I think the first time I realized it had become permissible to like Journey again was in 1995, when the Foo Fighters performed a sincere cover of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” during a concert encore at the New Daisy Theater on Beale.
Since then, the classic rock band with the pop hooks, scarab beetle logo and nine-times-platinum 1981 album Escape has become, yes, inescapable.
Sometimes, Journey’s arena anthems of yearning and encouragement are employed with irony, as when a lesbian serial killer played by Charlize Theron rollerskates with Christina Ricci to “Don’t Stop Believin’” in 2003’s “Monster.” That song also was used in 2007 in the controversial final scene of the final episode of “The Sopranos.”
More often, the Journey songbook is embraced — and exploited — for its celebratory, inoffensive uplift. Journey covers have become staples of “Glee” and “American Idol,” demonstrating that the band has surpassed such fellow travelers as Van Halen and REO Speedwagon as classic-rock standard-bearers in the popular-culture mainstream.
Into this Journey-friendly environment comes “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey,” a documentary as inspirational as the song borrowed for the title.
The movie tells the “fairy tale” or “dream” story (to borrow words used by its subject) of Arnel Pineda, a Filipino bar-band singer plucked from obscurity in Manila to be the new lead singer of Journey after guitarist Neil Schon discovered Pineda’s performance videos on YouTube while searching the site — with what might be called lazy efficiency — for a Steve Perry soundalike. (Pineda’s good fortune had a precedent: In 1996, Ohio’s Tim “Ripper” Owens, lead singer in a Judas Priest tribute band, was recruited on the basis of a music video to replace Rob Halford as the frontman for his British heavy-metal heroes.)
Just 5 years old when Journey was formed in 1973, Pineda — whose long, straight hair is as Perryesque as his soaring vocals — grew up in poverty and was homeless as a teenager. He experienced several years of “drugs, alcohol and tears” in Hong Kong, pursuing his rock-and-roll dreams, before returning to a more stable life in Manila.
The call from Journey’s management arrived like a transoceanic bolt from the blue, but Pineda passed the screening process and auditions and overcame his doubts. (“I’m short; I’m so Asian,” he says, admitting he was worried that people would assume he was a hoaxer who had Photoshopped his image into band portraits.) In 2008, he made his arena debut with Journey in front of 18,000 screaming fans in Chile; eventually, he won over the Perry loyalists and racist “haters” who had labeled him a “monkey” and “karaoke boy” on Journey fanboards. (The Pineda-led Journey played FedExForum in 2011, headlining a tour that included Foreigner and Night Ranger.)
Director Ramona S. Diaz, also a Filipino, apparently spent a lot of time with Pineda and the band, at home and on the road, but she includes nothing (intentionally) embarrassing. We see no evidence that founding members Schon and bassist Ross Valory or the later additions to Journey continue to revel in rock-and-roll excess and decadence, although Pineda — who seems like a nice guy, with a wife and young kids — does confess to having “more opportunity to commit a sin,” saying “you have to look away” when certain women come around. We don’t see many of these women, but backstage in Los Angeles, we do see a man introduce himself to Pineda with these words: “I’m the guy who replaced Peter Cetera in Chicago.”
The movie, to its credit, is smirk-free, but Diaz fails to make the film much more than an infomercial; Journey’s continuing — in fact, renewed — popularity — is taken for granted and subjected to no analysis. Schon admits that Journey makes “classic rock” for “fans who are used to hearing it one way, and they want to hear it that way.” Does this make him more sell-out than artist? Is there a difference at this level of success? Such issues aren’t broached, even when Pineda, early in the movie, worries that the requirement to provide Journey’s “legacy sound” may not allow “my real self” to come out in the vocals.
Presumably, by now, Pineda has found a way to express himself with Journey, or found other compensations. As keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who joined in 1980, reports: “I made my first million the first year I was in the band.”
“Don’t Stop Believin’” is exclusively at the Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.
‘Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey’
Not rated; contains brief profanity.
2 1/2 stars