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Jonathan Cain Lifetime Achievement Award Keynote Interview, Part Four.

Speaking of fans, what does it feel like to stand on a stage and look out at 50,000 people that are there to hear you guys.
Well, here’s the thing. When you are part of the creation, when you’ve put in all that time and effort and thought, and you have pored over these songs—every bar, every word that you kinda had to come to some decision about—and then you get that kind of approval from fans, album after album, song after song. Escape and Frontiers had four Top 40 hits, each one of them, and were selling 200,000 units a week. That’s a big responsibility. So all of a sudden, you’re almost like a Knight of the Roundtable, like the King Arthur days, you know, when you get knighted, and now you have to go fight for your country. So that’s your responsibility. We are gatekeepers of an era, Journey is. We have an era like a 10-year window, and we like to represent it as really darn good stuff. So for us to go play our sound, and make it sound only like we can... Because Journey is one of the best rock bands in the world, and I happen to be a member. It’s like flying with the Blue Angels. That’s what it’s like.

"Sometimes you have to break the rules. So when they tell you that there are rules to writing, there are, but some songs are clichés and they work."

So when you’re up there, all you think about is all the people that have schlepped all that way to see you, got babysitters, had to park their car, had to walk, had to make an effort, been on Ticketmaster, whatever they did to get there, you’re gonna give them the best that you can give them, right? You’re gonna make it sound as good... you’re gonna be as good as you can be. And that’s not unlike any Major League baseball player or NFL star. When they get on the field, it’s to win. And every night we go out there and we are gonna win, and we have that positive mindset that we are gonna be great, and they’re gonna talk about it when they go home. That’s what we want to leave them with. So we’ve had a reputation of being a hardworking touring band, and giving people a lot for their money’s worth.

And this next year, folks, we are going out with Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders! Just sayin’! For 10 years I’ve asked those guys to come out. She thought we were a lounge band; she didn’t know. So she showed up at one of the baseball stadiums and stood by the monitor and was just like, “Oh, it’s rock & roll.” It sure is! So she’s onboard. We’re gonna have a great year next year, I’m really excited. Because it’s different music. You know, we have different textures, the band doesn’t have the same sound. We went out with Def Leppard a couple of years ago, and whenever they would open up, man, our fans would be worn out.

Some people have poked fun at Journey for being a yacht-rock band, and I think that you finally got the last word. “Don’t Stop Believin’” was in the last moment of The Sopranos; 12 million people saw that ending! And then again, not long after that, it was in Glee. How did that feel?
Well, you know, it’s funny, because they always dismiss “Don’t Stop Believin’” as a forgettable pop song. But I knew there were layers in that song that were deeper. And when you put the dramatic situation—the atmosphere of Tony [Soprano] and his family slowly coming in... And he needs a feel-good moment right here, so he’s looking at the different songs, then he hits our song. Well, lots of things start coming—“Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues. A movie never ends...” it goes on and on. “Working hard to get my fill, everybody wants a thrill.” Well, that was Tony. And he was sayin’ goodbye one last time to his fans with that song. That was his sayonara/“See ya” song, “Don’t stop believin’” in a lifestyle.

So as a co-writer of those lyrics, it became a deeper song, and I was proud when those lyrics were being recited during the scene. I went, “This is deep.” That’s how good the song is. It’s got layers. And that’s what we hope to create. Every time we hear it, we hear something different. Some songs are like that, you know. Like, “I never realized he said that.” But it works.

And the other cool thing about that song is that we don’t play the chorus until the end. So it’s A-B-A-B-C. That breaks all the rules. Sometimes you have to break the rules. So when they tell you that there are rules to writing, there are, but some songs are clichés and they work. They’re stupid enough to be cool, you know; sometimes they are. I mean, I’ve heard songs that just say the same thing over and over again, and yet it’s cool, it’s charming, it’s the way it’s delivered.

So again, it comes down to persona. Who are you as the artist, who’s the audience? And our audience was working-class, blue-collar people. When I joined Journey, they weren’t singing to them, yet. So a small-town girl and that city boy finally got their moment, and it worked.

Jonathan Cain was incredibly inspirational with his heartfelt message about never giving up and believing in yourself.
Jonathan Cain was incredibly inspirational with his heartfelt message about never giving up and believing in yourself.

It’s so funny, the whole time I’m sitting here listening to you today—and during our phone conversations as well—you are still that kid growing up in Chicago. You are so Chicago, you really are. You are Italian beef, man. It doesn’t get any more Chicago than you.
I wrote a song on my solo album called “Shine On Chicago,” for all you native sons, because it is something that is inside you. The spirit of the Windy City is in me. And again, I embrace my identity. I like who I am. I like where I come from, and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not going to change it, and I’m going to grow with it. Going into Journey, I saw a possibility of really putting a little street, a little grit, singin’ about the city, the people... stuff like that. You know, we’re looking at a lifestyle of growing up in a wonderful time. The ’70s and ’80s were as good as it got. Even the ’60s. The ’60s weren’t bad either, except John F. Kennedy and the Kennedys got whacked.

Very eloquent, Jon. “The Kennedys got whacked.” That’s a songwriter for ya.
No, that broke my heart. I think that was the end of the innocence. That really was for me as a kid. What’s next, you know? But all this music came out. I mean, you think about the ’60s and ’70s— the style, everything from what The Beach Boys and The Beatles did, to soul.

And it all got played on the same radio station. And we were exposed to...

That’s where I first heard the Beatles. I loved WLS because it made it all the way to the little town I grew up in!
Great music out of those years. It was kind of a real renaissance, because rock & roll was so boring. “Hang On Sloopy,” what was that? “Louie, Louie,” like I don’t want to play that. The way rock progressed. The Moody Blues came out with “Nights in White Satin” and I just questioned why... The Moody Blues really changed my mind about rock & roll.

How so?
Because that was a classic. I liked complex things. When I heard that, and I heard Procol Harum sing “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” oh-oh, that’s a game changer. Because I was a music snob, I was like, “I’m above this stuff.” And ironically, I ended up being in a rock band. So it’s like the Bob Seger song, “Come back baby, rock & roll never forgets.” Well, when I was struggling, little did I know that this little band called The Babys was gonna be my ticket to ride. And they were a true rock band, no joke. We were like The Faces. We were kinda like that, but they had those classy songs that the record company made... They make you sing those songs, like “Isn’t It Time?” Remember that song? [He sings a line] Beautiful.

"The Moody Blues really changed my mind about rock & roll."

The other day we were on the phone and you were almost like choking up. You were romanticizing Arnel. This interview is about you, but you have such obvious love and respect for this guy. Arnel Pineda is the singer now in Journey. I was really struck by the fact that when you start talking about him, you lit up like a firecracker. Tell the audience the story of Arnel, because it’s special.
Neil found him on YouTube. He was singing at the Hard Rock in Manila. He was singing everything from U2, Aerosmith, Journey. His band did all these covers, and he did Journey the best out of all of them. Neil had me listen to Arnel sing “Faithfully,” and I went, “He’s great, but does he speak English?” That’s 3,500 miles away; we have homeland security; how are we gonna get him here? And our manager said, “Let’s check him out.” So two months later, Arnel got stopped at the embassy and one of the guys recognized him and said, “Journey? You know Journey? Sing ‘Wheel in the Sky.’” [He sings]

So Arnel shows up. You gotta understand that this guy shows up with T-shirts from the Hard Rock Manila for us as gifts. So sweet. I still have mine. And I could tell he was tired, and it’s like I have no idea what a 14-hour time difference does. So his time zone is all a mess, and he can’t sleep, so it takes him like a week to acclimate. And by the time his voice comes around, it’s like, “Wow, this guy can sing.”

So Neil and I had written a couple of songs for the new album Revelation, and I said, “Let’s teach him the song real quick.” So we kind of fed him the lines one by one, and we punched them in. Then we let him go crazy at the end, and I heard the future of Journey—and it was him. I said, “Neil, we found our guy. He’s the guy.” I mean, my mic doesn’t lie. I’m in the studio and I’m gettin’ moved. He was hittin’ it!

It is just so remarkable that a guy from so far away that our music managed to get over 3,000 miles across the ocean and move him as a little boy. There’s a video of him singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” when he was 12. He looked like Bruno Mars—a little Bruno singing “Don’t Stop Believin.’” And for him, this was one of his favorite bands to sing, and when we called him and asked him to come over, he didn’t believe that it was us. He thought Neil was pullin’ his leg, you know?

Well, who wouldn’t? “Hello, this is Journey. Wanna join the band?”
And Neil said, “Trust me, bro, I am Neil Schon. You are gonna come over and sing for us. You are gonna audition.”

What a great thing, so when you finally get to meet him, you understand. He was a homeless kid; his mom died when he was four years old; his father was a poor tailor; they lost their home. Then he decided he was gonna get a singing job to make money so his brothers could have food and shelter, and he became the breadwinner for his brothers and his dad. And then he got into drugs and alcohol and he lost his voice. They told him he would never sing again; then he gets a call from us.

We did a morning show on CBS with Jim Axelrod, and he said, “Who else but Arnel should be singing that song, “Don’t Stop Believin’?” Because he is an overcomer, and he faced adversity like beyond belief. He showed us the park bench he used to sleep on in Manilla when we went over there. He’s a true man of God, he loves his family, he is just a positive spirit.

You told me that somebody is making a movie about his life story, right?
They are planning a movie on Arnel’s life, because the guy who did Crazy Rich Asians, Jon Chu. Anybody see that movie?

"Because we need the great songs—we have to keep our craft alive."

Yeah, it’s great.
Well, when we brought Arnel into the band, it reverberated across the ocean, and people in Asia got goose bumps, that this little kid from Manila would be lead singer of Journey. I mean, it’s unheard of. And so, Jon really wants to tell that story of just the possibilities that any dream can come true. And Arnel’s dream was to be a singer of that kind. I’ll never forget the first time he sang for us in Brazil. We put him up in front of 15,000 people, and there were 30 million people watching him [on TV]. It was a little audition gig, right? [audience laughter] And he looked at me and he said, “Jon, I want to go home now.” And I said, “Arnel, it’s like Harry Potter—use the wand. We got the magic, use your wand.” So he knocked it out of the park.

I call him the crusher, because whenever he needs to be great, he’s really great! He’s brought it time and time again. We played these huge festivals; we were at Download in front of 35,000 people, and every time he needs to bring it, he’s got it—and does it. And he’s learned English really well now. When we first recorded him, I had to get him a speech therapist, because a lot of words in Filipino... What do they call it? Degalo, right? They don’t have those pronouns and consonants, so I could hear it and I’m like, “Oh, we got to fix that.” So this speech therapist worked with him for two weeks, so he got through it.

But he had to sing the greatest hit Journey songs on the Revelation in three weeks. And he did it, he got ’em all done.

What a great story. I love the fact that you’ve been a legit rock star all these years, and yet that gets you so excited. It says a lot about who you are.
Well, sure. We all got excited to watch him grow. And I knew every show was going to be better and better, and he was gonna find his own persona up there. And he kept saying to me, “Jon, these are big shoes to fill—Steve Perry.” And I would say, “Arnel, bring your own shoes.” So he did.

A little memorandum to that story is that the guy from Nike calls me and says, “There is a pair of Steve Perry shoes that are unclaimed, and we can’t get ahold of him. What do you want us to do with them? I said, “Send them to Arnel.” So Arnel gets them in the mail and calls me and he goes, “Jon, what are these?” I said, “They are Steve Perry shoes.” He said, “Jon, they fit.” Size seven! [applause]

I want to let you guys know that Jon has a flight he’s got to catch to New Orleans, so we’re going to scoot him out of here in about a minute and a half. But stick around—we’ve got all kinds of prizes. We’ll do the drawing after he’s gone.

Man, I am so incredibly grateful that you typed your email address wrong and we were able to connect.
Well, this is something I’ve always wanted to be part of. I know how hard it is, because my daughter Madison is a singer/songwriter. She’s worked her tail off for years, and I watched her get rejected, get the promise and get rejected. As a father, it’s just, what can I do? It’s things like this, it’s movements like TAXI that you are so lucky to have each other and have Michael and this organization to keep your hopes and your dreams up, and keep that energy going. Because we need the great songs—we have to keep our craft alive. And I know some songwriters that don’t write anymore that have written big hit songs, and they quit! I’ll ask them, “I don’t understand that; how could you quit? This is who you are, this is why you’re driving around in that Mercedes, by the way.” And they go, “Well, it’s too hard anymore.” “Well, no, I’ll never quit.” Did I get rejection? Yeah, I got a lot of it. Nashville humbled me; I was okay with that. But I have a little band called Journey, so... [applause and standing ovation]

Well, once again, Jonathan flew here from the East Coast just to accept this award and do this interview. I am so incredibly grateful to you Jon. Thank you very much, and congratulations once again. You are so richly deserving.
I love you all! DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’. Nobody...I am proof. God bless!

Jonathan Cain Lifetime Achievement Award Keynote Interview, Part Four.