Is Journey Still a Viable Musical Entity?
Originally published on this page, 01 December, 2001
Sections reprinted on the Official Journey Website
, 01 and 04 December, 2001
It's been quite a year for Journey.
As we entered 2001, we were all still reeling from the incessant fighting on the old Journey Forum, fighting which had started over the lead singer debate and had ended up as a knock-down, drag-out brawl on any number of subjects, going as far as to include a fight over the proper way to refer to Japanese people. Neal Schon himself got involved, instructing Skylord, the moderator of the old Forum, to post a message advising the participants to cool it. When they didn't, a number of them lost their posting privileges, and the group that has been referred to as "Perryheads" started their own short-lived Steve Perry Forum. Frankly, it got so bad that the moderates among us didn't want to go anywhere near the old Forum, and I myself, in the midst of establishing the Post of the Day column on my own website, made a committment not to include any post relating to the debate.
And so it was in the midst of this battle that VH1's Behind the Music: Journey
was first aired last February. But instead of putting black crepe over the debate and burying it six feet deep, the hourlong program only served to further exacerbate the debate and further estrange the various groups of Journey fans in Journey-dom. The questions didn't go away. Why did Steve Perry leave Journey? Why did Journey leave Steve Perry? Is Steve Perry Journey? Not long after the airing of the program, the old Forum, as well as the old Journey website itself, was no more.
But the momentum was building at that time for the release of the United States version of Arrival
. For the first six weeks of its existence, the new JourneyMusic.Com carried a timer on its front page, counting down the seconds until the release of the new album. The release itself was accompanied by a spate of radio interviews (all live--some as early as 4:00 a.m. California time), an online chat, and the announcement that fifty front-section seats at each venue of the upcoming tour would be reserved for members of the new 21st-century Journey fan club.
For a time, the fighting over the lead singer debate seemed to quiet down. Perhaps it was the excitement over the tour. Perhaps it was the new album. Perhaps it was the fact that the new Forums at the official site were better monitored and censored than the old Forum. We Journey fans had a great summer, and the attacks of September 11th probably made us all realize that there are too many things in life more important than fighting over the lead singer debate.
But then there was the Herbie Herbert interview, the Kevin Chalfant response, and finally the release of The Essential Journey
. Herbie made some very valid points, and blew the lid wide open on a number of issues dealing with the history of the band. But he obviously also had a pretty sharp axe to grind.
But perhaps the single most important event which could make us question Journey's viability as we approach 2002 is the release of The Essential Journey
. The point was made very quickly that Essential
, which did not contain a single new number, very quickly outsold Arrival
, which had the benefit of all of that promotional work (the radio shows, the tour, the chat, etc.). One is indeed forced to question the viability of the band as a musical entity.
It cannot be denied that one of the most important factors in Journey's success was the voice of Steve Perry. Not the single most important factor, but one of the most important factors. While it may be true that the band was on the verge of stardom just prior to the release of Infinity
anyway, we cannot engage in debate over all the "what-ifs." The fact is that the band made major changes in 1977-78, and one of those changes was the hiring of a front man. The changes that were made resulted in superstardom for the band. As a result, the vast majority of Journey fans (about 95%) became Journey fans during the Perry era. That includes myself and the entire JRNYDV staff, and in all likelihood it includes you, too. But it also includes about 900,000 people who like and even love the music of Journey, and maybe even consider themselves fans, but don't visit Journey websites and just really like to hear the music on the radio or, occasionally, live. Now, most of us have been able to continue on as Journey fans even though the Perry era has ended, but for that 900,000-odd strong group of sometime fans, that transition has been more difficult to make. That is because they don't know who Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, and Ross Valory are, and they've never heard of Deen Castronovo and Steve Augeri (at least, before they saw Behind the Music
). They sing along when they hear Journey on the car stereo or in bars and restaurants, but they don't go into ecstasies like we do at the sound of Neal's guitar, which we can recognize whether he's playing with Journey or not. As a result, when they heard that Steve Perry had left the band, they relegated their love of Journey music into their pasts, and refused at some level to acknowledge the fact that Journey had moved on, and is still producing great music, music which some say is as good as anythinig they've ever produced. Naturally, this has resulted in the fact that Essential
has outsold Arrival
(Another, if less important, reason for Essential
's having outsold Arrival
is that we can state with reasonable assurance that 99% of the people who purchased Arrival
also purchased Essential
, but not vice-versa. I myself bought three copies of Arrival
--one Japanese CD, one US CD, and one US cassette--and two copies of Essential
--one CD and one cassette. if those of us who purchased both could only purchase one, I'm sure we would overwhelmingly have chosen Arrival
"Higher Place" and "All the Way" were not hits on the radio of the caliber of Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" or Aerosmith's "Jaded" this year, and that can be largely attributed to the reasons outlined above: Most Journey fans equate Journey with Steve Perry. But does that mean it's time to write Journey off, or to relegate Journey to a smaller record label, like John Waite or Styx, or watch them tour as an opening act, like Peter Frampton or REO Speedwagon? Should we consign Journey into the "Where are they Now" file or just talk about them when we "Remember the Eighties"?
Not on your life.
Journey will remain viable in 2002, and will actually have hits and continue to headline throughout the aughts (that's the name of the decade we're currently in). And here's why.
First, Journey has done remarkably well considering that they've replaced Steve Perry, "The Voice of Journey". "Sold-Out" is a relative term in these days of lawn seating, but I can say that the three shows I saw this summer were at least sold out in the actual fixed-seating areas, and Augerifan, who saw quite a few shows this summer, can probably bear me out on this. The tour sold incredibly well. True, dozens and dozens of people chose the Arrival
tunes for bathroom and snack breaks, but hundreds more stayed on to listen. And this did indeed translate into album sales--perhaps not on the level of Escape
, but at least on the level of Look Into the Future
or even Evolution
. Can Styx or REO Speedwagon pull that off? Not likely.
Second, bands like Aerosmith and Bon Jovi have Journey at a disadvantage. Aerosmith still has Steven Tyler, and Bon Jovi still has Jon Bon Jovi. But Bon Jovi will always have Jon Bon Jovi, because his is the name of the band. If he and the other guys ever had a falling out, they could never go on without him--he'd just replace them with a new "Bon Jovi". Let's consider Aerosmith as the more likely comparison. Could Aerosmith survive without Steven Tyler? Perhaps. But not to the extent that Journey has survived without Steve Perry. Given the fact that Steve Perry and Steven Tyler had similar degrees of popularity during the eighties, and were seen as "The Voice of" their respective bands by most fans, Journey's ability to remain viable without Steve Perry puts them in an entirely different category. Also, Steven Tyler's personal popularity has grown since the 1980s (sometimes by acts of his own choosing, sometimes not) while that of Steve Perry has not. The acting career of Liv Tyler alone would make her father indispensible to his band. Steve Perry has not proven to be so with Journey.
But they've got to make at least one change. Journey has one resource which they have not yet tapped in their quest to remain viable without Steve Perry. While the team working for Irving Azoff has done an excellent job promoting the band and the new album, Journey remains just one of many big bands in the Azoff stable. They need to bring back Herbie Herbert, but not as an assistant to Azoff--as the boss. Herbie might not be as powerful as Azoff in the recording industry, but at least he'd devote the entirety of his energies to the resurrection of Journey. Yes, he likes to be in charge, and yes, he's probably difficult to deal with at times. But, Perry or no Perry, Journey would have had a tough time trying to make it big the way they did without Herbie's guidance.
And so, as we close the year which saw the first release in the United states of a Journey album without Steve Perry since Next
(1977), fans and current and former band members alike should take time to pause for a moment and reflect on just how lucky we are to have been a part of this thing. Journey has transcended their initial stardom, evolved and reached even greater stardom, broken up and reunited to be nominated for a grammy award, and ultimately even survived the most bitter divorce imaginable. But what is Journey remains strong.
Journey has triumphed for nearly thirty years. I'm hoping it does so for thirty more.