Separate Ways – A Journey That Began With Frontiers

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Gus, my five year old, just discovered a deep, deep love for 80’s supergroup Journey.  It all started when my wife Taya saw the new Jim Carrey movie, “Yes Man” – a passable comedy that opened with Journey’s made for arenas classic “Separate Ways”. After the movie, Taya downloaded Journey’s Greatest Hits and for better or worse, it’s become the soundtrack to our lives for the last couple of weeks.

Gus’s enthusiasm for Journey is a little unsettling to me – especially when he camps out in front of the computer to watch the video for “Separate Ways” 10 times in a row on youtube before we have to cut him off.  I don’t know what to make of it.  A part of me is embarrassed or wonders where I went wrong as his father since Journey’s not even one of the cool 80’s bands.  At the tender age of 5, these are the formative years, you know? Why couldn’t he be into the more subversive 80’s groups like The Clash, U2, or even Duran Duran (who are cool for how kitsch they are)? Instead, he walks around the house humming that insanely catchy synth intro to “Separate Ways”. Na na na na na na na na….

And yet I’m probably being too critical of Journey.  And though I’d like to blame Taya for Gus’s new found obsession, the truth is that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. You see, it just so happens that the first record I bought with my own money was Frontiers by Journey.  Why?  Because as a 5th grader I saw “Separate Ways” on Friday Night Videos and it rocked my world.  Whether it was the girl in the leather mini-skirt or the awesome air guitar playing, I only knew that I had to have that record.

I always loved music, ever since I was a little boy, but I shunned pop music in favor of classical (with the exception of a little Simon & Garfunkel every now and again).  When my cousins would come to visit, they would make me listen to Rick Springfield, Olivia Newton John, and REO Speedwagon, but even then, and even though I grew up on the road with my mom’s bar band that played popular music, I stuck to my guns and listened almost exclusively to Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and occasionally some John Williams (the Star Wars soundtrack.)

And even though “Jesse’s Girl” was really cool (and even though Olivia Newton John was really hot), it wasn’t until I heard Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” that I found a pop song I cared about in earnest.  I remember asking for Glass Houses, and it became the first pop record I ever owned, followed by Springfield’s Working Class Dog. After wearing these out, I decided to stop waiting around for other people to buy me records and started converting all my lawn-mowing money into vinyl.  It was the closest thing to a drug habit I’d ever experience.  I was addicted to music, and it has proved to be one of my most enduring passions.

As I mentioned, the first record I bought with my own money was Frontiers by Journey. It was followed by Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Madonna’s self-titled record, and Wham’s Make It Big. Inauspicious beginnings I know… But it wasn’t long before my musical tastes began to evolve and expanded to artier fare like Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, Peter Gabriel, and eventually U2. Later I would lose my heart to Christian artists like Charlie Peacock, Rich Mullins, and my favorites: Pierce Pettis and Mark Heard.

But it all started with watching Journey – who was always kind of 70’s in their 80’s-ness – play air guitar in their “Separate Ways” video.

I just finished my new record, Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue, and as I’m getting back the first rounds of mixes, I find myself wondering what people are going to think of it.  I feel like it’s my most ambitious record I’ve ever made – I’ve never worked harder on a group of songs.  It’s also my most pop record (bear in mind that my version of pop is still pretty folksy to most people).  This project was a focused effort to make a pop record that would work at Christian radio but that didn’t pander and still felt true and compelling (to me at least).  I, for one, am thrilled with the way it turned out.

And yet I know that a lot of people hear the words “pop music”, “radio”, and especially “Christian radio” and start sharpening their knives – often with good reason.  Pop music has fallen into disrepute and is judged as contemptibly shallow and trite by a lot of the music lovers I hang with, including myself – a self proclaimed cultured despiser of most things popular.

But contrary to what some people might think, a smart and catchy pop song is the hardest kind to write.  Bono calls these kinds of songs the “evolutionary peak of the species,” and as a songwriter, I found the task of writing accessible 3 minute pop songs with depth and mystery to be an invigorating challenge – much harder for me, in fact, than writing introspective and confessional singer/songwriter songs.

And yet I’ll admit I have some insecurities that some people might be dismissive of them on the basis that they are pop songs.  But that’s only because I’m all too aware of how ungenerous I myself have been in pronouncing my invectives against pop music over the years.  Nobody wants to get stung by their own barbs…

I suspect I’ve been so critical of pop music because I often take myself too seriously and because in some way I, like most of us, have come to despise or at least be suspicious of my humble beginnings. Case in point: early in our marriage if Taya and I would go out to eat for a special occasion, I’d often take her to Applebees.  But now that we’ve discovered finer dining experiences, I’m embarrassed that I ever thought of Applebees as the kind of place to take my wife for a special occasion. So of course now I hate Applebees, not because there’s anything wrong with the place but more because it stands for something in my past that embarrasses me now.

In a way it’s kind of like where Paul says “when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” And then in Hebrews: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature…”

In my zeal to be sophisticated and mature in all things, I pursue solid food with gusto – and savor it!  However, in my insecurity and eagerness to shed my “infancy”, I have come to not only reject milk, but hold it in contempt.  Obviously there’s nothing wrong with milk – it does the body good, right?  But my insecurity registers milk as a threat since it represents an old self that I’m always so desperately trying to disavow.  The truth is, the more mature I am and established I become in my own sense of identity, the more I can appreciate a nice glass of milk with my steak from time to time – especially if mashed potatoes are in the mix.  The older I get, the less things there are to hate.

In other words – when it comes to music – Journey is becoming less and less a threat to my identity as a cultured and refined music lover.  In fact, hearing those classic songs now I can even appreciate their power to capture my attention and make me a music fan as a 5th grader – with those soaring melodies, epic themes, and big hooks!  They were the seeds that have grown into a hearty fruit bearing tree.  In a way, as I trace it back to it’s source, I suppose I owe my love of albums by Damien Rice, Arcade Fire, Tom Waits and the like to the one that started it all: Journey’s Frontiers.

My musical tastes are much different than they were when I bought my first Journey record, but today I’ve decided to lift the proverbial glass in a toast to “Separate Ways” and every other cheesy 80’s pop anthem that helped me discover my love for music – they may not have been particularly nutritious or filling, but they brought me to a table where, for all these years thence, I have feasted on some of the finest delicacies I’ve been graced to enjoy. Thank you Steve Perry and company, my life is sweeter because of you, though we touched and went our separate ways.


20 Comments

  1. Matt Blick

    Jason
    What a fantastic and MATURE response to music that is good but simple, mainstream and doesn’t have to good sense to keep it’s tongue in it’s cheek or wink at we ‘true artists’. The milk analogy is a great one. Most of us need to be humbly remember that we didn’t come out of the womb listening to ___________ (insert uber-cool songwriter name here).

    You have a lot to be thankful for BTW. The first album I bought with my own money was Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. (But at least I got to learn my first bible memory verse at the same time!)

  2. Kel

    Ahhh…. There is Journey in the air and many of folks have rediscovered them
    it seems this year.
    I have been a Steve Perry fan for a great many years now and have witnessed the use of “Steve Perry’s” Journey being used over and over again from television commercials , baseball games new t.v. shows to major motion pictures like Yes man.And had to stop and comment on your post about Journey and your child’s recent discovery (or journey fever as I like to call it).

    I am as you later in your post discovered very happy for your son that he has stumbled upon such well written catchy music. I think there is much much worse music out there now that I would be alarmed if my child at such an impressionable age would latch on too. And if his pick is Steve Perry then he great taste and a great ear………cheers to you and your wife for allowing him to explore his own tastes!
    P.S. one of Steve’s greatest works is on a Disney movie titled The Quest for Camelot…..I stand alone…..or you can youtube it:).

    Perry on!
    Kel

  3. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I can’t believe you said Journey wasn’t one of the cool bands. That video was awesome and proves, beyond any doubt, that you were wrong.

  4. Janna@RainbowDull

    Just have to ask. Did anyone else watch the preview episode of “Glee Club” last week? We laughed so much at that show. Last year for my b-day, my husband got me a pink t-shirt (from “Journeys” in the mall) which says “small town girl.” I wear it proudly, as the monachre is true, but the song does get stuck in my head every time I look in the mirror. One more funny story. The church parking lot where my daughter went to preschool had a stop sign that was graffitied to read “don’t STOP believing!”

  5. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    haha! I have the distinct feeling that I’m outing all the closet Journey fans in the Rabbit Room!

    And Matt: As you surmised from my list of albums in this post, I was into pretty light weight music. All my friends were into AC/DC, Quiet Riot, and yes, Iron Maiden. What I loved about “Separate Ways” at the time was that the driving electric guitar riff at the top of the song always made me feel like, “see, I can like hard rock, too!”

    Lame, I know…

  6. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    And Pete – It is such sweet irony to me that my post about Journey follows on the heels of yours about Pierce Pettis. After reading your post, I hesitated to even put mine in the queue… beautiful.

    Okay, so all you Journey fans need to do yourself a favor, read Pete’s post and then go get yourself a Pierce Pettis record. Go on, do it. Stop reading this and do it right now…

  7. Ryan Newcomb

    I agree with Pete. How dare you say Journey wasn’t cool? I disdain 80’s music but definitely own Journey’s Greatest Hits. As for what you’re trying to do with your new record, I think Bebo Norman has laid a template for this model with his last 3 albums. They are pop in a lot of ways but his songwriting is still powerful, introspective, and challenging. So, it’s doable, but, as you say, a challenge to those of us who would rather stay in our comfort zone of writing songs for the singer/songwriter. And, I’m glad to hear that Simon & Garfunkel was a part of it all. There is hope for you yet!

  8. Stacy Grubb

    I was a wee pup in Journey’s hay day, but a good friend 10 years my senior introduced them to me when I was about 13 via Journey’s Greatest Hits. It’s news to me that some folks didn’t think they were cool because they rocked my world straight out of the gate. At that time, “Open Arms” and “Faithfully” are the songs that really hooked me, but as I got older, I really fell in love “Wheel In The Sky,” “Lights,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.” Yeah baby. I still love those songs. In your son’s defense, Jason, regardless of their un-cool reputation they may or may not have had in the 80’s, they are really gaining popularity and cool status at this point thanks to “Don’t Stop Believin'” being featured on Laguna Beach a few years ago. Suddenly, there’s a Journey explosion. In fact, it’s very ironic that I came here today and read this because we watched “Yes Man” last night and I commented on the return of Journey.

    And I can also embarrasingly relate to going to Applebee’s for a fancy dinner. And the fear of having egg on your face if you’re skirting that boundary where folks might mistake you for a sell-out. In the event that I write a catchy tune (which is rare), I often gag on the words as they come out of my mouth, regardless of how cute and clever they may be.

    This really is a great post and I love the parallels that you found in all humble beginnings and your “Journey” (wink, wink) to embracing them.

    Stacy

  9. jacobt

    What I love about that video is that with all the 80’s goofiness there is not a single tongue planted in a mullet-brushed cheek. Nope, those guys mean business!

  10. Peter B

    If the page loads so you can only see the top half-inch or so of the video, the first frame looks like a girl with pigtails. It’s quite jarring when you scroll down further.

    Also, Journey rocks. I’m not ashamed to admit that Faithfully was quite meaningful to me back when my wife and I were dating long-distance. And that string quartet cover of Don’t Stop Believing was awesome.

    So Jason, did you draw inspiration from a certain children’s Bible for the new album? It’s a very encouraging title. Do you have a release date?

  11. Mike

    Lovin, Touchin’ Squeezin’ on the Jukebox at Mr. Gotti’s Pizza parlor my senior year. think its how the songs made and still make us feel. Yeah, Journey is cool.

  12. Anna VanEaton

    Awwww Jason…
    Neal Schon was asked to play with Santana at the young age of 15…says alot about his playing.

    And, as for Steve Perry…in my opinion, one of thee best voices in rock and roll.

  13. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Peter B. Actually, I discovered the use of this phrase in the children’s bible later (thanks to Ben Shive) What a wonderful discovery that little bible is!

    But the phrase was coined – as far as I know – by Tolkien who had Samwise Gamgee ask Gandalf if everything sad were going to come untrue. I Always thought it was such a beautiful idea…

    The release date is scheduled for Sept. 1st – thanks for asking!

  14. Brian Brinkert

    Hey J –

    Here’s a few laugh…. tonight I had a dad and daughters night while Andrea was at a women’s retreat – we watched “Bedtime Stories” and who would have guessed what band was featured in the movie and during the credits? JOURNEY! “Don’t stop believing… hold onto that feeling….” My bro-in-law was a big Journey fan in the 80’s, so when I got my first CD player (a Sony Car-DISC-man), Journey’s Greatest Hits was one of the first CD’s I bought. So many memories of me trying to sing like Steve Perry…. (scary thought, I know).

  15. Peter Denio

    Awesome. I rediscovered my love for Journey over the last year.

    Open Arms – Theme of Junior Prom!

    Don’t tell me you don’t bust out Matthew Modine’s Vision Quest run every time you listen to “Only the Young.” Oh, is that just me?

    My three year old walks around the house drumming to “Wheel In the Sky” while repeating the chorus over and over again.

  16. Peter B

    Since we’re making with the three-year-old stories…

    My niece and nephews (the older three) saved their allowances for months last year and bought a Wii together. They particularly enjoy Guitar Hero, which introduces many wonderful ’80s classics into their home, such as Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer.

    Anyhoo, their youngest brother (the one who’s three) has taken to singing “We’ve gotta hooooold onnnn to what we’ve got! It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not!”

    He’s a big hit at church.

    Jason, thanks for reminding me that I need to take yet another wander down the road that goes ever on and on.

  17. Tony Heringer

    Journey’s roots are in the 70s young ‘uns. Frontiers was the peak of a style they perfected in 1978 with “Lights”. I bought Frontiers (record) in college and loved it. To further show my age, I listened to “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ on the 8 track version of Evolution (1979). 🙂

    First album purchased with my own money – Elton John’s double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road — great album art to go with the music. My favorite tune on that one was “Harmony” which I’m glad to see he still does in concert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40M9GdRrceg

    Thanks for the musical trip down memory lane Jason Gray. That Gus is something else. Thanks for sharing another one of his adventures.

  18. LitaDeBoer

    Journey songs always remind me of those Solid Gold dancers on one of those countdown shows. Journey was the first concert I was allowed to drive to with a friend in my parents’ car (a 2 hour drive each way) – big stuff for me and my parents, I’m sure. Excited to hear your new album Jason!!

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