Friday, July 29, 2011

What a strange Journey

I was never a big fan of Journey, but I did go to a Journey concert in 1987. I think it was 1987, my memory is far from flawless. I do know I was in high school and went to the concert with comp tickets from WLOL. That's another story -- a great one -- and one I rarely tell.

Journey had its share of hits in the 1980s, but traces its roots back to the 1970s. Since the late 1990s the band has soldiered on without the lead singer from its heyday, Steve Perry. Perry sang most, if not all, of the hits we know.

It's not clear to me whether Perry has voluntarily distanced himself from his biggest success or if the band dismissed him because he delayed their touring plans as a result of surgery he put off. Either way, the band replaced him... three times.

For several years after Perry departed Journey's lead singer was a guy named Steve Augeri. After about eight years he was replaced on a short-term basis, and for the past few years the band has been fronted by a Filipino guy who they found through a YouTube video of him performing Journey tunes. I don't know about Perry's first two replacements, but the Filipino guy is often touted as a Perry soundalike.

On Thursday night Journey was in St. Paul, performing with Foreigner and Night Ranger. (Foreigner has also been touring for years without the guy who sang all the hits, Lou Gramm. According to Wikipedia, the only original member these days is its lead guitarist.) Nine hours after the concert Journey was in New York, performing live on the Today Show plaza. Every Friday during the summer NBC's Today Show has a concert on its plaza. The performances vary greatly. Sometimes it's a big artist that is popular among today's youngsters, sometimes it's an established artist that isn't the biggest draw on the concert circuit. Journey has persevered without Perry, and their hits have become rock classics that have stood the test of time.

One of my friends made a comment on Facebook this morning about not knowing Journey has an Asian lead singer. I noted the irony that in the same 10-minute span Journey and its YouTube sensation were singing "Don't Stop Believin'" on NBC while Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were singing the same song during ABC's Good Morning America concert in Central Park.

Those comments generated a couple of discussions about the validity of Journey. A few people seem to think that Journey shouldn't exist without Perry singing lead vocals.

One comment: "Simply saying that a Journey song originally recorded by Steve Perry shouldn't be sung in concert by anyone other than Steve Perry."

Another comment: "Just don't bill them as Journey. Because without all the originals they arent."

The rules regarding bands are often fluid, and rarely is a case black and white. People identify most bands by the lead singer. A guitar player or drummer may stand out and be recognized as an intregal part of the band's sound, and success, but most bands live and die by the lead singer. AC/DC flourished with a replacement lead singer, Brian Johnson, who replaced original lead singer Bon Scott, who died. Van Halen succeeded with Sammy Hagar when David Lee Roth decided he was bigger than Van Halen. (Roth is often held up as the poster child of lead singer disease.)

Does the absence of the lead singer mean the band should be forced into retirement? In the case of Journey, the writing credits for Don't Stop Believin' belong to three people, one of them is Perry. The other two are still with the band to this day. Should the band be forced into exile if any one of the three no longer tours with the band? Since it's Perry that is the odd man out, should the rest of the band be forced to continue without performing any of the songs the band wrote simply because the lead singer of the original recording is no longer present? I don't think so.

As far as I know nobody forced my brother, my college friend, my former co-worker or anyone else to attend Thursday night's Journey concert, or to buy tickets to the concert. If people want to enjoy the music as performed by musicians who wrote it, why does that bother people? Should nobody be allowed to vote with their wallet because somebody else is singing the song we hear on the radio? Last I knew, people still have free will when it comes to spending their entertainment dollar.

More ridiculous, however, is the moronic suggestion that a band should no longer exist without all original members. If that was the case, Journey as we have known it wouldn't exist because Perry wasn't the first lead singer of the band. Beyond that, so many bands would cease to exist today if they were forced to rebrand themselves or abandon music they had written previously because the original drummer or bassist is no longer in the band.

People will always remember bands and music in their heyday, and I get that, but why is it that it bothers people that some form of the band exists for those who care more about the sum of the whole, rather than the individual parts?

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