Thursday, May 9, 2013

Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey [2013]

MPAA (NR would be PG-13)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey [2013] (directed by Romona S. Diaz) is a documentary that recently played here in Chicago and is available for rent/purchase on Amazon Instant Video about how one of the world's most recognizable American rock bands, Journey, came to acquire Filipino born / Manila residing rocker/vocalist Arnel Pineda as its second (and it would seem permanent) replacement to its legendary lead singer Steve Perry.  (The group's original replacement for Perry, Steve Augeri, had blown his vocal chords after eight years of singing with the band).

Looking for a new replacement, the group had gone through the "usual suspects," auditioning various stateside vocalists and Journey-tribute band singers when one evening lead guitarist Neal Schon came across various YouTube videos of Pineda then singing for a Manila cover band named Zoo singing their material.  Blown away by Pineda's ability of seemingly effortlessly hitting all of Perry notes, Schon informed the rest of the band the next day that he's found somebody.  Just one problem: he's way out in Manila. 

The first problem was simply getting a hold of him.  Those YouTube videos were put up not by Pineda's band but by its "biggest fan" ;-).  Then imagine getting a phone call from half-way around the world and the voice on the other end saying: "Hi, I'm Neal Schon, the lead guitarist for Journey ... no I'm REALLY Neal Schon from Journey and I'd like to speak to ..." ;-).  Well eventually they got a hold of Pineda and as another member of the band put it "we got the lawyers working on it so that 3 weeks later Pineda was able to arrive in the U.S. for an audition."

Missing from the documentary but part of the attendant press materials (referred to in Roger Ebert's review of the film) was Pineda's account of how the incredulous U.S. Consular official interviewing Pineda for his visa asked him to sing, right there and then in front of him Journey's song "Wheel in the Sky" to prove that he was really applying to go to the U.S. to audition for the band.  Apparently the U.S. Consular official was impressed as well ;-).

I make reference to Ebert's account of this incident because we Servites went through a similar experience with an incredulous U.S. Consular official a number of years ago when we had requested a Visa for a smiling young English speaking Brazilian woman who we had met at the Servite parish in São Paulo who we wished to accompany a non-English speaking Brazilian Servite sister coming to the States on a speaking tour that we were organizing.  "Who do you work for Miss?"  "I work for my parents."  Bam! "Visa rejected" was the first reply.  It took a call from one of our American Servite sisters to her Congressional Representatives, who called down to the U.S. Consulate in São Paulo to get the Consular official to re-interview the young woman to get her visa (for 1 trip and expiring 6 weeks upon entry) approved.  But our young/ever smiling translator was able to come here, see the States and honestly help us and the Brazilian Servite sister out.  (And remember folks, for someone of a young woman's age that would be a trip of a lifetime...).

Back to the story at hand ... ;-)  Pineda arrived in California to audition for the band.  The first day, still jet-lagged, he didn't sound all that good (Oh dear ... ;-).  But the second, he was better and by the third, the other members of the band's jaws were dropping again.  They found their guy!

Now how to break Pineda in?  Well, Journey began its 2008 World Tour in ... Chile ;-).  That was the first place where Pineda got to sing with the band in a stadium filled with 10,000+ fans.  Various band members had expressed concern whether Pineda would have a good stage presence.  After all, this was not going to be a "small club" but a STADIUM full of people with a huge stage.  Was he going to "just stand there?"

Well "just stand there" he did not do ;-).  Instead, in what to me was one of the more amusing moments in the documentary, he may have inadvertently reminded some of the band members (and certainly their manager) of their age ;-)  After all, the others had been at this, playing in / managing the band, for over 30 years.  Now here was the new (and younger) Pineda bouncing/running around the stage (perhaps trying to be like Van Halen's legendary David Lee Roth in his younger days).  So after the show, Pineda was told in no uncertain terms by the Manager (interestingly not by the band ;-) that he would have to "tone it down" in the future.  But the group didn't have to worry that Pineda was "just gonna stand there" ;-)

How has Pineda been accepted since?  Well, it seemed pretty clear that the band members like him and lead guitarist Neal Schon made clear to the filmmakers (and their viewers) that "after expenses 1/5 of profits from their touring go to Pineda (as a full member of the band)" adding with a smile that "I'm not gonna tell you how much that is but yes, its substantial." ;-)

As for the fans, it would seem from the documentary that they've come around as well.  I suspect, as a Journey fan myself in my younger days, that part of this is because not only can Pineda hit the notes like Perry did but also that he even kinda looks like Perry.

THEN OF COURSE has been the Filipino reaction to Arnel Pineda's becoming part of Journey.  As one fan put it: "Journey didn't just gain Arnel (as its lead singer), it gained an entire nation (as its fans)!"  Near the end of the film, we're shown Pineda having an audience with then the Filipino President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Malacañang Presidential Palace in Manila.

From my own pastoral experience of various Filipino gatherings, where a Kareoke machine was almost always present as part of the entertainment ;-), I can not but believe that Pineda's entry into the band had to be a big deal and even a culturally appropriate one as Journey's always had a reputation of being a  "kinda _nice_ band." And my experience with Filipino parishioners singing away Elvis and Neil Diamond songs at those gatherings (with said kareoke machine seemingly always somewhere around...) would make Journey seem like a really good fit for "national adoption." ;-)

Finally, returning back to the other band members, it seemed clear in the documentary that the band was fundamentally happy with their selection and that as a result of it they now have an entire nation that loves them as well.  So good job folks and good choice ;-)  And Ms Diaz, thanks for putting this remarkable story on film/video as well because it really is lovely/amazing (and true)!

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