Posted May 2018
Quick: Who can tell me what the best-selling digital track from the 20thcentury was?
Well, if you cheated and looked it up on the internet, you’d probably see that Wikipedia has indicated that it is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” with over seven million copies sold in the U.S. alone.
Co-written by Journey guys Steve Perry, Neal Schon, and Jonathan Cain, the tune immediately inspires and motivates whenever and wherever it’s heard. It’s not at all a stretch to say that it’s become an anthem to many.
I first had the privilege of interviewing co-writer, Jonathan Cain, seven years ago (here). At that time, we talked about the band, their then-soon-to-be-released album, Eclipse, and a memoir that he was working on.
Fast-forward seven years.
The memoir, Don’t Stop Believin’, was recently completed and it was about that book that I was given yet another amazing opportunity to chat with Cain. After weeks of trying to get our schedules coordinated, he was kind enough to squeeze in some time to chat with me just before he headed out to church with his wife of three years, Reverend Paula White.
Since our time to chat was short, I cut right to the chase by mentioning that I remembered him talking about working on his book and wondered if he felt about the finished product.
“Yeah, it’s been quite a journey – no ‘pin intunded’ – it really has been a journey. I learned a lot. I must’ve re-wrote this book ten times, you know? But, really, getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame changed my whole focus. From the lens of that, it was easy to look back and see how to tell the story. I think that really needed to happen before the book could come together the way it came.”
When I asked if he had to do a lot of re-writing, he shot back:
“Yes, sir! A lot of re-writing. Once I got the new outline and I sat down with some really great editors from the Zondervan group, we went to it. They were very comfortable and understanding in what I was trying to do and what we wanted to accomplish with the outline and structure of how we wanted to tell the tale; the most effective way to take a listener on that sort of journey I was on and still am. Ha! Ha!”
I asked what he hoped people would take away from the book when they finished reading it.
“You know, I hope it gives them a sense of – they get confidence. They get hope. You have to continue to walk because you may have a good season and make a million dollars. That doesn’t mean anything. This seeking – you can always be better. I feel that there’s always a way to improve. I kept looking and searching for ways I could get better and be more affective. I learned how to engineer my own records, write my own songs, and became very independent. But that took a lot of work.
“Eventually, I learned how to tell my own story, which took a lot of work. Just because you can write a song doesn’t mean you’re cut out to be a writer. I learned where my voice was at. I learned a lot about grammar. It was like going back to school, again, really. I always sort of rambled on at school when I was writing. When I took English, I had a teacher who reminded me to ‘stay within the outline, Jon!’ I can still remember the teacher’s name who was so encouraging; encouraged me to continue to write. I ended up being the editor of our newspaper. I had actually been accepted into Northwestern University in the School of Journalism. I’ve often wondered what my life would’ve been like had I went that route.
“But all that just goes to when I wanted to write songs, I focused in on that early on. I realized I wasn’t going to be a virtuoso. But, I think in the end, it’s confidence, perseverance, it takes work to get somewhere. Just because you think you got somewhere doesn’t mean that’s the end result, as my father said. It’s just a stepping stone. That was his big line: ‘It’s only a stepping stone.’ I’m, like, ‘Dad, how far do I have to go to prove it to you,’ and he’d go, ‘I’ll tell you when you get it.’
“When Journey came along, he looked at me and said, ‘That’s what I said. That’s what I meant. That’s what I mean.’ Pretty cool, Dad. That’s why I dedicate the book to him.
“It’s also, I hope all the young fathers out there take note and pay attention to the gifts your child has the way my dad did and lift them up in those areas they’re excelling in and recognize it. Give them confidence it’s possible.”
Cain makes it crystal clear in Don’t Stop Believin’ that his dad was a huge influence and encourager to him. I asked him how he thought his dad would feel about the book.
“It is a legacy of our family; of the generations that he was part of. He brought me to the fiddle with my grandfather and it turns out that my great grandfather played the violin. My uncles played. So, that legacy that he shared is well represented in the book. I’m only a part of him so I think he would be very happy with it.”
During our first chat, Jonathan talked a bit about the infamous Our Lady of the Angels school fire back in 1958 when he was an eight-year-old student at the school. Tragically, ninety-five people perished in that (ninety-two kids and three nuns). It was clear in the first interview that the fire still scarred Cain. In reading the book, he clearly articulates his thoughts and feelings about that tragic day. I asked him if writing about it was cathartic for him.
“You kind of understand it and accept how it changes your life; how out of pain something new is born. It’s in the Bible. There’s a Scripture that says, ‘Out of pain something new is born’ (Isaiah 66:9). That’s exactly what happened. There was a fire – a different kind of fire, if you will – that my father planted in me that was one of desire and not of destruction and death and sadness and sorry. And it’s like, ‘Here, learn this way. I got a plan.’ The Lord showed me it. What are you going to do, you know?
“I think out of the ashes God can do something beautiful. I think that is the message of life, you know? These ashes will be turned for good. ‘They’ll be something good, Jon, come out of this.’ I just had to believe it, wait, pray, work, focus, and win when I could. And it wasn’t always easy.”
In Cain’s book, he mentioned an acquaintance of mine: renowned concert promoter and fellow Chicagoan, Danny Zelisko, who had this to say about the Journey keyboardist, whom he’s known for a lot of years and whether or not he’s changed:
“Well, I don’t know that he’s changed. To me, he’s pretty much the same guy he’s always been. We met originally – I did a show with his ex-wife. He was in Journey, but I wasn’t promoting Journey, yet, because there was another promoter that had the booking relationship with the band. Their old agency asked me to do a date with his wife. We did it at a place called in Tempe (AZ). I think it was called, ‘After The Gold Rush’. It used to be Dooley’s.
“We got on real well. God, I think I met him when he was with the Babys. I don’t think we got into anything, then. But, anyway, he grew up not far away from where I grew up in Illinois. We shared a lot of Chicago stuff. We’ve always gotten on real well. His mom was my – she’s dead, now – but she was my daughter’s godmother. He bought them a place not too far away from where I live. At one point, he asked me to help his dad get a job out here because they had to move because his mom was sick. Through a guy I knew at the New Times, I got him a job. They moved out here. She looked after my daughter all the time, his mom. Very, very much family stuff. Not your typical seeing a rock star whenever he comes to town or when you do a show with him. He was in and out of Phoenix all the time because of his folks living her and his brother also lived here. He’s always been a really good friend to me.
“It was interesting, when they decided to get back together and have a new singer, I don’t think they really knew at the time how many other groups would follow and do the same thing. People like to think that there’s no replacing certain members of a band but here’s a classic example of proving it wrong.”
Jonathan had this to say about Danny:
“Oh my god! He became part of the family! He settled my parents in Phoenix. He found them a condo. He’s almost like a brother. He’s an only child – he may have a sister – but we became brothers, in a way, and I still consider him my Chicago brother. I treated him to the World Series last year. We just had a blast.”
Since we last spoke, Jonathan’s spiritual walk seems to be much more prominent and devout. I asked him what would he like fans to know about that walk?
“I want people to know you are worth. I want fans to know this isn’t about religion. God isn’t about religion. It’s about the light and the hope and the love. He’s not an angry god. He’s not a judging god. He’s a good god. You can always return.
“I guess I went off line when I kinda stumbled. I couldn’t find a way back. I didn’t know how to get back. I was kinda just stuck. I think when I met Paula (Pastor Paula White, who is now Jon’s wife), she saw something. She saw that desire. Being a pastor, she said, ‘There’s a light on you. You’ve been running and it’s time to stop running.’ I did! My question for her was is it possible to have the love of Christ I had when I was seven years old. Is it possible? She seemed to think it was with prayer, with repentance and sacrifice and work, I can get back there and be the kind of guy that my father raised; that my father would be proud of. He loved Jesus Christ with all his heart. A pray-er and a proud man. I want to go out like him. I want to go out with the love of Christ and to be a disciple; to be a game-changer and kingdom builder; and to leave a legacy to him because of the way my father loved the Lord.
“So, my point is that it’s never too late to return. He’s always there for you. He’s been there in the background. I tell people it’s like He’s pays for the suite that you’re in; he makes sure you got room service; He makes sure your room’s clean; and you just thank Him. He pays all the bills.
“Just thank Him. Tell Him you love Him. Every day. It’s got to be every day. It’s gotta be every hour. I’m constantly thinking about the Lord and the goodness that He’s brought to my life. Just the miracles that I’ve seen happen. The book is a miracle! I gave up on that thing. I was just at the end of it with it. It was like, ‘Just try again, Jon. Something’s out there.’ It’s almost like my dad telling me, ‘Don’t stop believin’’ – one of those deals. So, I did, and I made the right phone calls and I had the right people around me. The lawyers queued together on this thing.
“Man! Wait until you hear the audio book! It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard because I’d written these autobiographical songs all these years and it came out on an album and I don’t think anybody knew what to do with it. Now, with this book out, they all matter big time. I’m putting out a CD, as well. There’ll be a CD that goes with the book on iTunes. It’s called, ‘The Songs You Leave Behind’ which is the theme of the book. It’s in the audio book. Of course, it’s what I want the readers to go away with.
“They say, ‘Well, what’s the take-away from writing that book?’ I wrote the song. It’s all I know how to do is put it in words and I think it came out pretty darn good.’”
Right after the release of Don’t Stop Believin’, Cain will hit the road with Journey for a monster tour with none other than Def Leppard. I asked him what fans could expect from those shows.
“A lot of energy! We don’t mess around. With Def Leppard is on the same bill, this band’s gonna rock! It’s gonna rock hard! It’s gonna be a great set!”
As I’ve begun asking other artists of his stature since I last spoke with him, I asked Jonathan how he wanted to be remembered and what did he hope his legacy will be.
“I want to be remembered as the guy who wrote the songs that helped people dream; that helped people stay in love; that helped people have a positive effect on their life. I was the soundtrack to a lot of people’s growin’ up years. I think I was part of a musical movement that was unique; had its own sound; had its own style. I was faithful to it. I put in the time and that’s what this book sums up. It sums up the whole the ‘thank you’ to all of the people who made us who we are today. That’s all. Just a grateful, creative guy who loved his kids; who loved God; loved his wife; loved his music.”
And what’s on Cain’s radar for the next couple of years?
“I’ve got another Christian album in the works. Who knows with Journey? We might kick around some songs. Maybe get to recording something, you know? I’ve got some ideas that I’ve been sketching out. I don’t know. I’m just going to let the Lord take me there.
“I know with this Christian album, I want to do more stuff in that arena. Work on getting my voice right. Just focus in on being the best praise and worship leader I can be. I’ll be reaching out. I just wrote the title track last week. I’m going to call it, ‘Unleashed’. It’s got some warfare. It’s got a little bit of everything. It’s gone to the next level of my worship. It’s very cinematic and bold.”
Keep up with Jonathan Cain and the band at JourneyMusic.com.