Steve Perry, his voice, and why the world needs him now more than ever
Journey's Steve Perry ushered me into the '80s. I still remember the first song I ever heard featuring his voice. It was Good Morning Girl from 1980's Departure.
"Good morning girl, how you been? Good morning girl, is love within? I see your face every where. I see your smile your golden hair. I see your eyes shinin' through. Those gentle eyes silver blue."
It was never a big hit for the band, but when I saw that Perry had hand-picked it for inclusion on the new Greatest Hits Volume 2, I was swept back to the spring day when I first heard it. There is a feeling of unabashed love and optimism that enveloped that song, and that time in my life -- and probably many other music fans of the era. In the '80s, you could sing about filling your heart or breaking it. About celebrating the world or confronting the fear of having a front-row seat at its destruction. It was all very real, very possible.
Today, not so much. We talk about saving our hearts, saving our money, saving our schools, our homes. Dreams are something we left behind -- they couldn't be saved at all, we decided. It feels like we left it behind with Steve Perry.
When I talked to Perry on the phone earlier this month for about an hour, it resulted in an interview that maybe was a little therapeutic for us both. And the theme kept coming back to the phenomenon of Don't Stop Believin', a song that is more of a hopeful mantra these days than mere hit of yesteryear.
"We couldn't have said back then, 'Hey, gee whiz, in 2011, Don't Stop Believin' is going to be the one.' They all felt like they were in that category because we loved them all the same," Perry told me. "But, you know, the world chooses what it chooses, and time does what it does."
Yeah, time did a number on us all. Thirty years after Journey released the song, Don't Stop Believin' is something that we need these days when things seem at their darkest. I turned on the TV yesterday and heard the entire crowd at Michigan Stadium singing it as the Wolverines beat Ohio State for the first time in years. Another generation finds its salvation in a song from the '80s.
Perry left Journey for good in the late '90s, a decade that Journey probably should have skipped altogether. These days, he makes his home in Southern California, still very much needing the feelings that Good Morning Girl gave me and other fans so long ago. Without any new music to call his own, he seems to borrow the passion of his fans, who refuse to let go. And why should they?
"If I could tell my fans anything right now, it would be that I want them to know I am happy," he told me very deliberately. "I was happy being in front of them every night. They lifted me to places I could not go without them. My voice was actually their voice, because I had to go get it because they wanted to hear it. I can't get that without them. I've tried to sing like that in my living room with my Pro Tools rig."
"They don't even know how much of a part of my life they were. They think I was a part of theirs? But they'll never how 50-50 it really was. They need to know that. Without them, I was not who I am. That needs to be said. They literally made me happen."
In a lot of ways, Perry literally made us happen. And we need him to do it again. It's time for Perry to put his passion back into music. To take a chance on filling his heart, even if it means breaking his heart.
Perry says he hopes to release some of his new music this coming year. I hope he does. Because the world can't wait much longer. I can't wait much longer. I need a dose of undiluted optimism. I need to feel and believe again in the power of overcoming anything just so long as you're honest with what your heart tells you.
There's always one verse of Don't Stop Believin' that I hold close to me. Because it's the essense of what Perry and the '80s are all about.
"Working hard to get my fill, Everybody wants a thrill. Payin' anything to roll the dice, Just one more time. Some will win, some will lose. Some were born to sing the blues. Oh, the movie never ends. It goes on and on and on and on."
Just like with this song, our chorus awaits us at the end. We just need Steve Perry to give us the voice.
[Click here to listen to the entire interview with Steve Perry. And click here to read my story in today's St. Petersburg Times. If you're not a subscriber to Stuck in the '80s, click here to get all our podcasts for free.]