ON MIKE PORTNOY’S DEPARTURE FROM DREAM THEATER: A VINCE NEILSTEIN OP-ED
Now that I’ve had a good 24 hours to process the news that Mike Portnoy has quit Dream Theater, I’m ready to opine on it. And my opinion can be summed up thusly:
No, no… obviously it’s way more complex than that. Allow me to elaborate.
Portnoy’s explanation for quitting the band he helped create 25 years ago makes a lot of sense; there’s no reason to continue on with something when your heart isn’t in it anymore, and it certainly sounds like Portnoy’s wasn’t. I’ve written at length about how I feel the past two Dream Theater albums have been sub-par, and if the heart of one of the main creative forces behind DT’s music wasn’t fully invested perhaps now we know a little bit more about why. Of course any DT album is good by any other band’s standards, but compared to their past works the past two records felt like a band going through the motions and writing “another Dream Theater record.” And “another Dream Theater record” is totally sub-par for them; they’re a band that’s always pushed forward and changed from release to release.
For Portnoy this newfound freedom will surely result in a tizzy of new projects, most of them way more experimental and off-the-beaten-path than Dream Theater (which is ironic given how off-the-beaten-path Dream Theater were when they first came out). Transatlantic and Hail immediately spring to mind, I certainly wouldn’t rule out Liquid Tension Experiment even though Petrucci is in that band, and I’m sure there will be tons of new ones as well. This could be a good thing. Personally I’ll always be interested in any project Portnoy is involved with; the guy’s such a great writer, performer and overall talent. No, I do not think he’ll become the permanent drummer for Avenged Sevenfold; such a situation is highly unlikely and he’s already stated since yesterday that his experience with Avenged Sevenfold was not the reason he quit Dream Theater. It’s obviously something much larger, of which deciding to help Avenged Sevenfold was probably a symptom.
But what all the fans care most about… what will become of Dream Theater? Honestly, it feels completely silly for them to continue on under that name because, simply put, it won’t be Dream Theater. John Petrucci and John Myung, the only original members left, ought to take a good hard look at what they have and consider whether it’s worth it to soldier on. Portnoy wrote most of the band’s lyrics, was intimately involved in the orchestration, and have you seen the band live?? He may sit at the back of the stage behind a massive drumkit but with all his crazy on-stage shenanigans the guy is basically the band’s frontman fer chrissakes. James who?
I have no doubt that Petrucci, Myung and Jordan Rudess can write amazing music together. But it won’t be Dream Theater without Mike. You can’t replace him. Good God, are they really going to try to replace Mike fucking Portnoy? The guys is THE HEART AND SOUL of the band, end of story. All the good interviews, all the passion, all the heart… it’s all Mike.
It seems silly to say given the events of the past year, but the first guy I’d think of to replace Portnoy — and I swear I would’ve said this a year ago — would have been Avenged Sevenfold’s The Rev. I’m sure there are plenty of drummers out there that can handle his drum parts, but none of them will be Mike Portnoy. Anyone they choose is going to be booed mercilessly. I’d like to think that Dream Theater fans are an accepting bunch, but fuck, replacing Mike Portnoy? I can’t be done. Those are gargantuan shoes to fill. And I’m talking strictly about the live setting… it’s already a foregone conclusion that Portnoy absolutely will not and could not be replaced in the writing and recording process.
So where does this leave us? Fucked if I know. Maybe John Petrucci will write another solo record — those have always been good. James Labrie’s got a solo record about to drop. Rudess can keep busy with his studio gigs that he’s always had. John Myung can continue being the silent man while concocting his evil plans to takeover the world. I’m sure all these guys have enough dough in the bank from all these years of live shows to get by just fine, and they’re not exactly the types to blow their cash on tons of drugs so I’m sure they’ve all invested wisely. But they will probably decide not to hang up the DT flag, as a press release announced today. They’ll probably decide to make another Dream Theater album, without Portnoy, and it will probably be alright but not great.
Oh well. It’s been a fun ride. I’ve definitely had my fill of DT over the years… seen them probably close to a dozen times. I’m glad I got to see them one last time this summer opening for Maiden. Perhaps he gave it a little more that night, his first time on stage at the Garden, a crowning accomplishment for anyone who grew up in our near New York. And they played “Home” that night too… that was really special.
So, Dream Theater: goodbye for now. I’ll see you again when Portnoy decides to re-join the band (and mark my words… it will happen).
Now please excuse me while I go crank Scenes From a Memory, Dream Theater’s (and Mike’s) finest moment.
Dream Theater superfan Vince Neilstein