Watch the Tunes: Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey

On January 22, 2016

 

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There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition covers Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey.

One of the greatest birthday presents ever given to me was a Magic Johnson Double Jam. It had not one, but TWO hoops you could toss either a red or yellow inflated rubber ball into, and a plastic paddle would record how many you sank with a tinnily recorded “Yes!” or “It’s good!”. I loved practicing all alone in my room hour after hour. It got to where I could sink crazy shots while jumpin’ on my bed, from behind my back while standing on one foot, and even all the way across my room wedged into the corner behind my dresser. I started fantasizing that scouts from the NBA, peekin in my bedroom window to check out my skills having heard about this pint-sized Double Jam wonder, would immediately offer me a contract to play in the big leagues.

Even though this is of course not how professional sports scouting works (and the idea of a grown man peekin’ in on me while I bounced around in my underoos is not a thing a kid should be fantasizing about anyway) you can’t deny that sometimes the fickle finger of fame and fortune reaches down and pulls someone from the unknown and thrusts them into the limelight. It’s incredibly rare, but the history of showbiz is littered with stories like that, from Susan Boyle to William Hung. It’s that fantasy of being “discovered” that makes Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey such a fascinating and sincerely magical ride.

 

 


 

When people think of Journey, they immediately think of “Don't Stop Believin'”, “Wheel In The Sky,” “Any Way You Want It,” and a dozen other legitimate karaoke classics. The thing is, everyone associates those songs with the Steve “The Voice” Perry who was the singer from 1977 to 1997. After his two decade reign, the band went through a couple of other lead singers, eventually casting them all off for one reason or another. The main reason for the burnout is that their songs are absolutely brutal to sing on tour, night after night. In 2007, the remaining members Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Deen Castronovo, and Jonathan Cain found themselves in need of a set of pipes to carry the group into yet another lumbering Voltron-like touring configuration, at which point they discovered a youtube clip of a Filipino singer named Arnel Pineda in a bar in Manilla absolutely crushing, among other things, the Journey back catalog.

 

The soft spoken Pineda is brought to America to try out for the band as the new lead singer and after a few days of close-but-no-cigar attempts, he sticks the landing and is welcomed into the touring lineup. The film takes its audience from one venue to another while Pineda slowly acclimates to each band member and in turn, the life of a legitimate rock star. I can only imagine that feeling is something akin to when you change schools in the middle of the semester, but the only other students in your new school are the members of a multi-platinum touring band, and instead of going to class you perform in front of thousands and thousands of people every night who wish you, the new student, were someone else entirely. For their part, the band is as warm as they can be, to varying degrees. Founding members Jonathan Cain and Neal Schon both rightfully have high expectations for their newly discovered vocalist and are constructively critical of Pineda when they need to be while, in contrast, the rhythm section of Ross Valory and Deen Castronovo both warmly offer up a unanimous “Hey come sit at our table!” supportiveness. Through it all, Arnel carries himself with grace and humility, always clearly wanting to please his new coworkers and put on the best show he can for the fans.

There’s a lot, it turns out, that Pineda brings to the table other than just his ability to put his own pitch perfect spin on the set of songs Steve Perry made famous. While previous singers were seemingly wary of stage antics, Pineda (surprising everyone, including himself) literally leaps into his frontman mantle, running wildly all over the stage, jumping off of risers, and wandering mic-first into the audience to find folks who wanna sing along. It’s an intended benefit also that his Filipino background invigorates a whole segment of the band's audience who are hungry to see one of their own in the spotlight. The camera catches beaming fans at a few tour stops with prideful signs embracing a singer who represents them, and the film culminates with a concert in Manila, Pineda’s home country.

It’s true that Journey’s been around long enough to have cycled through 20+ members over the four decades of its existence, so you’d think that swapping yet another cog out for another (and in fact Journey have recently had to replace their drummer) shouldn’t warrant a whole cinematic experience, but there really is something different about Arnel Pineda that elevates his story so much higher than the rest. Not only is he one of the few living exceptions to the rule that the metaphorical NBA will never come metaphorically calling on the kid metaphorically playing basketball in his metaphorical bedroom, but Pineda is also a positive shining example for his people, both professionally and personally, whose sincerely fantastical story is worth telling.

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Chris Lay

Chris Lay is a freelance writer, archivist, and record store clerk living in Madison, WI. The very first CD he bought for himself was the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack when he was twelve and things only got better from there.

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