Summer is almost upon us, and with it, lots of outdoor activities. Sports, block parties, festivals, and other places that require people and upbeat music for those people to (allegedly) enjoy. “Music” that for some reason always includes Journey’s 1981 abomination, “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
I hate this song. If my hate for this song took corporeal form, it would look like the child of Saddam Hussein and the Green River Killer. Only angrier, because it can’t escape the ubiquity of this terrible power-pop aural assault. “Don’t Stop” was used as the theme song to the White Sox’s World Series run in 2005. It was featured in Monster, the last episode of The Sopranos, and spawned a hit as a cover after it was used on Glee. Needless to say, it was also featured on Family Guy, because the show’s lazy writers will eventually use every pop-culture reference from 1978 through 1999. I wouldn’t know just how much the song has been used, except for the fact that every time people hear this song, they go out and BUY IT, generating news stories about its status as one of the the best selling digital singles of all time.
Why on earth would anyone pay money for “Don’t Stop Believin’?” I don’t believe anyone really likes this song at this point, they’re just paying ninety-nine cents for nostalgia. Or worse, their parents’ nostalgia. If you suddenly find yourself with the need to hear it, stand in a public place and wait a few minutes. And then wait a bit more after it starts, because the idiotic chorus isn’t until the end of the song. Getting to the arm-waving, eyes-closed affirmation requires a full three minutes of wading through the banal dreck of this dumb, dumb, song. And not gleefully dumb, like the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feelin” or “My Humps,” or “Let’s Get Retarded” or…well, the Black Eyed Peas in general. It’s also not intentionally dumb like Beck’s “Loser” or Phish. Just dumb, like the things that a person with low intelligence would say. A person like Steve Perry, who stopped believin’ himself, when he quit Journey – twice. Perry wrote and sang the song and only later figured out that the city boy wasn’t raised in south Detroit, but in Windsor, Canada. Look at a map. The area south of downtown Detroit isn’t in the United States. The song that is now synonymous with American celebrations is about a Canadian, the very people who believe in five down football, the metric system, and red money.
In an interview, Perry said that the song is about “looking for that emotion hiding somewhere in the dark that we’re all looking for.” That’s a great summary, given that it’s exactly what he says in the goddamned song. I never thought I’d say this, but if we’re going to go gaga over songs from the early 80s about boys, girls, and their dreams, John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” is a much better song. It’s clear that with references to Tastee Freeze and Boobie Brooks, Mellencamp is writing about what he knows. He wasn’t going to find out later he was singing about Canada. Is it possible that people in the early 80s were smarter than we were? Say what you will about parachute pants, permanent waves, or One Day at a Time, but “Jack and Diane” was number one for four weeks in 1982, “Don’t Stop Believin'” never made it past number 9. People in the 80s — people who elected a President based on the hokey positivity of “it’s morning in America” – didn’t make the song ubiquitous, we did. So the lyrics for “Jack and Diane” don’t ring the same inspirational bell. But I think “life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone” would be a great lyric to play at Wrigley Field, especially from August on.
Is anyone really inspired by this song or is it just a Pavlovian response? People tell me it’s catchy. So is herpes. Would herpes be something you could enjoy in public if it were accompanied by a hummable keyboard intro? While we’re at it, should we change it a cuter spelling, like “herpeez?” That’s beside the point. What’s really pernicious about “Don’t Stop Believin'” is that it suggests that in the face of evil street lights and nasty people, listeners shouldn’t stop believing. In doing so, it becomes the theme song for all the positive thinking nonsense that’s been spreading like blistering sores around the mouth of our culture. The infection is everywhere, from giant hoaxes and cheats like “The Secret,” Prosperity Gospel and Lance Armstrong, to research that shows all this positivity might make you feel worse, leaving you with nothing but burned feet and unprepared for setbacks. Barbara Ehrenreich even makes a compelling argument that positive thinking led to the economy tanking. (Follow the links. They’re hilarious).
So don’t stop believin’ if you don’t want. Keep company with cheats and hucksters and their hoaxes, make yourself feel worse, and cost America jobs. Why don’t you hold on to that feelin’?
But do it in private. Because the song really sucks.