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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 28
Arts & Entertainment
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Styx bassist open about sexuality, HIV

Don't pretend you don't know the words to 'Come Sail Away'. 'Lady'? 'The Best of Times', 'Babe', and god forbid, 'Mr. Roboto'? These songs all belong to Styx, a powerhouse prog-rock group who released four consecutive multi-platinum albums between 1977 and 1981, aside from eight top ten singles. Chuck Panozzo, original member of this successful music act, was one of the first mainstream rock artists to officially declare himself both homosexual and HIV-positive. Though his battles with the disease are far from over - his medication was in a lost bag, which made him a bit ancy when we spoke last week - he tours frequently and commits an admirable amount of time to community outreach. Styx performs at Chateau Ste. Michelle with Yes on July 29, visit www.ste-michelle.com for ticket information. From a hotel room in Nashville, here's what the very open Chuck Panozzo of Styx revealed inside The Music Lounge.

Albert Rodriguez: When did you come out?

Chuck Panozzo: In 1991 I was diagnosed with HIV. From 1991, things just changed. I said, 'I'm so uncomfortable to not be myself, I can't stand this anymore'. In late1999, I got a hold of Candice Gingrich with the Human Rights Campaign. If you're going to come out, you're going to come out the right way. So I was asked to be the national spokesperson for National Coming Out Day. I spoke in front of thousands of people in a convention. My parents, sisters and brother were there and a bunch of my friends. And at that time I felt this gigantic burden lifted off me. It was a very uplifting and incredible experience. It made me a better person, better player. I enjoyed myself on stage because I wasn't hiding anything.

Rodriguez: Did the band assume you were Gay, or was anyone caught off guard?

Panozzo: No one was caught off guard. I wasn't flamboyant, but I dressed better than they did. I was better groomed than they were, so that's the first clue. They just assumed I'm Chuck, and as long as I'm professional on stage that's what really matters. My first job on stage is to be a musician, I just happen to be a Gay musician with HIV now. When I stand on stage I try to represent our community as a person with HIV and the other guys hug me, we share microphones.

Rodriguez: Was there any negative reaction from the band?

Panozzo: No, not at all. Tommy (Shaw) was the first to realize I was really sick and they were frightened I was going to die. We lost my twin brother (John Panozzo) to alcoholism two years earlier. I think the thought of them losing another band member was apparent, so all they wanted me to be was happy and they encouraged me to get better so I could come back and work again.

Rodriguez: It must have been difficult being Gay and touring with cute guys from Journey and Van Halen.

Panozzo: One thing is that I'm not attracted to any of my band members and I'm not attracted to any straight guys at all. I prefer Gay guys. I have more in common with them than a straight guy. I might look a little, but you see these skinny boys all the time and they end up putting on makeup, they end up doing their big hair. I never found an attraction to them. In fact, I thought they were goofy.

Rodriguez: Do you follow current pop trends? Are there any artists you follow right now?

Panozzo: I like the Foo Fighters, I like The Black Eyed Peas, they're cool. I like younger groups who have words and lyrics, I don't like them to just make noise. I like some of the country singers. I like Taylor Swift a lot, I think she's very good, and Kenny Chesney. I also like and respect Aerosmith, I just think they're great guys.

Rodriguez: Back in the 80s, did you go out to Gay bars after the show?

Panozzo: It was more in the late 70s. The best years were like 75' to 80', and I would go out sometimes. I can't say I didn't have my share of fun.

Rodriguez: Can you talk about your involvement with the GLBT community?

Panozzo: Sure. Every year we have this event called the 'Smart Ride' in South Florida, guys bike from Miami all the way to Key West (to raise money for AIDS charities). I did a benefit for them last year, a fundraiser, and I've been invited six times to speak for World AIDS Day.

Rodriguez: For those still in the closet, is there a benefit to coming out or should they stay in the closet?

Panozzo: If you're Gay and you know it and can't say so for whatever reason, you're suffering. I can't believe you can be happy. There may be reasons: you're too young to leave your house, maybe problems with your parents, family or your job. You have to follow your voice and your conscience. I go back to the early days of rock n' roll. Saying you were Gay was like some kind of leprosy. They were very homophobic and it was very difficult times. No one felt bad about it. No church came around to console you. When things were bad, they were really bad. But the progress for Gay rights is amazing. I see a generation that in ten years Gay rights is not going to be an issue.

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