This is a topic that comes up fairly often here on iblogwhatihear, the intersection of political science, social issues, and popular music. The band Journey has suddenly become the band of the moment. It began with The OC, and continues to this day. It’s a mix of Marc Wahlberg style Hollywood drama, with a sort of retro 80’s nostalgia. Needless to say, it all makes me very uncomfortable.
This morning, as has become a habit I am neither proud of nor apologetic for, I was watching The Today Show. Their guest was Journey, obviously just for the kitsch factor. Leading up to the segment all week they were asking fans to “Wear your most outrageous 80’s gear and text in the hits you want to hear, as requested by the band!” Really? Have you guys become that much of a caricature of yourselves? Your place in history is already set as phenomenal musicians, songwriters, and performers, please just hang it up before you come out of this one looking not so hot (too late.)
Let’s do a short review, so you don’t have to read the Wikipedia entry: Journey began as a prog rock band founded by guitar player Neal Schon and other former members of Santana’s band, shredding to their hearts content and achieving minimal commercial success. Steve Perry joined the band, and the world exploded in a massive cloud of falsetto vocals and unstoppable hits. They pioneered the arena rock movement. Insert typical band drama, Perry leaves, band breaks up, re-forms, but Perry has medical issues and cannot tour, Schon replaces him, and the rest is history. Well, sort of. They replaced him with a nearly identical singer, Steve Augeri, in both looks and tone (His name even sounds kind of similar!) Several years later, after the massive commercial resurgence, Augeri is replaced with vocalist Arniel Pineda, who was found in a Journey cover band on You Tube! WHAT!? Yes, its true.
OK, so lets examine this matter from a few angles. I understand they wanted to take advantage of their recent commercial success after years of dormancy. I also understand that personal conflicts, of which none of us have any understanding play into this, and the band doesn’t want to re-form with Perry, or who knows what. Really, Rock Star with Marky Mark is a fantastic film, if for no other reason than Zakk Wylde and Jason Bonham. But I don’t want to see it reenacted in real life with a band I love and respect.
It just feels a little bit like Schon is trapped in his head and has an image of himself as a rock guitar god. He’s certainly entitled to this image, he played one of the most memorable guitar solos ever created, but for some reason it just doesn’t add up. He seems like a dude your dad hangs out with, attempting to dress like his image of what a “cool young guy” dresses like, in the year 1996. There’s just something about him that doesn’t compare to Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, any of those guys. Even Steve Vai, or any of the other note cramming shredders, Schon just doesn’t seem to fit in. Maybe he’s too buff – like he spends as much time in the weight room as he does on stage.
Just for one second though, can we appreciate the pure magic of this band? We’re not even going to discuss “Don’t Stop Believin” because we have already discussed that. “Separate Ways”? That’s a phenomenal song. “Lights”? Straight up magical. “Wheel In The Sky”, “Any Way You Want It”, “Lovin Touchin Squeezin”, “Open Arms”, “Faithfully”, we could really be here all day. Its a mix of just enough 1980’s shiny polished cheese based bravado…and amazing songs. At the core of it, all of these songs are perfect. They could be played with one guitar and a voice, and bring you to that place where your soul is fed a delicious sandwich at all times. They are the Soul Sandwich™ (I just coined that term, feel free to use it, with proper credit given.)
Couldn’t you guys just leave it alone? I just heard recently The Faces are doing a “Reunion Tour” only without Rod Stewart. Yeah, that’s right. There’s a reason the Beatles never reunited without Lennon. If it’s solely about the money, do as Van Halen, The Eagles and all those other classic rockers do, just get separate buses and play arenas with separate dressing rooms. Here’s a concept: start a new type of arena tour, with 5 separate stages for each member, so you don’t even have to be on stage together! It will revolutionize live performance. Think about it Schon, you have my number.
How does Perry feel about all this? He’s been hiding in the wings recently, hanging out off the radar. Except when he decides to attend a Giants game and sing “Don’t Stop Believin” with the crowd. For real. But how can his heart not be broken? He seems like an emotional being, and I must admit, I feel for him. Here is something you helped create and were the face of, out gallivanting doing the talk show circuit dressed like uncomfortable dads trying to fit in at a Nickelback concert, and there is nothing you can do about it. I can’t help but think that if Perry were involved, there would be no costumes or hoopla, just pure songs.
It just feels like an opportunity has been missed. Journey could have been The Stones. Well, maybe not the stones, but certainly taken more seriously than they are right now. Being a kitsch act is totally cool if that’s your thing. I genuinely love Weird Al, who doesn’t? But had they stepped back in with Perry, and not went the large scale cover band route, it seems as if they could have at least been America’s version of The Who. So please, think of your legacy. Do it for the Soul Sandwich