So, I get news from the CHUD forums last week that Mike Portnoy – the drummer and one of the founding members of Dream Theater – announced that he was leaving the band.


Well, shit.


I find my reaction to this news akin to being told that your mother and father are getting a divorce.  And it hits me hard.

I first got into Dream Theater back in 2000.  A friend of mine let me borrow his copy of “Scenes From a Memory”.  Up to that point, I was vaguely familiar with progressive rock, but never really listened to it all that much.

This album changed that forever.

The concept was intriguing – a young man goes to a hypnotherapist to help him discover his past life as a woman named Victoria.  As the story progresses, you find out that Victoria was murdered by a Senator that she had had a relationship with, because she was leaving him for his brother whom she was in love with.  The twist came when the final track reveals that the hypnotherapist is the reincarnation of the Senator.  Re-murder ensues to the tune of a needle scratch.

The first couple of listens didn’t really do much for me.  I certainly appreciated the mad drum beats that Mike Portnoy was pouring into each song – how he could change tempo and time in a second and still manage to keep the flow.  The guitar work was equally impressive.  The vocals were definitely of an eighties-style hair band quality, but as an appreciator of that style, I was cool with it.  But otherwise, the album didn’t really do much for me.

But then I listened to it again.  And it changed my life.

Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but after another listen the album finally clicked with me and blew my mind.  One of the things I started to do with each subsequent listen was focus on the lyrics and piece the story together.  As I started to pick up on subtle clues and cues within each piece, the genius that was on display started to become very clear to me.

After that, I listened to this album constantly, each time picking up new subtleties and hints that I missed on the previous listen.  This puzzle started to take shape and fill itself in, and I started to realize just how gifted these guys were musically.

After that, I went out and started Looking for Dream Theater’s previous albums.  I found out that they had been together since ’85, with only their first album absent of current lead singer James LaBrie.  I found that album to be quite lackluster, actually.  But for me, each album after that – with LaBrie on vocals – was another gem to add to my collection.  I found that the mixture of rich, playful melodies combined with a distinct eighties sound, plenty of synthesizer (one of my favourite instruments in music), throaty vocals and masterful drum beats had woven together this perfect tapestry of music that was felt more than listened to.

At that point, I was hooked.  I was a fan.  Each subsequent album that came out after “Memory” was snatched up immediately.  And I found myself experiencing something I never had before with any other band or artist.  I found that each successive album just didn’t seem to be as good as the one before it.  But after several plays each effort would grow on me and I would come to love it as much as its predecessor – so much so that I’ve even considered going back to give “When Day and Dream Unite” (their first album with Charlie Dominici on vocals) another chance.

Haven’t yet, though.

So now – eighteen years and ten albums later… one of the founding members –  the foundation for what makes Dream Theater what it is – is leaving.  And, for some reason, this news hits me really hard.  Though I was only actively a part of the ride for the last ten years, this band has quickly and easily become one of my favourite bands of all time.  The creativity, adaptability, and energy on display is just staggering.  I mentioned in an article over at my other place <http://www.spwug.com/2010/06/30/the-don-remembers-4-roxette/> that Roxette is also one of my favourite bands, mainly because  they were and are the soundtrack of my life.  So, if they are the soundtrack, Dream Theater is the band that took me on adventures outside of my life.  Every note was an exploration – an exciting quest to see where the journey would take me.

And now that journey has finally come to an end.  I should have been realistic and realized that it would some day.  But like most adventures, you never think that far ahead.  You’re so in the moment that you think to yourself that it will last forever.  But like that dude with the bandanna in the “1999” video said – “Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.”

And despite the fact that the rest of the group promises that they will continue with Dream Theater, even announcing that they are going back into the studio next January to begin work on the next album, the fact remains that the party is over.  But still – even if that’s the case, and even though the reality of it hits me like a ton of bricks, I know that I still have a fantastic library of albums that I will always be able to listen to – where I’ll be able to experience everything I love about Dream Theater whenever I want to.  It’s a good feeling – just enough to take the sting out of what is clearly the end of an era.  And I can’t help but think of a specific line from the album that introduced me to them in the first place – “Scenes From a Memory.  It’s a line that encompasses the idea that even when things end, they’re never truly gone.  And I think it fits quite appropriately:

“The spirit carries on…”