Obsession is a dangerous beast. I am too much of a macho shithead to ever visit a shrink, though if I did, I know they would tell me I have some issues. You see, I have an obsession. That obsession is music. I know you’re thinking, “Don’t be an asshole, everyone is obsessed with music, what makes you so special?” Well, my friend, good for you. I can only hope to have other labored souls to share my torment with. Because, my musical obsession takes me to a place where no man should go, a place so dark and lonely that I will die a downtrodden alcoholic because of it. That place is Dream Theater.
Let me be clear about one thing right off the bat. I cannot in clear conscience say that I even like Dream Theater all that much. I rag on them all the time, I think Jordan Rudess will be convicted of picking up Malaysian school boys in a 1992 Econoline one day, that John Petrucci and his massive guns are even more of a joke than his over indulgent guitar playing, that Mike Portnoy is the most self-obsessed person this side of Scott Ian and that Nicki Minaj can carry a tune better than James Labrie. As for the Asian guy, he’s ok. But I digress; I have to, because even though I am not a Dream Theater fan, I own their entire catalogue! Yeah, you heard me, that’s like 47 fucking CDs (compact discs for you young kids who insist on buying vinyl). But it goes beyond that…so far beyond.
The year was 2000. As a young metalhead, with dial-up internet, I did not have the luxury of hearing new music in any way other than spending the money I made working at the Amoco gas station on bands I had heard about in metal and guitar magazines. As such, Dream Theater was a band that would always pop up. Guitar nerds have long been known to have a real hard on for John Petrucci and my first exposure to Dream Theater came in an interview with guitar world. They were pimping some new project they were doing with him at the time. I read and found out about his bands and whatnot. On a whim, I picked up the Dream Theater album Awake at my local Blockbuster Music (Kids, Wikipedia this. Back in the early 2000s, we had to actually go to stores to buy music. And CDs only cost a nickel….wait, they cost $19, but that’s neither here nor there). I had made my first mistake…I liked the album.
Awake never blew me away; I just dug some of the songs, mostly “6:00” and “Caught in a Web.” To this day, I still think album and songs are pretty good. Around the same time, a friend of mine really got into prog-metal and he was always playing Dream Theater when I was around. It did not take me long to realize I would never be as into this band as him. Their songs were 90 minutes long, without being interesting, their vocalist, the aforementioned James Labrie, never sat well with me and I was deep into a death metal phase and could care less about what I conceived to be sissy music.
There was one exception though. Dream Theater’s 1999 album, Scenes From a Memory really gripped me. This concept album, which tells the story of a young man framed for murder, was awesome! The songs were great, the musicianship while not only being top notch, was also very tasteful and I loved this thing front to back. I still consider this Dream Theater’s only great album. I bought the album, I bought the live CD where they played the entire album live and I bought the DVD where they also played the entire album live….that last sentence captures Dream Theater entirely…god, they are so into themselves! If only I had never liked this album. If only….
Liking this album led me down my dark path of obsession. In a series of tactical errors, the kind that would make Fredi Gonzalez gasp, I thought to myself, “Maybe I really do like Dream Theater.” When they released their next album, 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, I bought it right away. This double disc featured one CD with a few songs on it and a second disc with one 42 minute long song. The album sucks, except it had one track, “The Glass Prison,” which is one of the best metal songs ever written. I would throw on the CD, just to listen to this one song, every day for about two years. During this time, Dream Theater put out another crappy album, Train of Thought, which I bought. I also bought a couple of their mid-90s discs…which REALLY sucked. I realized at this point, I was not a Dream Theater guy. I mean, I owned five of their albums at this point and like one and a half of them. Seeing as how this isn’t baseball, batting .300 did not bode well for the guys.
I could have stopped right there. I could have bowed out and left Dream Theater to the AIMers (shout out to my ATL peeps!), but I didn’t. I bought another DVD, a career retrospective, complete with commentary, in which they tell you what Starbucks coffee they ordered! At this point I began to violently shit on Dream Theater whenever I could. When a fan boy would pump up how intricate Jordan Rudess’ keyboard solos were, I would throw raw meat at him and perform voodoo curses on his future children. And I use the pronouns him and his, because there is not one woman alive who is into Dream Theater. If you have ever been to a Dream Theater show (I’ve been to three), you will know exactly what I am talking about.
And yet, I still didn’t stop. I, by and large, hated Dream Theater and hated their fans even more, but I heard great things about 2005’s Octavarium, and my musical obsession, holding me with its heroin-esque grip, forced me to pick up the album at my local Best Buy. I hated it. And it was there, right there, where the person suffering from musical obsession proves themselves different from the rest of humanity. While a normal person would simply say enough, the afflicted person can’t stop. You see, I had most of their catalogue. I had to get the rest.
Over the next several years, I bought it all. I bought their dreadful first album, which has several laugh out loud moments. I bought all of their newest works, one of which caused me to vomit profusely and call out of work for two months it was so bad. I will admit, there were times, like the song “Pull Me Under,” where I would think it was all worthwhile, but mostly I just hated myself. I attended Dream Theater Anonymous meetings and even got my six month chip. I bought great albums, by real metal artists and thought I was well on my way to recovery. After all, I had never bought 2009’s Black Cloud and Silver Linings. But then, on a quiet Saturday afternoon in Clarksville, Tennessee, in a Hastings Entertainment store I saw a CD for sale and the price tag said $5. In this state, this vulnerable, affordable state, I did something which caused me regret I will take to my grave. I bought a James Labrie solo album.
I got into my car, cracked open the cellophane, sniffed the CD (all of those suffering from musical obsession do this) and broke down into tears. You see, as bad as all of the other members in Dream Theater are, James Labrie is by far the worst. He is a Canadian, first of all. I know I have said this before, but the man really can’t sing. His hair is constantly teased in an irritating way, he does not seem like he would be a cool guy to have a beer with, his mother is probably ugly and HE CAN’T SING! I listened to the album. It sucked. But at this point, I was already done. I gave into the inevitable. Since this horrific event, I have bought the Liquid Tension Experiment albums, both of which were also on sale at Hastings, I got multiple Mike Portnoy side projects and I watched the insufferable YouTube series, where the band tried out a new drummer. I accepted that as a man with a musical obsession, I had to have the collection complete, no matter the costs.
As of now, I am sitting in a room, 7,000 miles from home, surfing Amazon, with the latest Dream Theater release sitting in my cart. To the rest of the world, I am a strong, confident man. But my soul looks like Emperor Palpatine after fighting the Snakes on a Plane guy. Inevitably, I will buy and not like the album. I will continue to shit on Dream Theater and their fans whenever I get a chance, but I will never be whole, because Dream Theater will never die. Long after its members have gone to prog-metal heaven, I will still be buying tribute and bootleg live albums, because I simply can’t help myself.