Numerous high-profile bands have had well-publicized disputes in recent times, and most fans feel the need to choose one side over the other. They tend to take these disputes very personally. Often times, they act as though they are children living through a divorce, and they feel the need to blame someone for seeing their favorite bands part ways. This is especially true if the parting of ways is contentious.
On the most recent episode of That Metal Show, Eddie Trunk posed a question about whether social media, raw and unfiltered, is a good or a bad thing because it lets bands share real-time thoughts rather than relying on disseminating information through prepared press releases. While we all appreciate the access that social media gives us to the artists that we love, there is also a downside. It almost forces us to choose sides in band disputes, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
In a perfect world, our favorite bands would never have any lineup changes. They would continue to create music that we love, and tour as often as possible so that we could see them perform live. They would all be on the same page when it comes to musical direction, and egos would never get in the way of something good. Every artist would realize that most of their fans envy their way of life because their jobs are not nearly as satisfying as being a rock star.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world. The bands that we love are comprised of real people with real problems and lives that we don’t necessarily understand. We like to think that we’ve gotten to know them through their music, but the reality is that we see what we want to see. As the saying goes, you may love sausage, but you wouldn’t want to see how it is made. Because of social media, with these public disputes, we are not only seeing how the sausage is made, we are becoming involved in the process.
In a recent interview with Geoff Tate of Queensryche, Tate shattered my illusion of what I thought about band relationships. We tend to assume that bands with tremendous longevity must share strong personal bonds, but the reality is that each band is actually a business run by a handful of partners. Tate and his former bandmates have both recently released albums under the Queensryche moniker. A court will decide in November which faction gets to use the name permanently. Many fans, however, have already chosen where their loyalty will lie, regardless of the court proceedings.
Great White is another band that is battling over the rights to use the name. Longtime frontman, Jack Russell, is in a battle similar to the one that Tate is fighting with Queensryche. While Great White fans don’t seem as enraged as Queensryche fans in general, you can be sure that there are some fans that are very angry about this dispute, and will likely lay blame on one side or the other.
The members of Styx waged a similar battle years ago, and the courts awarded Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young the right to use the name over founding member, Dennis DeYoung. Some fans gravitate towards the current lineup of Styx because they focus on the more energetic songs that were made during their heyday. Others support DeYoung because he is the one who set the tone for the band when they were together. Some appreciate each for what they bring to the table, while others simply avoid either because it’s not the same without the entire band. This battle happened years ago, so fan anger is basically non-existent at this point, but it’s safe to assume that fans were more impassioned at the time, though there were no social media outlets to share their views.
There are many more scenarios that didn’t end in a court battle, but disappointed fans just the same: Journey replacing Steve Perry with Arnel Pineda, Foreigner moving on without Lou Gramm, Stone Temple Pilots firing Scott Weiland…again, Adam Gontier walking away from Three Days Grace as the band was reaching their pinnacle of success. And perhaps the most disappointing breakup of all time, Axl Rose and Slash ending Guns N’ Roses way before their time.
Many bands cannot sustain major lineup changes, but some have done so with great success. Ronnie James Dio replacing Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath is the most glaring example of a band surviving a major lineup change. Dio owns the unique distinction of being on both sides of a lineup change, as Rainbow enjoyed commercial success with Joe Lynn Turner as his eventual replacement. Iron Maiden achieved greater success after Bruce Dickinson replaced Paul Di’Anno. Even though there has been a lot of back and forth with David Lee Roth, the Sammy Hagar years of Van Halen were very successful. And though the hard rock and metal world loved Bon Scott, it can be argued that AC/DC’s greatest moments have come with Brian Johnson at the helm. It should be noted that Scott’s departure was tragic, and had nothing to do with any kind of dispute.
The more successful a band becomes, the more likely they are to have built a loyal fanbase that will feel personally effected by any disputes that occur. The access that fans have to their favorite artists through Twitter, Facebook and the like gives them a deeper personal connection than ever before. The unfortunate downside to social media is that it allows “fans” to spew hatred and false information behind a cloak of anonymity.
For better or worse, modern-day band disputes are no longer personal matters to be handled by the individual band members. These disputes are merely a soapbox for fans to stand on as they share their personal opinion with anyone who will listen.