Dennis DeYoung and Styx move beyond radio

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Posted by Dennis D. Young on February 24, 2011 at 13:11:46:

Styx and Giggles: Laughter key to using band’s music in soundtracks

By Mike Thomas

Staff Reporter/

Last Modified: Feb 24, 2011 02:08AM

One of the most lewdly hilarious scenes in “Hall Pass,” a new Farrelly brothers romp that opens Friday, is coincidentally Chicago-centric.

Written (as was much of the script) by Deerfield’s Pete Jones, it features Chicago-trained actor Jason Sudeikis having vigorous solo sex in the driver’s seat of his family minivan. As he does so, a popular anthem sung by locally based rocker and former Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung blasts from the speakers.

“The best of tiiiiiiiiiimes,” DeYoung belts as Sudeikis shows off his finely honed improv skills, “are when I’m alone with you.”

Co-director Peter Farrelly paid top dollar for the track — around $200,000, he says — but insists it “makes the scene.”

“We did try other songs when we heard how expensive it would be,” Farrelly says. “We tried [Aero­smith’s] ‘Dream On’ and another. But none of them worked like that one. As soon as people hear it and see what [Jason] is doing, they laugh.”

DeYoung, who still tours and will appear Saturday in an acoustic concert at Governors State University, says that’s his chief concern when deciding whether to approve songs for use in film and television comedies: Will people laugh?

Equally important, when he reads a script and imagines his song accompanying the scene for which it has been requested, does he laugh?

He wasn’t always so laid-back.

Many moons ago, when an ad agency sought to use his 1973 power ballad “Lady” for a cheese commercial (the gist: two bulls go gaga over a hot cow), DeYoung protested. But since he didn’t own the publishing rights (an atypical scenario), his concerns fell on deaf ears.

“I didn’t see the commercial [beforehand],” he recalls, “but I saw the storyboard for it and I said, ‘No. It’s going to demean my song.’ ”

When it aired, though, DeYoung had an epiphany. “Everybody that I know and trust and love saw it and thought it was hysterical,” he says. “So I realized early on that sometimes you can be a little close to this stuff. You’ve got to back off and say, ‘Now, wait a minute.’ So that taught me a valuable lesson.”

He now considers himself the Leslie Nielsen of soundtrack contributors — a serious, as opposed to comedic, composer (as Nielsen was a serious actor before his success with “Airplane!”) who shows up unexpectedly in less-than-serious circumstances, thus producing cognitive dissonance and, ideally, much hilarity.

“If you put ‘Bang a Gong’ or ‘Bang on the Drum’ in a comedy context,” DeYoung says, “you’re already there.”

Over the past decade, especially, DeYoung’s earnest and epic compositions — everything from “Lady” and “The Best of Times” to “Come Sail Away” and “Mr. Roboto” — have underscored a number of spoofs and goofs.(He’s far more judicious about commercials, for which he claims to have turned down millions).

The vocally challenged (and big-boned) Eric Cartman mauled “Come Sail Away” on “South Park.” A skirt-clad Homer crossed the River Styx accompanied by “Lady” on “The Simpsons.” (“Ohh! This truly is hell!”) Two slacker-looking dudes rocked out to “Mr. Roboto” in a Volkswagen stereo spot. And prior to achieving cinematic glory, executive producer Judd Apatow employed “Come Sail Away” and “Lady” to great effect in the short-lived TV dramedy “Freaks and Geeks.”

NBC’s “The Office” and FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” have jumped on the bandwagon, too. Past Styx songs in flicks include Will Ferrell’s “Old School,” Jim Carrey’s “Fun With Dick and Jane” and Adam Sandler’s “Big Daddy,”

“A lot of these people who are using this music were coming of age when Styx was the biggest thing in the country,” DeYoung says.

“Hall Pass” screenwriter Jones, 41, is one of them.

“There was a period in my life where I may not have been in a minivan, but I was listening to Styx and I was [he pauses to choose the right words] growing up. So that’s what I was thinking about.”

When it came time to score his scene, then, there was only one choice.

“In my mind, it was always Styx or Journey or REO Speedwagon,” Jones says. “But Styx, to me, was always my favorite of those groups.”

Fortunately for DeYoung and his bank account, that’s a common sentiment among show-biz and marketing types. Besides earning him fat fees ranging from “good” to “stupid,” his lucrative licensing sideline introduces and reintroduces Styx’s chart-topping classics to countless new or lapsed listeners. Some of them, presumably, end up buying CDs or downloading select tunes.

On an artistic level, De­Young is unconcerned that pairing his handiwork with particularly sophomoric visuals might distort its meaning by creating perverse associations. “The Best of Times,” for instance, is a heartfelt ode about DeYoung and his longtime wife/muse, Suzanne. That it soon could conjure images of, um, auto-erotica “doesn’t matter.”

“Think of the Beatles songs, where the intent is one thing and people interpret it totally different,” he says. “It’s art. So I know what my intent was. It stays the same.”

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