On Friday, April 7, 2017, I did the wrong thing. I attended the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
Electric Light Orchestra, Tupac, Pearl Jam and Yes have all earned their place and I’d be delighted to see them or their stand-ins six nights out of seven. But they’re not why I was willing to break a commandment. The reason I headed out to Brooklyn is because of a rumor that had allegedly been confirmed: STEVE PERRY WOULD BE PERFORMING WITH JOURNEY.
I am not shomer shabbos and I try not to pretend to be a more observant Jew than I am — I don’t work or use my devices, but I do drive sometimes, and I definitely turn on the lights. Still, I can’t think of another time in the last decade or so that I allowed myself to be seen attending a totally public entertainment type thing that had nothing to do with family. I was invited each of the last several years, including 2016 (Cheap Trick!!!) and always declined. But I prayed and prayed on this and I honestly believed that hashem wanted me to be at the Barclay’s Center to hear that sui generis tenor pour Wheel In the Sky and Don’t Stop Believing all over my wretched soul.
I’ve done a lot wrong this year. My sins are many and most of them have been public and gleefully shared on Twitter. If there’s a chance for redemption, I figured it would happen in Brooklyn on Friday night. And if my fantasy of the band needing an emergency fill-in bass player came true — or maybe on Daughter with Pearl Jam or Telephone Line with ELO — we’ll all know there really is a G-d.
Of course there’s a G-d. How else could someone hit those notes in the bridge of Feeling That Way? Well, so much for breaking commandments.
As we all know, STEVE PERRY COMPLETELY PUNKED OUT.
Patrick Monahan from Train teed it up with a super loving and positive induction speech. Then we waited through (more like waded through) endless testimonials from about a hundred guys in Journey, including Ross Valory, who must have some kind of head injury, Neal Schon, who congratulated his wife for breaking into everyone’s house all the time, Gregg Rolie, who invented Journey and was its singer until he hired Steve Perry in some kind of cruel rock n roll version of how Disney employees had to train their own cheaper replacements, and even Aynsley Dunbar, their original drummer, who meant to compliment Rick Wakeman’s speech, but instead maladroitly complimented Chris Squire, the Yes bassist who died two years ago.
Finally, Steve Perry gave his acceptance speech. Just seeing him, looking good and youthful, was amazing, and his charisma was 100% intact. He gave an energized and really funny testimonial to how it was a singer’s dream to play with such a great group of musicians behind him. Then he thanked Arnel Pineda, the dwarf who’s been singing with the guys for a couple decades already. I thought “How classy of him, gracious to his much lesser fill-in.” Then those great chunky chords that start “Separate Ways” and I was vibrating with excitement. Until … Arnel came onstage in a ludicrous clown costume and hammed it up. No Steve Perry. No explanation. Not even a guest vocal appearance. Not even during the perfunctory “all hands on deck” finale with Pearl Jam and Geddy Lee and Yes for Rockin in the Free World.
My friend and I were crushed. He wondered if it was some sort of legal thing or animosity within the band. I don’t think so. I think Steve Perry just has really high standards and knows he can’t do the songs justice anymore. They’re very hard to sing, as I know from many karaoke appearances on Don’t Stop Believing. But the crowd was just crushed. Even Alicia Keys looked disappointed.
There were many fine moments during the rest of the show: Geddy on bass for Roundabout, Snoop’s speech inducting Tupac, Jackson Browne inducting Joan Baez, Lenny Kravitz Prince tribute, the surprising power Pearl Jam was able to generate, Pharrel Williams’ wonderful induction of Nile Rodgers and Nile’s walk down his stunning memory gallery.
And some meh moments, too: ELO was way off (from what little I heard); Joan played with Indigo Girls and it didn’t work at all — badly chosen songs and the harmonies were surprisingly uninspired; the finale was overwrought (as they always are); David Letterman’s full-on “I’m in total dick mode all the time now that I’m not on tv” undid what was otherwise a heartfelt tribute to PJ; poor Jon Anderson’s voice is 100% gone; kind of a half-assed tribute to all the deaths except Chuck Berry (who got a nice one).
But one question remains unanswered: “Why is it so hard for great bands to find competent replacement singers?” There are many tribute bands that generally do a decent job on both look and feel. Even really distinctive singers like Freddie Mercury and Robert Plant — I’ve seen bands that do a great job of emulating these guys. So how come Journey has this strange man-boy ruining their stuff? Why does Foreigner allow some guy who sounds nowhere near Lou Gramm to undo its fans’ positive memories?
I think part of it is that they have delusions that they’ll continue to put out meaningful original music, so they aren’t quite looking for a replicant. And it’s lame of me to be so dismissive. In fact, Journey has recorded a few albums with Arnel Pineda and they’ve sold a lot of copies and had some near hits like “After All These Years” — I’d be thrilled to have been in a band that achieved “only” the success of post-Perry Journey.
But that doesn’t answer the question of why bands can’t seem to locate anyone with the charisma and talent of the person they replace. This fails to make rational economic actor sense. When a band is first getting together, their pool of talent is tiny — they have no money, hits, reputation, and thus very little to offer a potential frontman. And no one really knows what’s required of the singer in terms of talent, since the songs and direction don’t really exist yet.
But if you’re Neal Schon et al and can put an ad in the paper that reads “Come be the frontman for a band that’s universally beloved and here’s the tunes, can you hit these notes and look awesome on stage?” They should get a thousand qualified applicants. So how does the bad Steve Perry or bad Lou Gramm or bad David Lee Roth get the gig?
A few weeks ago, I was watching a bunch of versions of Shooting Star doing their epic Last Chance, which has held exceptional meaning for me through the years. They too hired a really awful replacement singer for the great Gary West. (Sorry, Mr. Replacement, no offense.) Shooting Star’s guitar player Van Mclain is my Facebook friend, so I tried to ask him, but he never bit. In search of the answer to why replacement singers always suck, I befriended a fellow called Glen Cutshall, who somehow got a video of the only time Gary West played with the band in the last 30 years, which occurred when they were reunited for their own RnR HOF induction, the somewhat less well-known Kansas RnR HOF.
Even though West’s voice was 100% shot and he was even weirder than he was when I saw him live at ChicagoFest in 1983, it was still so much better than the new singer. And it really is inexplicable because this goofy cover band Medallion performs Last Chance in a classic video. Even though they look ridiculous, they sound a hundred times better than the fake Gary West.
I think the solution is obvious. Anytime an 80s band that I love decides it wants to hire a replacement singer, they should use the following decision tree. 1) Probably just don’t. Call it a day. 2) Failing that, offer the job to me cuz I’m awesome. 3) Failing that, at LEAST let me have some kind of vote or veto on the eventual winner. Solved!!!
Next issue: Why do voters act against their economic interests….