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October 25, 2021

The Afterword That Never Was

By Brian Heaton

When James Beach and Brian Naron initially approached me in March 2020 about co-writing Building An Empire: The Story of Queensryche with them, I wasn't ready to commit. To be pefectly honest, I was gun-shy to re-engage with the band and its fan base after years of just doing my own thing at AnybodyListening.net and rediscovering my enjoyment of their music.

After a couple of phone calls explaining my reasons for not wanting to get overly involved, I reluctantly agreed to pen the book's Afterword. The plan was for me to write that piece and serve as a “historical consultant” on the book. Beach and Naron were disappointed, but from my perspective, I was happy with the plan, as it allowed me to contribute to the project without going overboard. But as Robert Burns once said, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.....”

Writing the Afterword made me realize how much I needed to be a part of the biography's writing team. If you know me, you know my history with the band. This project just screamed “unfinished business” and I couldn't ignore it. It was a chance to help tell Queensryche's story the right way, with class and honesty. So I submitted the piece, but a couple of weeks later, the three of us reconvened and hammered out a structure so that all three of us would be co-writers on the book. We're immensely proud of our work and hope you all enjoy it. (Order directly from us at nwmetalworxmusic.com.)

My Afterword, however, has been sitting on the cutting room floor since March 2020. I like the piece and astute readers will find that I repurposed some of it in various sections of the book that I wrote. But now that we've published the biography, I present “The Afterword That Never Was” here on AnybodyListening.net as “bonus” content. So without further ado....

Reflecting on a Life of Ryche 'n' Roll

When you look back at the suburban Seattle metal scene in the early 1980s, The Mob didn’t look like anything special. Sure, Chris DeGarmo, Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield, Michael Wilton, and a reluctant Geoff Tate were a good cover band with a nice local buzz, but it was Tate’s primary band, Myth, that was far ahead in terms of creativity and potential. They were writing original songs that combined the quirkiness of prog with hard rock and metal.

But The Mob wouldn’t go away. DeGarmo and company kept working tirelessly on their playing skills and songs and as anyone reading this knows, ultimately changed their name to Queensryche, scored a lucrative record contract that lured Tate away from Myth, and opened the door for other Seattle metal acts (such as Fifth Angel, Metal Church and Heir Apparent) to get signed. Queensryche’s work ethic didn’t subside, as the band kept pushing—reaching the pinnacle of commercial success with Empire in 1990 and becoming worldwide rock icons.

Their career has been a rollercoaster, but each step of the way, even as their car teetered on the edge of oblivion, they somehow stayed on the track. After 40 years, it’s clear that Queensryche’s story is the epitome of perseverance and I’m proud to have been a small part of it.

I became a Queensryche fan in late 1987/early 1988, just a few months prior to Operation: Mindcrime coming out. The brother of one of my childhood friends came home with Rage for Order one day. One listen to “Walk in the Shadows” and I was hooked. I didn’t quite understand everything going on in the album (I was a few months shy of my 12th birthday), but I knew it was special. If you’re reading this—you understand that feeling. And when Operation: Mindcrime was released a couple months later, it quickly became my favorite musical recording of all-time and still is, over three decades later.

What I didn’t know then, and at times still can’t believe it happened, is how my life and Queensryche’s career would entwine. In the 1990s, I flew the Tri-ryche flag proudly, going to concerts, wearing their shirts, collecting magazines, and everything else that goes with being a super fan. After DeGarmo left at the end of 1997, I was all for Queensryche soldiering on. The experiences I had traveling around the United States and seeing Queensryche shows on the Q2k, Greatest Hits and Live Evolution tours with friends from 1999-2002 were life changing and I’m incredibly thankful the band’s story took the turn it did.

As we headed further into the 21st century, my fandom transitioned from being a collector and writer for Queensryche’s fan club, to creating and leading a discussion forum, The Breakdown Room. The idea was to give fans a platform to support, criticize, and promote the band in a neutral environment that was heavily moderated so that the forum didn’t degrade into a hotbed of insults and trolling.

We were very successful. Thousands of fans, industry executives and musicians across the globe became members, and hundreds of thousands of people visited, turning The Breakdown Room into the premier online source of Queensryche news and conversation worldwide. It served as a model for other successful forums (such as DreamTheaterForums.org) that followed. And while I’m proud of The Breakdown Room’s 12-year run and the role it played helping Queensryche overcome a difficult time in the 2010s, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some regrets.

Over the years, I developed some friendships with band members and other people connected to Queensryche because of The Breakdown Room. And as the calendar turned to 2012, I found myself at a crossroads Queensryche was headed down a dangerous path of discontent between the band members which culminated in the ill-fated “Brazil Incident” on April 14, 2012. The band let their differences get the better of them, pitting Tate against Wilton, Jackson, and Rockenfield. I elected to “choose a side” and threw in with the Wilton camp.

My intentions were honorable. Choices by Tate and his wife had steered Queensryche down a path that numerous industry experts believed was seriously harming their legacy and future earnings potential. Not to mention the artistic contributions of Wilton—once a primary writer in the band—were being stunted. But by backing one side over another and bringing Queensryche’s lawsuit documents into the public light, The Breakdown Room lost its integrity. As did I.

I won’t lie—it was one of the most surreal and fun experiences of my life, being granted unprecedented access to the Wilton/Jackson/Rockenfield version of Queensryche for over two years. Meeting and befriending new singer Todd La Torre, hanging out backstage, on the bus, watching some of their creative process, it was a great time. Hell, fans even sought me out, treating me like I was part of the band (seriously). If somebody had told the 12-year-old me this was what the future held when I first fell in love with Rage for Order and Operation: Mindcrime, I would have said they were crazy. But it all came at a cost. Relationships suffered; poor choices were made—all due to running a discussion forum that helped spur the ouster of (to that point) my favorite singer, Geoff Tate. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Simply put, I lost perspective amid my five minutes of fame.

In 2014, as the Wilton camp were ultimately granted the sole use of the name “Queensryche” and the band entered a revival period as a heavy metal band with La Torre as their frontman, I decided to close The Breakdown Room. Frankly, after the forum being a part of my daily life for over a decade, it took about a year to finally pull the plug. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Poor administrative choices by me, combined with a toxic fan dynamic fed by social media platforms that enabled people to surround themselves with only like-minded thinkers, changed the tenor of the forum, and it was time to call it a day.

Ever so slowly in the years that followed, I re-examined why I was a Queensryche fan to begin with. I started to listen to the old music again, rediscovering my love and passion for it. I realized how silly it was for me to “be on a side” even though many fans (to this day) continue to separate their Queensryche loyalties. Tate, Wilton, Rockenfield and Jackson had all moved on with their lives and careers and so did I. I became a fan again. I saw Tate perform acoustically in 2017 (the first time I had seen him perform since 2009). It was a wonderful show. I emailed him an apology regretting my involvement in his life, and to my surprise, he replied, appreciative of the note.

The members of Queensryche survived the tumultuous times they had. Tate has had a renaissance as a solo artist, receiving high praise for performing various Queensryche albums and guesting on metal opera tours with Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia. Queensryche has released three critically acclaimed albums with La Torre. They all persevered. It’s something in that Queensryche DNA that continues to permeate everything each of them do. And while their journey will always have peaks and valleys, it’s clear that Queensryche has the fortitude to weather it all and should be celebrated as one of heavy metal’s most enduring success stories.

Brian Heaton is the founder of AnybodyListening.net, and a co-author of Building An Empire: The Story of Queensryche, the band's first biography.

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