Who Do I Blame For The End Of The World?
I was trying to explain the situation to some of my friends today in the chat room we form daily instead of doing our jobs (note to co-workers: just kidding!) It would be like Paul McCartney leaving the Beatles because he was having more fun in Wings. It would be like Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake leaving football and music so they could promote Panasonic televisions full time. It would be like Hulk Hogan leaving pro wrestling because he was having more fun on the set of Thunder in Paradise.
The departure of Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater has basically shattered the progressive rock world over the past 24 hours. Without trying to cast Portnoy as a villain here, his announcement last night has been received much how I imagine the American public received the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. A large portion of the fan base feels utterly betrayed, and no one, including Portnoy and the remaining members of Dream Theater, seem to know what is going to happen next. For now, the fan base has been scrambled, trying to understand what could have possibly happened to cause the such an unfathomable turn of events. Naturally people are looking for a party to blame, and everyone seems to be a target.
A lot of fans are blaming Avenged Sevenfold, whom Portnoy has been filling in with since the death of their previous drummer. The obvious metaphor, framing A7X as a hot young mistress seducing Portnoy away from his Dream Theater marriage, has been tossed around by more than one pseud- intellectual. I’d suspect playing with A7X influenced Portnoy’s decision, but I also doubt the guys in A7X made a conscious decision to lure Portnoy astray. He’s a well respected drummer who they seemed to look up to, and he was just as honored to help them in their time of need as they were to host him.
Other fans are blaming Dream Theater. Portnoy wrote that he went to the band with a request that they take a group hiatus in order to let him recharge his batteries and refuel his passion for the band’s music, and that the band was less than receptive. The fans on this bandwagon feel as if the ship’s crew has mutinied, tossing the captain overboard. I personally think these fans are idiots. Dream Theater has never been more popular, and to stop producing music right after the band finds its greatest commercial success, hell the most commercial success any progressive rock group has enjoyed in decades, would be a tragically irresponsible career move. Portnoy has also taken numerous breaks in the past to work with side projects while the rest of the band essentially waits in the wings, and I’m sure something like that could have been a growing source of frustration over the years.
Of course, a lot of fans are blaming the man himself. They blame the endless stream of side projects, that by Mike’s own admission tired and occupied his attention. They also blame the total control he maintained in Dream Theater (Portnoy is a self-confessed control freak). Also, while the announcement Portnoy made about his departure was endearing on many levels, it was picked apart for comments like “I have recently had more fun and better personal relations with these other projects,” “I nurtured (Dream Theater) every single day and waking moment of my life…working overtime and way beyond the call of duty that most sane people ever would do for a band,” and “While it truly hurts for me to even think of a Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy…I have decided to sacrifice myself and simply leave the band so as to not hold (the band) back against their wishes.” These are the kind of comments that I would normally pick apart as well, but I find myself unable to fault Portnoy right now. I’m sure this was an immensely difficult and emotional decision for him to make, and I’d be shocked if he DIDN’T say a few things, based on his emotions, that an angry fan-base could interpret as inflammatory. Hell, he WAS having more fun with projects besides DT and he DID work absurdly hard making the band into what it is today. That’s the painful truth, and the combination of those two factors alone must have tormented Portnoy for a very long time.
In the end, I think this will be good for both Dream Theater and Mike. I’ve personally enjoyed his side projects a great deal more than the past few DT albums, and it’s not like he’s going to stop making music (a concept that a lot of fans seem to have forgotten). Dream Theater on the other hand is going to move in a new direction, and for the first time in a long time I’m really excited about what they can possibly produce. I’m sure they will tap a phenomenal drummer who will bring new elements to the band’s sound, and the most successful and popular progressive rock band in modern music will do exactly what the genre demands of them, progress.
I don’t think we’ll ever know every fact about what led up to this. Dream Theater and Portnoy are not the types who are going to end up writing tell-all memoirs about the situation 10 years from now. I have suspicions about various points of interest that have been lekaed over the past year, but that’s all I have, suspicions, and I can’t make any worthwhile judgments based on those. All I know is that I loved the music Portnoy and Dream Theater produced together, and I am going to continue following both of them until I stop liking either group’s music. Hell, the last time Dream Theater lost a member, the next album they produced was Scenes from a Memory Pt. 2, which is still my (and many other fan’s) favorite DT album to this day. So here’s to the idea that no matter who’s ‘fault’ this is, SOMEONE’s going to make a great soundtrack for all of us to remember this mess by in the future.
-Mike Epstein, 9/9/2010
P.S. If you need any convincing that this will result in some awesome music, check out DT keyboardist Jordan Rudess’ “response” to Portnoy’s departure: