A 110-Minute Commercial With A Killer Soundtrack
DIRECTED BY RAMONA S. DIAZ/2013
From what I’ve pieced together about the 80s, it was as understated as a pyrotechnics punctuated guitar solo. I was a child then, so I can only speak expertly to the things specifically marketed to my young brain like Ninja Turtles and GI Joes. I developed my ear for music during the great rebellion against all things 80s—the 90s. My adolescence wasn’t layered with plastic cassettes of airy love ballads; it was haunted by a crooning Chris Cornell’s CD-pressed depression. Everything about the 80s mainstream screamed phony. 90s bands coalesced in garages. 80s bands were assembled by studios. 90s bands reluctantly sold out or just broke up. The 80s was about selling out. Hair bands that wanted to continue into the 90s had to evolve or die. But many were just caricatures of 80s excess, how could they evolve?
Then a funny thing happened. The 2000s. Teenagers were optimistic again. Not only that, Millenials enjoyed being overtly marketed to! It was the return of glitz (now called bling). Things could be shiny and pink and on fire again. Decade-long band hiatuses were ending across the country and hair-styling products were flying off the shelves. It was the 20-year rule in all its glory.
In 1998, over a decade after its heyday, Journey parted ways with its most notable member, Steve Perry, a.k.a. “The Voice.” A one in a million guy who could sing so powerfully in a vocal range so high that it would make any slack rocker lightheaded. The band replaced him with Steve Augeri, hoping no one would notice that he wasn’t Steve Perry. But no one noticed because it was 1998 and they were Journey. Augeri left a few years later, at the cusp of the 80s renaissance on which the band wanted to capitalize. What followed was a worldwide search for a new lead singer. They found Arnel Pineda—a five foot three inch Filipino—on Youtube of all places. The audition process and the subsequent 2008 tour have been turned into the amply titled documentary DON’T STOP BELIEVING: EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY (henceforth referred to as DSB: EJ).
BEHIND THE MUSIC this ain’t; it’s mildly inspiring marketing material. If you’re not a diehard Journey fan, it’s all pretty bland.
DSB: EJ is part rockdoc and part rags-to-riches story. There’s concert footage, talking head interviews, and rockumentary staples like “backstage before the first show,” “tour bus blues,” and “studio jam session.” The biggest conflict comes when Arnel has to sing through a head cold. BEHIND THE MUSIC this ain’t; it’s mildly inspiring marketing material. If you’re not a diehard Journey fan, it’s all pretty bland.
The best parts of DSB: EJ are when we follow Arnel back to his hometown in the Philippines. He reminisces about sleeping in public parks when he was homeless. He cheerily cooks dinner with his family in his new house. He has charisma to spare and seems to be completely devoid of ego.
Which is why it’s too bad that he’s a member of Journey. Don’t get me wrong; they’re a talented bunch. But they’re also tools. Journey’s guitarist, lone charter member Neal Schon, reeks of insincerity. He and other members of the band spend half the movie trying to sell Arnel as their savior, while having no chemistry with him on or off stage.
In one unintentionally hilarious sequence, keyboardist Jonathan Cain tells us “[Arnel is] a full member of Journey,” and then immediately afterwards he coaches Arnel on exactly what to say during an improvisational section of the concert taking place in Arnel’s own hometown. All of this after Jonathan and Neal write a song inspired by Arnel’s story without any input from Arnel himself! It’s clear that Journey—the band, the brand, whatever it is—will not, cannot, be changed by a replacement singer, especially one who seems to have been hired as a publicity stunt. After all, it’s not the first time an 80s band has hired a tribute band singer. Judas Priest did it 1996, which inspired the movie ROCK STAR.
DON’T STOP BELIEVING: EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY has the seeds for what could have been an interesting, focused documentary. Instead it’s the 80s power ballad of rock ‘n’ roll documentaries: an overlong onslaught of style over substance.
DON’T STOP BELIEVING: EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY opened in select cities Friday, March 8th, 2013.