Wednesday, October 21, 2015

1983: A Journey Journey

I have never been a nostalgic person; I certainly have never professed to have missed the eighties, the decade in which I grew up. The music, for the most part, was awful, for one thing. With very few exceptions, the electronic music revolution was full of stilted, cold, overblown but childish attempts at songwriting. (The bleeps and blips may have been enough for many, but not for me.) The era itself was colored cold; everything was candy-hued, from the leg-warmers to the Hawaiian shirts to the jewelry to the lip-gloss. None of it could have been farther from my younger (and current) preferences for an atmosphere of trees and woods and warm images and warm instrumental timbres. I was a wood-over-plastic guy in a plastic world.

I retreated from a lot of it. I listened to classical music (mostly impressionistic) and some jazz while my friends listened to The Pet Shop Boys and to Madonna's impossibly annoying hootings and watched her sexually pedestrian rollings-around-on-the-floor.

Still craving, as one must, the music of the young, though, I found the progressive and "art" rock of the era (or some from a decade before) of Rush, Genesis and Yes. In short, I created, as I tend to do, my own world into which to retreat. It's not that I didn't like some popular music -- it's just that the music had to be played by people and not be MIDI programmed and it had to have some level of compositional quality and some level of real musicianship. I liked Journey, for instance. (More about them in a minute.)

Looking back, though, I see some things through a different lens.

In fact, I found a documentary on YouTube, the other day, that I used to watch over and over: Frontiers and Beyond. I purposefully didn't call it a "rockumentary" because this early documentary about a rock band did and could not follow the since-established formula. It was a true documentary about a band on the road but, more precisely, about a road crew and a band on the road. The band was Journey, but, in truth, the film was more focused on the crew.

People mistakenly group Journey in with the other bands of the era that stank of eighties pop-rockishness the same way they mistakenly call every long hairstyle on a guy from the eighties a "mullet." There is only one mullet: short on the top and sides and long in the back; likewise, there is a world of difference between Journey and, say, Loverboy or REO Speedwagon (even if Speedwagon was the closest competitor to Journey -- kind of like the little brother who simply could not get as many hits as his older brother in high school baseball). Journey were a band full of fine musicians, including two on the virtuoso level, in Steve Smith (drums) and Neil Schon (guitars). And Steve Perry, the singer, is a vocal phenomenon whose pipes are nothing short of miraculous. Compositionally, there are moments of brilliance, owing, in great part, to the keyboardist, Jonathan Cain. (The other guy just played bass. Okay, that was mean, but I can live with it.)

But that is all not the point of this. In watching Frontiers and Beyond, I found myself, maybe for the first time, ever, becoming nostalgic for the eighties. It had a lot to do with the girls in the audiences in the video. Maybe they reminded me a little of my first real girlfriend or of my innumerable crushes between fifth and eight grade. Maybe I was struck by a certain innocence in the puffy hair and the candy-colored lipstick. The whole crowd, however, girls and boys alike seemed lovable to me. There they were, young and hopeful -- hopeful for the world; hopeful for their future places in it. There they were, in the city of my birth, Philadelphia, at JFK stadium. Some of my high school friends certainly stood in that crowd, in the summer heat, and they were all in a similar place to the fifteen-year-old me, both developmentally and in the sense that, every day, they had to try to have fun growing up in a world chilled by the spectre of the Cold War and under the fear that someone, whether in America or Russia, would "push the button" and end the world in a nuclear holocaust.

There was also the voice or John Facenda, the familiar narrator of NFL Films, a company based near my New Jersey home; a voice I recognized from (and that was inextricably attached to) their dramatic, orchestra-backed movies about the Philadelphia Eagles and the rest of the NFL...

Of course, it had a lot to do with Journey's music. And though I am not the guy who listens to the "oldies" station in order to recapture my youth, that music that had lived in my head, back then, does conjure memories, both fond and not-so-fond. Journey's music was a sometime soundtrack to my dreams of musical fame, with its sweeping, lyrical, sometimes Romantic accessible rock power.

I suppose all decades had things that were special about them, no matter whether we noticed at the time or not. The eighties had their charm. In watching the movies or the era with my boys, I realize that there was a certain warmth to both the good and the bad films; that their un-hipness was a pretty sweet thing. Back then, we still "dated" and we still held on to some human traditions that have since gone dead.

And, really -- if you don't think "Faithfully" is a beautiful song; if Neil Schon's ending solo doesn't give you chills, I don't wanna know ya. This video's footage is take from the documentary I mentioned. [Neil Schon and Steve Perry at around 3:48 -- soul-wrenching]:

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