The Dennis DeYoung Dilemma

I’m sitting at a poker table. Or a bar. Or at the gate waiting for a plane. It doesn’t matter, because I ask the same question in all of these places and more.

“If you could be yourself or Dennis DeYoung as he is today, which would you choose?”

It’s a simple question, really. Right now I can snap my fingers and you can be the 2010 version of the former lead singer of the band Styx. It’s your choice. It’s either that or remain in your own existence and take your chances.

There are two curious things that happen when I offer this option. First, most people actually seem put off that I asked the question in the first place. It’s as if I am wasting their time or making idle “do you prefer Mac and Cheese or Cheese and Rice?” questions. Second, people invariably answer that they most certainly would remain as themselves. In the dozens of times I’ve asked this question, I’ve not yet had one person answer “I’d be Dennis DeYoung of 2010.” Everyone says, “I’d be me.”

A third thing happens that I don’t find as curious, but I do consider a lot more telling. Very few people ever ask why I would bother to pose the Dennis DeYoung Dilemma in the first place. After getting over the initial frustration with the hypothetical, they are happy to answer and get on to more important topics of conversation. It’s a rare–and I dare say nonexistent–person who wants to ponder the possibilities.

I haven’t yet bothered to force The Why of it on anybody. I guess, some would say, that is why I have a blog.


Styx in its heyday

If you don’t know, DeYoung was a founding member and one-time lead singer of the prog rock cum what-the-hell band Styx. Most people of my generation–even if they don’t know the entire discography of the band–have heard “Mr. Roboto.” The people ten years younger than me are probably more familiar with South Park’s Cartman singing the Styx hit “Come Sail Away.” In either case, I don’t know a lot of people who sit around, smoke weed, and listen to Styx today. That probably has a lot to do with the people I’ve chosen to call my friends, but I think there is probably also a very large segment of the world’s music-listening population who looks to Styx as a relic of an bygone–and thankfully so–era.

There are fewer people, however, who can identify DeYoung by name, face, or career. In the line that begins with Mick Jagger and ends with Peter Cetera, DeYoung lost his place a long time ago, and Phil Collins isn’t giving up his spot.

Oh, sure, you can hit Wikipedia like anyone else and see that DeYoung is still active as a musician. He once or twice reunited with Styx, he did a couple of tours on the Simon Cowell Exploitation Train, and he has been the honored recipient of the “Great Performer of Illinois” Award. You can see that DeYoung was once the frontman for a band that had many a top ten Billboard hit. He played to sold out arenas and is probably solely responsible for most Americans’ introduction to the phrase “domo arigato.” The man was–and by some lesser measure still is–a star.

And you have the chance to be him.


If not for the fact that I really, really have lost patience for most people, I’d put a lot my spontaneous subjects to some further questions. Here are some follow-ups that I think might be instructive:

  • Do you want to be rich?
  • Do you want to be famous?
  • Do you watch Jersey Shore?
  • Various people would answer the questions above in different ways, but there is a natural aversion to actually admitting to any of the above. It’s unseemly to publicly hope for riches, fame, or Snooki. Similarly, there is something difficult about admitting publicly that you would rather be someone other than yourself. But privately…well, there is the rub.

    It’s a far different question to ask someone “If you could be yourself or Johnny Depp, who would you choose to be?” Depp is still a name, still a face, and has proven he’s got a spot on the Walk of Fame that will shine even after his death. I suspect I would have lot more people answer they would be Depp. But, then what about Paris Hilton? Justin Bieber? Ryan Seacrest? The Situation? Would you trade for any of those lives circa 2010?

    I agree, it’s an endless and largely pointless series of hypotheticals and you or I would be hard-pressed to find someone who will answer in a way that makes them look anything less than proud of who they are. If we’re bred to be anything, it is prideful.

    What is unaccountable in the answers I receive is how we as a people have allowed ourselves to feel less than we are because we are not capital-m More. We want for more consumables. We want for more recognition. We want and then we want on top of that. It is as evident in suburban ennui as it is urban struggle. It is as pronounced as strongly by the Office Space prototypes as it is the people who have complete freedom to be whatever they want. I am as guilty of it as anyone, which is probably why I pose the Dennis DeYoung Dilemma.

    Of course, it’s human nature to want more than what we have. Those of us brought up under capitalism have heard Horatio Alger stories enough times that we long ago forgot that a bootstrap was once just a piece of footwear. We can’t be blamed–nor should we–for our natural desire to wake up every day and work to rise above our station. If not for that drive, we would have neither the freedom nor the prosperity we have now.

    Dennis DeYoung today

    But as we sit in private and lament the unfairness of it all (Why didn’t I get that job? How can this woman be on TV? That guy doesn’t have half the talent I have. I deserve more.), we should each and every one of us ask ourselves if we would rather be Dennis DeYoung. Because, he was an effing rock star. He lived a dream that few people could ever realize. He was, at least for a time, a rock god. With one snap of my fingers, you could be him…as he is today. That is to say, if you’re lucky, one in a thousand people have heard your name, and one in ten thousand know who you are. You can smile because you hold the Great Performer of Illinois Award.

    This is meant as no disrespect to DeYoung, a man infinitely more talented than I am, a man who has managed to parlay early stardom into a lifetime in the music industry. This is simply to remind anyone who cares that fame is fleeting. And not just traditional groupie-sex-drugs-money-fame. Little fame. Little riches. Little luck. Big luck. It’s all fleeting. The neighbor’s wife you covet can be a crack whore by Friday.

    It very easy to want. It’s very easy to covet. It’s very easy to look to the life of a rich man, a successful man, or, indeed, a rock star and say, “I want that.”

    It’s a lot easier to look at Dennis DeYoung and say, “I think I’ll see what I can make of myself.”

    Do that. And be happy with it.

    Brad Willis

    Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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    12 Responses

    1. Drizztdj says:

      If my aspiration in life was to look like Merv Griffin in my senior years, yes I’d like to be Dennis DeYoung.

      But, as you say, I’ll take my chances being me.

    2. BadBlood says:

      I can out-bench Dennis DeYoung. And that’s all that matters.

      I would however change places with Tom Brady at any point in the last 9 years.

    3. Chilly says:

      I’d go for Tommy Shaw. He sings the better Styx songs like Renegade. Also, he was part of Damn Yankees with Brother Ted and we know how those after show parties went. Also, getting mistaken for David Spade would never get old.

    4. The Wife says:

      I love Styx. Is that relevant?

    5. Lynne says:

      Eh. To be honest I wouldn’t want to be anyone else period.

      But out of the list of names you posted… Dennis is the one I have the most respect for.

      And yes I knew exactly who he was before reading the explanation. I started listening to Styx in the year I turned 13 … and while many other girls my age picked Tommy as their favorite I picked Dennis. 😉

      So no, I wouldn’t want to be him…. now meeting him on the other hand. Now that would rock. 😉

    6. Corey Ludecke says:

      Splendid article! This post I will remember for sure!

    7. Frank Corley says:


      I knew Dennis very well, he was a coworker of now the defunct High-Low foods of Chicago. At the time I met him he was playing mostly in High Schools and the like. We hung around a little. He was a great guy in those days.

    8. Margo says:

      If I could be Dennis DeYoung, I would be.
      Styx is my favorite band and I would kill for DeYoung to be on stage with them again.
      They could rise up to the top, again, but only together.
      I would walk right up on stage, take the mic from Gowan, and sing my 64-year-old butt off.


      But I live for that kind of funny stuff, so it may just be me. LOL

      Fame is fleeting, but history repeats itself.

    9. Jim says:

      This is one stupid article. DeYoung is a very successful singer/song writer and earned his place in Rock N Roll history. The band did not see eye to eye…happens a lot in bands….but your article seems to be making him a punch line of sorts. I still am trying to figure out your point? DDY shaped a generation (or two) with musical inspiration…and he is still an awesome performer….and you, you write a blog that is 2 years old and has 10 total posts. Get a life (one half as good as DDY’s)

    10. RockinME says:

      I share the same illness with Dennis Deyoung that stole away his stardom. It has a crappy name that does not describe how wretched it truly is in its severe stages. It’s name is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. From the looks of things, Dennis is doing fantastic, so I’d rather be Dennis.

    11. I would do it as long as I also inherited his talent along with the switch. It would be weird that DDY suddenly couldn’t sing or play at a high level.

      Then… I would dye some of my hair, grow a beard, and call Tommy Shaw.

      I’d be like, I feel like a new man, let’s rock biatch. Let’s also restructure the Styx corporation to give everybody a better, fairer cut. Let’s be friends and be a rock band.

      I’d also be saying, hey, nobody but the die-hard fans care for any new music from us, but, we all have home studios, let’s invest nothing but our time and talent and do some writing / recording / producing / mastering in our personal studios and release some new deep-cut style Styx music on a physical-media-less format for the people who have supported us over the last 42 years. Yeah, we won’t make money doing that, but that’s what milking the hits live is for. It would also help solidify our legacy, especially if the material was actually good like we are capable of.

      Then I could die happy, even if a bit sooner than I was planning.

    1. August 17, 2010

      […] I’m not the only one being a bit introspective. Otis, as usual, is carrying it to new heights in today’s blog. […]