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Spin Cycle (2.27.07)

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Wednesday, 28 February 2007
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Last week, I was invited to a party at the home of someone I didn't know. The party was technically an "after-party" which didn't get going until 2:30 a.m. Most of us had been at a bar earlier, drinking Jack & Cokes and trying not to wither beneath the Friday night San Fernando Valley infiltration of Hollywood. The after-party was hosted by a fellow whose name I never got, but who had a DJ set-up complete with dual turntables plus iPod, as well as some pretty sweet instruments that looked Indian or Moroccan in origin. When I arrived, a couple of shaggy-haired hipsters were bubbling in the hot tub—their fragile, pale chests bobbing like buoys.

Since the party was taking place post-alcohol purveyance timing, everyone just brought whatever they had handy. For me, this meant a mostly empty bottle of Jack Daniels, which I carried around the party like I was Nikki Sixx. Within moments of my arrival, a fresh-faced young lady sat down at the piano in the entry way and started banging out the opening notes of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin’." I ran to her side. As did the rest of the party-goers.

"Just a small-town girl….living in a LONELY WORLD…"

Men, women, hipsters, rockers…we all gathered around the piano and sang at the top of our lungs. I swigged my Jack and belted, "She took the midnight train goin…a-ny-where."

As the crowd expanded and more voices joined on the chorus, I realized that Journey is the 30-something's sing-along. Gathered around the upright, we've traded one Perry (Como) for another (Steve). It's a song that no matter where you are, people of our age-group will sing out strong—unashamed of our undying knowledge of the 20-year-old lyrics. None of us probably slip Escape into the CD player any more, but most of us know it better than the Star Spangled Banner.

1981 heralded my first year of junior high. It was a year in which I had won "best costume" at the Halloween rally for dressing as a pubescent Playboy bunny. That costume also resulted in a boyfriend named Travis, who I made out with on a lawn the next day and then we broke up one week later. That same year, I had discovered what "second base" meant at a coed birthday party and slapped a boy across the face for calling me a "slut" when I wouldn't go to said base with him. 1981 was also the year that I became a member of the juvenile chain gang known as the Columbia Record and Tape club.

The ads were enticing. Stuck in the middle of your favorite Rolling Stone or Creem, the 2-sided card listed all the hits of rock and pop radio. And ten of them could be yours for only a penny! You actually scotch-taped the penny to the post card and mailed it in alongside a collection of tiny little postage stamp album covers. Then you only needed to buy "4 more albums in the next two years to fulfill your contract!" They didn't tell you that the cost of one of these "contracted" albums would end up being thrice the price of a copy at Tower Records or that they would send you records like the Chariots of Fire soundtrack without your asking. Lots of kids figured out early on that contracts with minors are invalid and never had to actually buy those additional 4 records. Unfortunately, I didn't learn that fact early enough and even when I did, my mother wouldn't let me renege on the deal anyway, forcing me to purchase a Men at Work album for approximately $37 to finally get the Columbia monkey off my back.

But that initial penny purchased some of my favorite albums of 1980–81: Foreigner 4, AC/DC – Dirty Deeds, The Kinks – Give the People What They Want, Rush – Moving Pictures, Van Halen – Fair Warning, and somewhat embarrassingly, REO Speedwagon –High Infidelity. On cassette, no less. 1/10th of a penny also procured Journey – Escape for my collection that year. And I played "Open Arms" one too many times on my boom box on the family trip to Arizona, swooning over David K (that week's boyfriend). And an entire night of rewinding "Who's Crying Now," was just about the recipe to mend (or embellish) a broken teen heart.

Two years later, Journey released Frontiers, a far less superior album to Escape which contained the power ballad "Faithfully." While most of us slow-danced at one homecoming or another to that song, it didn't have the sorrow and schmaltz of "Open Arms," and there was no track on the record to remotely rival the anthemic "Don't Stop Believin’." Thus, throughout high school, "Don't Stop" remained on mix tapes and blaring from rock radio as we drove around with the windows down and a Super Big Gulp of Dr. Pepper wedged between our knees.

I was always sort of enthralled and amazed that such a powerful voice came out of tiny, unfortunate-looking Steve Perry. But it did. And it rocked. As the years rolled by, Journey became a joke—if you wanted to embarrass your friends, you asked if they were late due to their sitting in the driveway getting teary-eyed to Journey. It seems farcical to me that the original members of Journey are touring without Perry, having replaced him with another Steve (Augeri) who attempts to wail with the same level of hunger and prowess that we all embraced in the first Steve. But he falls short. And the new music doesn't drive you to make out on front lawns or scream from the open windows of your car.

But, we will always have our own Escape. Just put $1 in the jukebox and listen for the tinkling piano keys surging toward the verse we all know. Look around you at the grinning faces, raising their glasses. There will be laughter, and the occasional catcall. But, in a moment, it will be 1981 again and the voices will raise in our own Hallelujah Chorus. And we'll Journey to a time of pegged jeans, fringed boots and fluffy hair. And we'll take the midnight train….going a-ny-where.

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