Oh stop. I can feel your eyes rolling from all the way over here.
I’m very well aware that this song has as many detractors as fans, and that it and Journey in general are routinely derided as “soulless corporate rock” (whatever the hell that means). I don’t care, and I’m not interested in debating it. Not now, not on the final night of this year, above all others. From the deaths of Bowie, Prince, and Princess frickin’ Leia to that god-awful endless election (I think everyone, no matter which side you were on, can agree that the election was a shit-show of historic proportions), 2016 has left me most definitely not in the mood for a debate. About anything. Here, at the end of this annus horribilis, more than ever, I’m missing my youth and the boundless possibility it seemed to contain, the certainty I used to have that everything would just somehow turn out all right. I’m exhausted, and I’m testy.
If you don’t like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” well… that’s your concern, I guess, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about that. Personally, it’s always been one of my favorites, going back to the days when I listened to it from a cheap K-Tel collection on a beat-up portable cassette player while I read comic books in our haystack. Even before I had any real understanding of what the lyrics were about, I responded to the sound of the song in that ineffable, near-mystical way that you simply do with some pieces of music. I loved the piano opening and that dramatic rising guitar thing following the first verse, and the soaring vocals that are both easy to sing along with and entirely beyond the range of most normal humans. Now that I’m older, I love the goofy optimism at the core of the song’s lyrics.
I’ve read some counter-intuitive arguments that this is actually a depressing song, that the story told by the lyrics is one of people consoling themselves while on a tawdry and unsatisfying quest for love. Or at least for sex. I guess that’s one way to read it. It’s not mine. I see this song as an ode to the indomitable human tendency to keep trying, to keep reaching, to keep hoping, in spite of disappointment and even though time and the culture around us and the world itself just keeps moving indifferently forward. As we crawl from the smoking crater of 2016 into the uncertain landscape of 2017, that’s a message I need to hear. Maybe you do too.
I’m not going to bother with the usual historical background on this one, other than noting that this performance is from 1981, the year the song itself was released.
Happy New Year, everyone.