Kilroy Was Here

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Date Aired
December 13, 2017
Running Time
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Todd: The concept album...

(The Beatles' music video of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is shown)

Paul McCartney: It was twenty years ago today...

Todd (v.o.): It's the height of artistic ambition for a rock band, a statement of intent that you are to be taken...

Todd (v.o.): ...seriously.

(Clip of "Pink Floyd - Another Brick in the Wall")

Roger Waters: We don't need no education

Todd (v.o.): Lesser bands would just write a bunch of songs and try to put them in a decent order. (Clip of Green Day - "American Idiot") But you have bigger dreams. You're not just some snot-nosed punk bashing out three chords, warbling out drivel about girls and dancing. (Clip of "David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust") No, you are a storyteller. You're a dramatist, you're a composer, you're a cultural commentator, you're a world-builder.

Todd: You're all of those things and more. You're an artist! Or, if you're an act who the critics never liked to begin with, you're gonna look like a pretentious bore who has disappeared up his own ass. But who knows?

(Clip of Styx performing during the "Kilroy Was Here" tour)

Todd (v.o.): Maybe this is the project where everyone will finally recognize your genius. But only if you truly find that amazing mind-expanding concept that becomes beloved for decades to come and is certainly not horribly cheesy and dated.

Todd: Which brings us to the band Styx.

(Clip of Styx performance)

Todd (v.o.): Yes, Styx. Rock group from Chicago, led by keyboardist Dennis DeYoung. Super popular in the late 70's and early 80's.

(Clip of "The Best of Times")

Tommy Shaw: The best of times

Todd (v.o.): In 1983, they were on top of the world, coming off a string of hits and multi-platinum albums with their specific blend of midwestern arena rock, prog rock, and soft rock. But the 80's were really kicking into gear. Could they survive as new wave and hair metal began to crowd out classic rock?

Todd: The answer was yes. Yes they could...

(Clip of "Mr. Roboto")

Todd (v.o.): But only for a brief, strange moment in time. And only by making one of the weirdest, most puzzling songs in rock history, accompanied by a confused, half-baked record that made it no less baffling. A record called "Kilroy Was Here."

Dennis DeYoung: Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, mata au-oo hima de

Todd: This is Trainwreckords.

(Trainwreckords intro, followed by album cover for Kilroy Was Here)

Todd: Look, I don't like Styx. Obviously, I don't like Styx. I'm a music critic. It's part of the licensing exam. Can't be a music critic if you like Styx. My little brother likes Styx. He's a huge fan. He's seen them in concert, like twice, has the T-shirts. I failed him.

(Clip of Styx performance)

Todd (v.o.): But yeah, they're just a band that I have never been able to get into. I think they're tedious. Critics described them as "pompous to the point of flatulence," they were like Queen without the fun or Yes without the complexity. Yeah, I agree with all that, but mostly I just don't like Dennis DeYoung's voice.

(Clip of "Lady")

Dennis DeYoung: Lady, when you're with me I'm smiling

Todd (v.o.): For me, his singing is just like the death of music. And the other two vocalists, Tommy Shaw and James Young, I'm not exactly a fan of their voices either. I dunno, they got a couple of good songs I guess, if that's what you're into.

Todd: But then there's "Kilroy Was Here"

(Clip of "Caught in the Act")

James Young as Dr. Righteous: Moms and dads, I see the future. I see a future without rock 'n roll music.

Todd (v.o.): When I started this project, I had one basic idea...

Todd: ...albums that flopped so hard, that they ended careers. But how do you measure a flop album? By critical success? Critics didn't like Styx to begin with, so it wasn't like a drop in form or anything. By commercial failure? "Kilroy Was Here" sold pretty well. Granted, a bad reception doesn't manifest right away. Sometimes, you can't see it in solid numbers until the follow-up. But we can't look at how the follow-up did because there wasn't one. No, the album killed Styx in the most direct way possible. It broke up the band.

(Clip of "Caught in the Act")

Tommy Shaw: Kilroy

Todd (v.o.): I honestly have no idea if there was any backlash from Styx fans. The only backlash that mattered came from just four people. (picture of the band with every member except Dennis circled) These guys, who never understood the project and got burned out trying to help Dennis DeYoung realize his stupid, stupid vision.

Todd: By the time the band reunited in 1990, their moment was officially over.

(Clip of "Caught in the Act")

Todd (v.o.): But whether or not there was any fan backlash at the time, "Kilroy Was Here" has gone down in rock history not as a classic album, but as a bizarre, confused, half-remembered curiosity. Now I'm approaching this album as a non-fan and somebody who wasn't even born yet when it came out. It's kind of difficult to tell where "Kilroy Was Here" fits in Styx's legacy, because Styx has had such an odd afterlife.

Todd: The critics never turned around on them like they had for Journey...

(Clip of live performance)

Todd (v.o.): ...but Styx also kinda never went away or waned in popularity. They still tour. Their songs still get tons of play. Everyone knows at least a few of their songs, they can sing a few bars of "Come Sail Away."

Todd: But ranking up with "Come Sail Away" as their most famous tune is probably their least representative song. The lead single from this album, "Mr. Roboto."

Dennis DeYoung: Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, himitsu wo shiri ta

Todd (v.o.): It was certainly the first song I knew from them. Well, I didn't know it, I just knew those four words.

Dennis DeYoung: Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, Domo (domo), Domo (domo)

Todd (v.o.): It's such a stupid phrase. Every part of it. It's like they needed a name for their robot character, so they came up with "Mr. Robot-O." It's like naming your dog "Dogdog," it's one of the most inexplicable songs of the 80's. And if you know the 80's, that's saying something. But goddamn do they sell it. It is such glorious cheese.

Todd: Domo. Domo.

Todd (v.o.): It's just so wonderfully ridiculous. At least that part is. When I actually listened to the whole thing, I was horrendously disappointed.

Todd: All the parts before "domo domo" they're just so bad.

Dennis DeYoung: You're wondering who I am (Secret, secret, I've got a secret) Machine or mannequin (Secret, secret, I've got a secret)

Todd: Mannequin?

Dennis DeYoung: With parts made in Japan (Secret, secret, I've got a secret) I am the modren man

Todd: What?

Dennis DeYoung: I am the modren man

Todd: The margarine man? What does that mean? What is "modren?" What could that possibly mean? Is that just a typo that you never fixed?

Dennis DeYoung: I'm not a robot without emotions, I'm not what you see (Clip of the Chuck E. Cheese band playing)

Todd (v.o.): I don't know how to put it into words, but the entire main part of this song isn't the fun kind of cheese, it's just annoying. I'm not sure what it is exactly. Maybe it's just Dennis DeYoung's awful ear-bleeding voice again.

Dennis DeYoung: Ohhhhhhh, yaaaaaaaaaah!

Todd: Or maybe it's the half-assed commentary on technology

Dennis DeYoung: The problem's plain to see Too much technology

Todd: What if machine bad?

Dennis DeYoung: Machines to humanize

Todd: You're a synthesizer band, you goddamn hypocrites!

Todd (v.o.): And it turns out, this isn't really about robots, because he's not even Mr. Roboto at all. Secret secret, he's got a secret!

Dennis DeYoung: My true identity I'm Kilroy! Kilroy!

Todd: Kilroy! Kilroy...who?!?

Dennis DeYoung: I'm not a hero, I'm not a savior, forget what you know

Todd (v.o.): Forget what I know? I don't have knowledge to forget. Who are you?

Todd: My big takeaway from "Mr. Roboto" is that it doesn't make a goddamn lick of sense.

Todd (v.o.): Who the hell is Kilroy? What does the roboto do? Is Kilroy a robot or a man turning into a robot or a man doing jobs to make him feel like a robot?

Todd: Well, to understand it, you have to either A) read the extensive liner notes (TL;DR), or B) watch the 9-minute intro film that only played during the live shows.

(Clip of the Kilroy Tour intro film from "Caught in the Act")

Todd (v.o.): The entire opening chapters of the album's story, the entire premise, and the backstory, and the introduction to all the characters, aren't in the album (ONLY ON VHS!) But once you do get to see the intro movie, it all starts to make sense.

Todd: Ok, no it doesn't, but you do get some cheap laughs about how crappy it is.

(Clip of the intro film)

PA Announcer: Attention. Riot in the eating area.

Todd (v.o.): You sure that's a riot? You sure it's not just the jazzercise class warming up? Well anyway, from what I gather, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where rock 'n roll has been outlawed, and the world is under the thumb of the evil moral evangelical preacher Dr. Righteous, and his army of killer robots. Now, as a sci-fi buff, I can't help but notice the similarities between this album's premise and the fictional sci-fi universe created by me in the 8th grade ("Badass Robot Rock-pocalypse!!! By Todd")

Todd: Critics praised my conceptual masterwork as "Dorktastic" (Kempsville School Gazette) and "Lame as balls" (Ronnie) before crumpling all my drawings and stuffing me in a locker.

Todd (v.o.): And if this whole thing wasn't corny and fanficy enough, Dennis DeYoung wrote himself as the hero, the jailed rock 'n roll star Kilroy.

Prison guard: Robert Oren Charles Kilroy

Todd: Excuse me, Robert Oren Charles...look his initials spell "ROCK." Ugggggh. So, this character...

(Clip of "Mr. Roboto")

Todd (v.o.): ...played by a guy who looks like a Walgreen's manager, is your physical embodiment of rock. Tommy Shaw is the rebel Jonathan Chance who springs him from jail.

(Clip of intro film)

Tommy Shaw as Jonathan Chance: The guy's on every channel. Come on, bastard (changes the TV to show a Styx performance) You can't stop the music, you bastard!

Todd: We will play rock! Specifically, bloated ugly 70's arena rock. Hail hail corporate rock 'n roll!

Todd (v.o.): And James Young is the evil Dr. Righteous, who's a stand-in for all the obnoxious bible-thumping censorship assholes of the 80's. That's right, someone's sticking it to televangelists, at last!

Todd: Wait 'til you hear their jokes about airline food!

(Clip of intro film)

James Young as Dr. Righteous: Burn until we together have eradicated this vile plague that Elvis Presley has brought upon our nation.

Todd (v.o.): The actual plague that Elvis has brought down was probably venereal disease, for the record. And the robotos, what about them? Well, here's the funny thing. They are not a part of the story, at all. "Mr. Roboto" was the first single, and the album opener, and it never comes back. Robots are to this album as breast cancer is to "The Room." Even "Mr. Roboto" isn't about robots. It's about Kilroy disguising himself as a robot to escape the jail. The robots are there to serve as minor characters and mildly Japanophobic punchlines.

(Clip of Kilroy giving a robot a blow to the groin)

Dennis DeYoung as Kilroy: Abra...powasakawasake! Da sama san scrotum hoto

Todd (v.o.): Yeah, this is, uh...this is all kinda racist, yes. But I think a bigger point here is that the Japanese specifically engineered their robots to have vulnerable testicles. I mean, those Japanese, am I right? Also, I'm starting to get really uncomfortable with this album art.

Prisoner: Hey Roboto, your mother was a Toyota. (throws a book at the robot) You got no rhythm, huh, you go no rhythm.

Todd (v.o.): Yeah, the whole film is just very cringy. And the amazing thing is how little it has to do with anything.

Todd: For example, let's look at the second big hit from that album, "Don't Let It End."

(Clip of "Don't Let It End")

Dennis DeYoung: What can I do pictures of you still make me cry Trying to live without your love, it's so hard to do

Todd: It's a love ballad.

Dennis DeYoung: Don't let it end Baby we could have so much more

Todd (v.o.): It's just a normal Styx ballad. Who's it to, any of the other characters? No, it doesn't have anything to do with that. Like, if you really stretch, I guess you can make it work with the plot and the whole concept of the album, but mostly it sounds just like any other Styx ballad. You could swap it out with "Babe" or "Lady" or any of the other horrible love ballads they put out and it'd make just as much sense.

Todd: Or take the last big hit off that album, "Renegade."

(Clip of "Renegade")

Tommy Shaw: The jig is up, the news is out They finally found me The renegade who had it made Retrieved for a bounty

Todd: I'm kidding, "Renegade" is from a different album.

(Clip of live performance)

Todd (v.o.): But it honestly fits better than most of the songs on this album.

Tommy Shaw: Oh Mama, I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law

Todd (v.o.): See how easily you can make that fit? Meanwhile, "Kilroy" has songs that...I guess match the theme, but only vaguely.

Todd: Like, there's one about living a double life.

(Clip of live performance with "Double Life" dubbed over)

James Young: Leading a double life Friends in the daytime, strangers at night

Todd (v.o.): But not, like, living a double life as a robot or anything. Honestly, I'm not sure what kind of double life they're talking about. The lyrics don't explain it, there's no video.

Todd: Ok, fine. Let's look at one of the songs where they did try to work with the premise.

(Clip of "Heavy Metal Poisoning")

Todd (v.o.): This is the villian's song, "Heavy Metal Poisoning."

James Young as Dr. Righteous: What the devil's goin' on Heavy metal (heavy metal) poisoning (it's a poison)

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