Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey – A Review

I’ve admitted many times on the blog that my musical tastes are questionable at best. While my taste is definitely eclectic – the bands that I have seen most often in concert are Phish, Metallica and New Kids on the Block – it probably wouldn’t be considered sophisticated or refined by most. While I do like to discover new bands and have a few artists up my sleeve that give some street cred, for the most part I like what I like even if most people would roll their eyes at it and musical connoisseurs would turn up their collective noses. Cheesy 70’s music? Sign me up. Boy Bands? Totally in my wheelhouse. My iPod is filled with singles by all the pop tarts (Britney, Katy, Miley, any other woman whose name ends in a y or an i). 80’s hair metal? Yes please. I am fully aware that this stuff is terrible, but I don’t care. I won’t argue with you if you tell me that these songs are crap.

But I will fight you to the death if you say anything about Journey.

Yes - I own a Journey t-shirt. Yes - I wear this in public

Yes – I own a Journey t-shirt. Yes – I wear this in public

Ok, maybe that was a little dramatic. But of all the dubious music in my collection, I love Journey most of all. There is a reason that most of their catalog contains hits – those guys can write a damn catchy pop song. If you want to unite a room full of people, go over to the jukebox and play “Don’t Stop Believin’” and just watch what happens. Nothing brings people together like Journey.

 

My love affair with Journey goes back to childhood; not only did I love all their hits that dominated the radio in the 80’s, but my favorite Atari video game was Journey Escape (yes – that sentence made me feel very old). You read that correctly – Journey had its own video game. From the game’s manual (per Wikipedia): “You’re on the road with Journey, one of the world’s hottest rock groups. A spectacular performance has just ended. Now it’s up to you to guide each Journey Band Member past hordes of Love-Crazed Groupies, Sneaky Photographers, and Shifty-Eyed Promoters to the safety of the Journey Escape Vehicle in time to make the next concert. Your mighty manager and loyal roadies are there to help, but the escape is up to you!”

 

It was glorious. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent playing this video game when we went to visit my aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania (somehow I never talked my parents into buying the game for our house; I blame an anti-Journey bias).  And yes – for the kids out there – the above actually passed for video game graphics back in the day. We were a lot lower tech in the old days.

Though my love for Journey started when I was a kid, it never really dissipated. The Sopranos made it a little more socially acceptable to like the band, for which I will always be grateful, but I had always secretly liked them.

 

I’ve seen them live on numerous occasions, often dragging reluctant boyfriends and friends along with me. They only reason I haven’t seen them live in a few years is because they haven’t come to town in a while; I assure you that if Journey announced that they were playing a show near Albany, I would be there.

So when I heard that there was a new documentary about Journey and their quest to hire a new lead singer, I immediately jumped at the chance to see it. Though I knew the basic story – no self-respecting Journey fan doesn’t – I figured that I didn’t know the whole story. I’m a big fan of documentaries as well, so a doc on a band that makes me happy seemed like a no-brainer. When our local art house theater showed the film earlier this year, I was there on opening night and I wasn’t disappointed.

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey examines the most recent period in the band’s history. Originally formed in the early 1970’s, the band had its greatest success in the late 70s and early 80s, when Journey was fronted by lead singer Steve Perry. When Perry left the band in 1998, Journey was on the hunt for a new lead singer, a challenge since the band’s sound was so associated with Perry’s distinctive voice. With the band enjoying renewed popularity because of The Soproanos, Journey really needed to hit the road to capitalize. Desperate, Neal Schon turned to YouTube in search of someone to front the band and found a candidate in the most unlikely place: the Philippines. Arnel Pineda was in a band that covered a lot of Journey songs and not only did he already know the lyrics, he sounded uncannily like Steve Perry. Like legitimately eerie. If you close your eyes when you listen, you can barely tell the difference.

 

They flew him to America and gave him an audition; the next thing you know, he’s the lead singer of Journey and out on tour with the band. The film documents this journey (pun intended) and how Pineda adapts to this sudden success and the culture shock as he goes out on his first tour with the band.

If this story sounds somewhat familiar, it bears a striking resemblance to the 2001 film Rock Star, where Mark Wahlberg plays a tribute band singer that takes over lead vocals for his favorite band. Rock Star took its inspiration partially from the real band Judas Priest, who hired the former front man of a tribute band to replace their lead singer. Who knew this happened so often?

I don’t think you necessarily have to be a fan of Journey to enjoy Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey. It’s an entertaining little doc that might be a little superficial, but is tremendously watchable thanks to the undeniable charm and charisma of Pineda. This is really his movie and while the filmmakers may not dig all that deeply with their subject, you can’t help but root for Pineda and enjoy his success. He’s living his dream and it is a lot of fun to watch. He has a very interesting back story that only serves to make you happier that he is achieving his dreams. It isn’t always smooth sailing for Pineda – he has big shoes to fill and a lot of things to get used to – but it’s enjoyable to be along for the ride. The numerous songs in the film remind you of just how many hits Journey has had over the years.

I actually saw Pineda live during the time period that is chronicled in the documentary (Saratoga Springs gets a brief shout out in the film) and I was pretty impressed with him. I never saw Perry perform with the band, but Pineda’s voice provides a reasonable facsimile. He adds a lot of energy to Journey; they are a band known for stage presence, but Pineda runs all over the stage and appears to be having the time of his life. That excitement is contagious and you can’t help put be affected by his joy. In many ways, I think his youth has helped give Journey a second life.

Last night PBS aired Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey as part of their Independent Lens series, which reminded that I never wrote about the film. Of course, had I really been on my game this would have been posted before the documentary aired, but the film will re-air throughout the week on the various PBS channels (check your local listings). The film is also currently available on DVD/Blu-Ray and is streaming on Netflix Instant, iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. A lot of documentaries tend to be about depressing subjects, but I don’t think you can watch Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey without a smile on your face. It may not be as thought provoking or insightful as other documentaries, but I did learn some things about the band that I didn’t previously know. Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey is a fun little diversion, especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for Journey. Who knows…after watching this documentary you may be a fan of the band too. As everyone should be.

Paradise Lost Trilogy

I like Metallica. I tend to wear a lot of black.

Because of this, I could have been suspected of murder in West Memphis, Arkansas.

In 1993, three eight year old boys were found brutally murdered. Believing the killings were “satanic” in nature, the police focused their attention on three teenage boys who did not fit in with the culture of their Bible Belt community. The Paradise Lost documentaries follow the trial and conviction of the three teenagers and the efforts to get them released from prison.

I was vaguely aware of the “West Memphis Three,” as the teens came to be known, before watching the documentaries but didn’t know much about the specific details of the case. I was prompted to watch the Paradise Lost trilogy after the first film was featured on Current TV’s series, 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die and because the story had been back in the news relatively recently. What unfolded in the series was a fascinating case of the dangers of being different and a clear miscarriage of justice.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hill Hills (1996) is the story of the investigation and trial of the three teenage boys. After the bodies of the three young boys are found sexually mutilated in the woods, the police assume that the killings were part of a satanic sacrifice. Based on the confession of 17 year old Jessie Misskelley, Jr., Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Misskelley were arrested and charged with the murders. Misskelley, who claimed his confession was coerced, was tried first and was found guilty and sentenced to 40+ years in prison. Echols and Baldwin were tried together. Both were found guilty; Baldwin was sentenced to life in prison and Echols was sentenced to death. Misskelley refused to testify in their trial and his confession was not admissable. No physical evidence was introduced in the trial that tied any of the three to the crime scene, but much was made of Echols interest in Wicca and the boys preference in clothing and music. From the prosecution’s closing argument:

Anything wrong with wearing black in and of itself? No. Anything wrong with the heavy metal stuff in and of itself? No. Anything wrong with the Book of Shadows in and of itself? No. But when you look at it together, you begin to see inside Damien Echols. And you look inside there and there isn’t a soul there.

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) picks up five years later and looks at what life is like for the three boys in prison and their efforts to have their convictions overturned on appeal. The filmmakers also profile some of support groups that have formed for the West Memphis 3 and who believe, based on viewing the first film, that the boys were wrongly convicted. A large amount of time is spent with Mark Byers, adoptive stepfather to one of the slain boys, who has been rumored to have something to do with the killings.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) focuses on the final push to overturn the convictions of the West Memphis 3, now imprisoned for almost 18 years, before the execution of Damien Echols. DNA and other forensic evidence, not available at their original trial, has been discovered that lends credence to their claims of innocence. Issues of possible jury misconduct were also examined, as well as new rumors as to who the killer may actually be. The third film has been nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for best documentary.

The three films present a riveting case study of our judicial system and its failings. The boys clearly did not receive a fair trial. They were the sacrificial lambs that gave the town a quick resolution and allowed the police to close the book on the case. The fact that they didn’t fit in made it even easier to convict them with nothing more than rumor and the questionable confession of Misskelley. The trial in many ways was reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. While I was not immediately convinced that they had absolutely no involvement in the crime after the first film (Echols narcissism at 18 did him no favors), there was more than reasonable doubt. As someone who studied the courts during graduate school, it was frustrating for me to see it all unfold. It is one thing to know that false convictions occur; it is another to watch it happen.

While the clear focus of the films is the West Memphis Three, the time spent with Mark Byers is fascinating as well. He looms especially large in the second film and his bizarre behavior and checkered past raises serious questions about his involvement in the murder of his stepson. However, by devoting so much time to him in the film because of gossip and his “eccentricities,” it could be argued that the filmmakers are guilty of the same prejudice that convicted the three teens. While the Paradise Lost documentarians are ultimately not concerned with uncovering the person responsible for the crimes, that subject is the focus of the documentary West of Memphis which is currently being shown at Sundance.

William Blackstone once said that it is “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” The Paradise Lost trilogy convincing demonstrates what happens when we fail to live up that principle. Three young men lost almost 20 years of their lives. Three eight year old boys are still waiting for their justice.

The Paradise Lost films are now available on www.hbogo.com.  Some of the graphic images in the films may be upsetting to some viewers.