, and My Life with Styx, I don’t think that I had but a fragment of understanding as to how the world must be for those people who – by fate or by design – live in a marginalized part of society. I take for granted certain human and constitutional rights that are often officially or illicitly denied to women, the elderly, people who have different religious convictions, people who are gay or lesbian, or people who are of a different culture.

What Chuck Panozzo has to say about individuality and being true to ones self is relevant today and will be relevant in the future as long as we find reasons to scorn another simply
because we are different. Until we as a society find a way to accept the uniqueness in everyone, ignoring the differences and embracing the diversity, at the same time finding the similarities that we all have as human beings, we will have a reason to review and reflect on Panozzo’s story.

I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Panozzo and what he is trying to accomplish with his memoir. His experiences and observations can be inspiring, regardless of your gender,
sexuality, profession, or faith.

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