It is telling that in the final episode of the HBO show The Sopranos, the song Don’t Stop Believing played at the series denouement. The Sopranos was a show that Black people viewed with apprehension since the first episode and that discord grew with each passing installment:
No television show is as provocative in dealing with race as "The Sopranos."
That's saying a lot, especially since the acclaimed HBO drama has never had any actors of color among its regular cast members. Yet throughout its five-season run, the disconnects, misunderstandings, and suspicions underlying this nation's tinderbox racial dynamics have been as much a part of the series as mob violence and family acrimony.
In this week's episode, Janice (Aida Turturro) was forced by her husband Bobby (Steven R. Schirripa) to attend anger management classes after she was arrested for assaulting a snippy parent at her stepdaughter's soccer game. During her session, Janice at first presented herself as racially enlightened -- she claims to have participated in the civil rights movement -- then says the bitter result of her noble activism is the sight of black folks
riding around in SUVs and blasting rap music. It was almost a throwaway line, delivered as still more proof of Janice's temper. And the black woman to whom the comment was directed confronted Janice, not about her casual prejudice, but her inability to control her anger and address its real source. Yet amid the evening's beatings, excavation of several long-dead adversaries, and jokes about Tony's ever-expanding midsection (this show's subtitle could be "Fat Guys in Track Suits") it was another one of those little "Sopranos" moments revealing how bigoted thoughts or opinions are never far from the surface.
An even better example came in last week's show, one of the best of the season. Among the various storylines -- from Carmela's futile attempts to find a divorce attorney to Vito's apparent, and shockingly revealed, homosexuality -- was a single thread running through the episode. Four characters -- Tony (James Gandolfini), his cousin, Tony B. (Steve Buscemi), Meadow (Jaime-Lynn Discala), and Vito (Joseph Gannascoli) -- blame various crimes on black men.
In each instance, a different term is used:
Tony B claims his limp was the result of a mugging by "black guys." Vito drops an N-bomb to describe the phony assailants in a concocted story about another mobster's vicious beating at a construction site. Meadow tells her boyfriend that her former paramour, Jackie Jr., was murdered by "African-American" drug dealers. And Tony continues to tell everyone that he missed a big heist -- the one that sent his cousin Tony B. to prison for more than a decade -- because he was jumped and beaten by "jigaboos," who stole his shoes and split his head open. (The episode's title was "Unidentified Black Males.")
Fitting that Tony Soprano would select the song Don’t Stop Believing out of the hundred at his disposal for the climactic scene of the show, as Journey is a band that Black people find infuriating also.
If you want to see a room full of white people clamor to their feet and arise with righteous cause, put on a Journey song. If you want to see a room full of Black people descend into the doldrums of music induced sadness, play Journey.
Looks of “What the f is this?” from the latter and looks filled with pure joy from the former will be seen as Journey is the one band that acts as the panacea for white people’s melancholy and yet has the auditory power to unnerve all Black people.
Power ballads are strictly the forte of white, big hair 80s bands and Journey has the market cornered in singing tear-jerking numbers that have accompanied more nights of copulation and – axiomatically - procreation than any other band on record.
Black people are long thought to be the standard when it comes to composing and singing hits in music that have the ability to create hysteria and adulation in crowds, yet Journey is a band with fan base that is almost entirely white and though they continuously reinvent themselves, are a group most known for their run with Steve Perry at the helm with lead vocals.
Many people believe that no music is greater to attract the most desirable group of people – twenty-something white females – to frequent a nightclub in any major city across America than rap music. The fusion of rap music with pop and R&B has resulted in a musical world where new hits are produced daily that seem largely indistinguishable from one another.
The inchoate sounds that Top 40 artists of today employ have the unfortunate result of appearing contrived, bland and unemotional not to mention rootless.
However, it is bars and nightclubs throughout America that have bands like Journey blasting from their loudspeakers that attract the most desired crowds and constantly bring in the biggest profit margins.
Throughout the south, fraternities and sororities utilize bands to play at their formals and important events and for the past decade, the most popular have been 80s cover bands. It is understood that 80s cover bands have one song in their arsenal to unleash on the crowd that is guaranteed to cause group singing and an emotional response of unparalleled quality – Don’t Stop Believing.
Black people have long wondered what the appeal of Journey is to white people and why this one band has so many popular songs that few Black people have ever heard. The reason is simple: the songs Journey performs are quintessentially Pre-Obama America, conforming to ideals that once thrived among that boring, white bread world.
Songs like Faithfully and Open Arms that bespeak a time of intense devotion to a significant other run counter to the prevailing trends of unholy matrimony that plague the Black community.
Meet me at the altar in your white dress
We ain't gettin no younger we might as well do it
Been feelin' you all the while girl I must confess
Girl let's just get married I just want to get married
Journey sings songs about never giving up and never settling for anything that you don’t deserve, especially in the glorious game of finding true love. Monogamy and the nuclear family seem to be hallmarks of white society and deep down, white people embrace the lyrics of songs performed by Journey that celebrate the search for love and the resulting joy it brings:
Just a small town girl
Livin' in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin' anywhere
Just a city boy
Born and raised in south Detroit
He took the midnight train goin' anywhere
A singer in a smoky room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night
Working hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin' anything to roll the dice just one more time
Music has the frightening ability to remind people of past experiences; some that are profoundly great and elicit joy while other memories that many wish were only fiction. The mere chords of a familiar, but long forgotten song can take you back to moments of sheer ecstasy, or to that one moment when the choice you made forever altered your future.
With Journey, white people have a band that emits timeless songs that few, if any, Black people can identify. Looking at videos of Journey live shows from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, a sea of white faces greets the band in every city.
In fact, when Journey brought in a Steve Perry sound-a-like to front the group many worried about racism on the parts of white people who wouldn’t embrace the singer:
Then, in early December, a short time after I'd heard that Journey was holed up in the recording studio, the band announced on its official Web site, journeyband.com, that it had hired Arnel Pineda, "the Steve Perry of the Philippines," as its new lead singer…
Since English is Pineda's second language - his first is Tagalog - he worked on phrasing and diction with an accent reduction coach.
When he was hired over a singer from a Journey cover band, he also had to learn to deal with an undercurrent of racism among some Journey fans.
"When there were rumors about me joining Journey, there was a lot of that," Pineda told me. "One of the worst things I read on a fan messageboard said that Journey is an all-American band and it should stay like that. But I don't care. I just say, 'Hey, grow up.'"
In this era of globalization, having a nonAmerican fronting a classic American band like Journey is an invigorating development that gives the band a new look and the possibility of expanding its fan base among Filipinos and Asians.
"We've become a world band," Cain said. "We're international now. We're not about one color. I kind of like the whole idea of having a singer like him. It's exotic."
White people won’t admit, but they love Journey precisely for the reasons the article quoted above intimates: the band is authentically Pre-Obama America. Black people know this and despite the recent addition of a third-world replacement singer (who sounds remarkably like Steve Perry), steer clear of Journey.
Worse, Steve Perry who supplied the emotional voice during Journey’s glory years is accused of using racial slurs.
Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes Journey, a band that white people of all ages adore. Black people have no idea what appeal this band has to white people, but know to seek shelter whenever Journey is coming to town or is being played in a public setting, because Journey is seen as one of the ultimate "All-American" bands and of course that terms doesn't include non-whites:
But not all of Journey's die-hard fans — and there are plenty — have embraced Pineda with open arms. When Nell, who did not want to reveal her real name, started an Arnel Pineda fan site in December, the Florida-based web developer says angry Journey fans left death threats on her answering machine. The band's traditional fanbase is mostly white and American, and some are upset that Pineda is neither. "Journey is supposed to be an all-American band," one fan wrote in an online forum