John White: The uplifting reunion, and the life lesson
It seems incredible in hindsight.
I bought tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Brooklyn in the one-in-a-thousand chance that my favourite singer of all time, Steve Perry, would reunite with Journey and sing with the band for the first time in 20 or so years. Really, those odds were optimistic based on what I’ve read about the fractured relationship between Perry and the remaining members of Journey.
Despite those odds, my wife and I built a week-long New York vacation around the induction ceremony and concert last week. We saw The Book of Mormon and School of Rock on Broadway, a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, toured MoMA, the Met and the Natural History Museum, and walked seven miles a day.
All of those activities would have made an incredible trip of a lifetime crossing off many bucket list items, but it all came down to the Hall of Fame event for me. The thought of Perry joining legendary guitarist Neal Schon, drummer Steve Smith, bassist Ross Valory and keyboardist and vocalist Jon Cain on stage for an emotional reunion and mini-concert filled me with intense emotions. It would be a lifelong wish come true, and it would help to erase a major regret — not seeing them in their prime in the early ’80s.
The music from Infinity and Escape drove my musical coming of age. It was the nucleus of my musical soul and still is. I suppose everyone has a musical origin story like this.
It wasn’t until days before the event that Steve’s rep confirmed he would be in attendance at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. I almost fell off of my chair when I saw the tweet from Cain. As Jim Carrey’s character said in Dumb and Dumber: “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”
TMZ reported the morning of the show that Perry’s reps confirmed he would sing one song with the band Friday night. I squeed like a 12-year-old girl catching a glimpse of her fave heartthrob. My wife tried to settle my excitement by reminding me, “Uh, it’s TMZ. Let’s not get carried away.”
Journey wasn’t the only act on the bill. Other inductees included Joan Baez, ELO, Yes, Tupac Shakur, Nile Rodgers and Pearl Jam. There was also a tribute to Prince led by Lenny Kravitz.
Journey’s intro started somewhere in the middle of the night. Their slide hit the giant screen above the stage, and a chill shot from my toes to my head and back again. The intro audio barely rose above the din of the crowd, who were screaming and clapping with ferocity. The clips of the lads in the golden days invoked a lightning bolt of energy, reaffirming my high-voltage connection to this band.
Once the intro wrapped, Steve Perry emerged from the wings, and quietly entered the spotlight. The crowd immediately stood and hit 11. He greeted the other members of the band warmly, with strong and lingering hugs and a whispered something in the ear. His biggest hug was for founder and band catalyst Schon. Wow, who’s cutting onions in here?
They all took turns giving thanks and sharing emotional anecdotes. Steve went last. This ovation was louder than the first. Everyone recognized we were sharing a moment in musical history. His speech was shockingly honest, forthcoming and far-reaching. He heaped praise on the band, giving an extra dose to Schon’s “magic fingers.” He also sent love to singer Arnel Pineda for carrying the legacy forward for the past 10 years.
I’ve always been drawn to redemption stories, and reunions. The only thing that would have pushed this over the edge would have been Perry grabbing a mic and joining the band for Separate Ways. But it was not to be. Arnel gamely bounded onto the stage and tore into the song with serious fire. He had something to prove. He strained, but hit all of those giant notes that Perry made famous.
Once it was over, I realized it may have been for the best. Steve’s voice is in a much lower register now. If he were to attempt the classics, it just wouldn’t be the same.
It was selfish of me to pin so much on that moment. Cherish and celebrate the past, but don’t try to live there.