How are you doing? Congratulations on your upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with your former band Journey. You don’t know me, but you’ve been a big part of my life for the past 36 years. I am reaching out to you the only way I know how, in this open letter, in an attempt to let you know how much your reuniting with Journey for one night only on April 7 would mean to your fans.
My love of Journey ignited one summer afternoon in 1981, as my cousin Heather played me the new album she had just bought. Up until that point, I had yet to find a band with whom I could truly connect. But I was so taken with the most beautiful voice I had ever heard that I asked her to play it again. It was side one of the Escape album. I recognized a few of these songs from my favorite local classic rock station 102.7 WNEW, and I was transfixed. I studied the album cover and the album sleeve. The next day, I asked my parents to take me to Caldor where I searched for that strange blue, orange and red space-themed album cover art in their record section. At home, I played my new record over and over on my turntable, driving my parents slightly crazy. My favorite song was Don’t Stop Believin’. It was so melodic, so harmonic, so uplifting, so hopeful. After a bad day at school, I’d come home, put on Escape and instantly feel better. I still have that album, it still has the plastic on it from 1981 (it’s framed in my office), and listening to Don’t Stop Believin’ after a bad day still makes me feel better. So, thank you.
I soon discovered the other albums in your catalogue – Infinity, Evolution, Departure, Captured – and I was hooked. I bought them all but my favorite was Captured since when you were addressing the live audiences, I felt like you were addressing me directly, and I liked hearing your speaking voice… “We wrote a song about our hometown San Francisco, it’s called Lights…”
My best friend in seventh grade was a girl named Kim. Her parents were from England, so she knew a lot about The Beatles, but I had the pleasure of introducing her to Journey. She instantly liked your music, and it bonded us, which was great for me since no one else in my class particularly liked Journey. Whenever I tried to talk about Journey with my other classmates—all of whom either listened to classic rock like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Van Halen or Pink Floyd or New Wave at the time like Duran Duran or The Police, they made fun of me for liking such an “uncool” band. When the Escape video game came out and was advertised in Junior Scholastic, one of my classmates drew a mustache and devil horns on you and passed me the altered photo in study hall. Nonetheless, I was undeterred. By the age of 12, I learned a valuable life lesson in that I began not to care what other people thought. Journey on.
To my utter delight, in 8th grade, Frontiers was released. I’m sure I was at Caldor the first day it came out because, thanks to MTV, I knew to expect it. The first time I heard it, I cried. What happened to your voice? It was rougher, rockier. Not the silky smooth tenor I was used to from the previous 5 albums. And you had cut your beautiful long dark hair into what I now know is called a mullet. (Do you regret that hairstyle?) The next day, after a few more listens, I started to embrace the changes and love it all. I remember thinking what a huge hit Faithfully would be. I taped the videos off MTV and watched them incessantly.
When MTV announced Journey’s upcoming tour, I BEGGED my mom to get me tickets. She demurred, thinking Kim & I were too young to attend. She eventually agreed to let us go as long as she and my dad would chaperone us. To her everlasting credit, she stood in line at the Ticketmaster at the Somerville Circle while I was at my Saturday morning tennis clinic and secured us 4 seats in Section 212 at the Meadowlands for $13.50 per ticket. Kim & I were in heaven that Saturday night in May (thank you for having my local concert on a Saturday, or else there’s no way my parents would have let me attend.) Our seats were what they would call nosebleeds, but no matter, we were there and we loved every second. It’s important to note that for my thirtysomething parents, it was THEIR first concert too. My dad stuffed tissues in his ears because he found it to be rather loud. That happened to be the concert where Neal got hit in the head with a beer bottle and you stopped the concert to go off on the jerk who threw the bottle, using more colorful language than we were used to hearing at that point in our lives, even in the swamps of Jersey.
Kim & I had to wait 4 years to see you again in concert. You released your solo album Street Talk around my sophomore year. I bought not only the vinyl album but also the cassette to put it in my walkman, and spent the summer of 1984 walking around listening to it, jealous of Sherrie. Oh Sherrie, she who could inspire such a beautiful love song, with her red stockings, feathered hair and sweet smile. It was at this point my mom, trying to help me give Sherrie a run for her money, took me to a local shop to get a t-shirt made that said in velvet iron-on letters “I love Steve Perry.” Of course, I wore it everywhere. I became a member of the Journey Force Fan Club, reading every newsletter, collecting every magazine (I especially loved Circus) that featured Journey, cutting out your pictures and putting them on my walls. My room was wallpapered with magazine photos of you & the rest of the band.
By the time Raised on Radio came out right before my senior year, I would have bought an album of you singing the phone book, as long as you were back with Journey. I liked your solo album, but it wasn’t quite the same. There was something about how your voice melded with Neal’s guitar playing, and although I enjoyed the Gregg Rolie years, I felt that the addition of Jonathan Cain really brought the band to an iconic level none of you had probably ever imagined, except in your wildest dreams. And I loved the songs you all wrote together.
Due to my elite status in the Journey Force, I was eligible for floor seats in a ticket pre-sale for the Raised on Radio concert coming to the Meadowlands in late October of 1986. Luckily, I could drive by then. I had gotten my license 27 days earlier, and, even though this concert was on a Tuesday, since I was a senior, my parents released the reins and let me and Kim go alone. The night of the concert was a snowy fall night and a bit of a blur of excitement, but I do remember one thing. I turned to my best friend, as we stood on the wobbly folding chairs in the 17th row to see the stage, knowing the next year we would be separated by college and by distance and I promised her, “The next time Journey tours with Steve, no matter where we are or what we’re doing in our lives, we’re going to be in the front row!” That was our version of best friends forever, our senior year of high school.
I didn’t think my promise was going to be so hard to keep. I saw you twice on your For The Love Of Strange Medicine tour, from the front row of the Beacon Theater. You might remember me: I was the blond who touched your knee through your ripped jeans while screaming “Sing Stay Awhile!” I know, I look vaguely familiar.
I’ve seen Journey in its various newer post-Perry incarnations so many times I’ve lost count – with Steve Augeri, once with Jeff Scott Soto, but especially with Arnel Pineda, who gives it 110% every time he’s up on stage. I would close my eyes when he sang the biggies (Faithfully/Open Arms/DSB) and admit he does an amazing job but he’s not you. Two years ago, I put together a girls’ weekend in Vegas with my college roommates who had never seen Journey with me, and it was fun, we sang along to all the songs I had played from Journey’s Greatest Hits endlessly throughout college, but we all drank a bittersweet toast to Steve Perry: wish you were here.
I will not pretend to know you, your current life, your motivations, or anything that happened with your bandmates. I saw the Behind The Music where you said you never really felt a part of the band, I’ve read articles where you said the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be a nice honor but it’s unneeded since you already got your validation from the fans. I read what you wrote about your great love whom you lost to cancer, and I cried. I do know you relish your privacy and avoid social media. I also know several of your bandmates have tried to reach out to you recently to no avail. You are a mysterious man, Mr. Perry, and I appreciate that.
Here’s what I would say to you if I had the pleasure to run into you at Whole Foods, the bowling alley, the movie theater, at a Giants game, or a Starbucks – which it seems everyone I know in LA but me has done – so I say it instead in this open letter: Please reunite with Journey for one night on April 7 for your Rock Hall of Fame Induction. Thanks for the memories, but please make us all one new one. Please go to the ceremony, get on stage, and sing 3 songs with Neal, Jon, Steve & Ross (my suggestion: Anyway You Want It, Faithfully and Don’t Stop Believin.) Nobody cares that you are 68. Nobody cares that your voice might be a little out of shape or weathered with age. Nobody cares that it’s a one night only affair. You are Steve Perry, leader of a legion of believers, the (once) young, the lonely, the faithful. Forget the critics. You never listened to them anyway. Do it for yourself, do it for your legacy, do it for nostalgia, do it for your former bandmates who want this as much as I do, but, most of all, do it for your old and new fans whose eyes well and whose hearts swell when we hear you hit those soaringly familiar notes intertwined with Neal’s guitar, Jon’s piano, Ross’ bass and Steve’s drums. Do it for me and Kimi, who are still best friends after all these years. Just let us know enough in advance so we can figure out how to get tickets.
It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.
~Ursula K. Le Guin