I am not a die-hard fan of Journey (I’ll admit, I only know, and vaguely at that, a few of their hits), but Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey made me wish I were.
It has been nearly 40 years since the start of the quintessential American rock band, but Journey has proven that they can change with the ages, especially with the story of their new lead singer, Arnel Pineda — they found him on Youtube.
With eight platinum-certified albums down, Journey needed the perfect lead singer to fit a band so well known and appreciated. Relegated to searching the Internet for Journey cover singers, guitarist, and only member of the band to have recorded on all of its albums, Neal Schon found Pineda, who was the singer of the cover band The Zoo, in Manila, Philippines.
Pineda started singing to provide a living for his family after his mother’s death. His initial musical career was what brought him out of alcoholism and homelessness, and his consequential experience brought him to the United States to join the band whose songs he had covered for years. It was a dream come true, Pineda says in the documentary, repeating it over and over. Pineda’s story was one of the American dream in its truest sense, and the documentary expresses that perfectly.
And yet, the film is hard to understand for the average 18 year old, unorganized in how it presents both the band’s history and the timeline of the documentary itself. The band members speak about former lead singer Steve Perry’s departure vaguely, and the audience member next to me surmised that perhaps Perry had died. The band was active from 1973 to 1987 and then from 1995 to the present, but even this basic fact wasn’t mentioned. The filmmakers leave out the generalities and summaries of the band’s history, making the documentary suited for only longtime fans.
The documentary is better about telling Pineda’s story, poignantly exposing his life in the Philippines and touching on the implications of his addition to one of the world’s most famous groups. But the story stops there, touching on the implications but refusing to go deeper. In one scene, a Journey fan, waiting for the concert, expresses her concern about Pineda’s nationality. “He should be from here,” she says, and a friend next to her jokingly accuses her of being racist.
The band members and security detail talk about how Filipinos almost worship Pineda, refusing to leave his side or honor time constraints when he is taking pictures or signing albums, as well as the tribulations with pulling him out of a third world country and into the spotlights of this one. The film addresses how Pineda’s addition has given the band a more universal audience, but barely touches on how the world has reacted. It shows the proud Filipino fans, but doesn’t address the undercurrent of racism among American fans. And a broader issue, with the band itself, is whether the group feels they are riding only on nostalgia, since their fame is mostly from past hits. When will the ongoing years and constant change in band members be too much for the group to go on? Is today’s Journey still the same band as the one from the 70’s? Overall, the film leaves a lot of questions to be answered and no way of answering them.
But true to the cleverness of their title, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey does succeed overall. It’s an impressively, touchingly true story of a man who overcame hardship, made his way on to Youtube and experienced a rock-n-roll fairytale rise to fame. Undoubtedly, if nothing else, the film leaves you with one thought: man, Arnel Pineda is amazing. And his story is amazing. He deserves to be at the front of such an iconic band, and he even seems to be a pretty cool guy.
By Nomin-Erdene Jagdagdorj
If you would like to see a trailer for the film, look here.