Steve Perry Does Not Get Steve Perry

Well, my good friends, this is my final essay about Steve Perry. Or, more precisely, this is my final essay… until Steve Perry decides to actually DO something, at which point we’ll see how inspired I feel. (No pressure, Steve, really.)

And the reason I had to write one more? Well, first of all, it’s about two of my favorite things: Steve Perry and irony.  I know, who can resist?

And second, I was inspired by a very well-written and thoughtful article on a site I will definitely be exploring, The Rabbit Room. (There’s a little God-talk in there but don’t be wussies.) This particular article grabbed me with the title:

Light From Light (The Conservation of Energy in the Nicene Creed, Heat Pumps, and Steve Perry of Journey)

Well now, come ON! How do you resist a title like that? You don’t, is how.

So the gist of the article is that we live most of our lives trying to close the gap between what is said and what is understood. One excellent example? A musician who has to get a personal idea across to an audience through the performance, the recording technology, the playback technology, not to mention the zillions of political and financial nudges that affect the recording, the tiny accidents of time and place that affect the hearing…

And then of course there’s that dratted postmodernism:

The artist might be me. Or it might be Steve Perry from Journey. A friend of a friend supposedly sat down with Perry, and asked him why
he’d dropped out of music. Steve said he’s been disappointed by how ironically his band’s been re-interpreted in today’s culture. He never
meant anything as a joke, as overstatement, as bombast. He was dead serious, and if no one wants to take him and the music seriously, well
then it’s too painful to try anymore. When you listen to “Don’t Stop Believin’,” you see what he’s saying: “Some’ll win/ Some will lose/ Some’re
born to sing the blues… Don’t stop believin’/ Hold onto that feelin’.” If nothing else, that’s a work of utter honesty and sincerity. And his voice,
for crying out loud, is full of pathos. I know. Journey. Dude, it’s just Journey. But, as my wife said, upon me telling her about how Steve Perry
supposedly feels about his problem, she said, “Poor Steve Perry—bless his heart—everybody misunderstands him.” She was not, you see,
being ironic. She was as serious as Steve was when he was telling us about the shadows, searching, up and down the boulevard.

(Om nom nom! Good writing, amirite? I am.)

Now let’s be true to our roots, my people —  it’s entirely possible that this reported conversation happened not at all.  But it’s interesting either way, because it points up what may be a really basic lack of understanding at play in the world. I’ll call it The Badass Conundrum. (Because I can.)

Our friend SVB of Lover of Many, Father of None is particularly fond of using the word “badass” in reference to our Stevie, and why not? Why not indeed. She’ll take it even farther, describing with apparent straight face What It Would Be Like to Hang Out With Steve Perry:

Steve rolls up to your place at around 11a.m. in his fully restored red 1963 Ford Falcon Convertible. He doesn’t obnoxiously honk at you
from the street, but he doesn’t get out and ring the doorbell either. He knows you’ll sense his presence. That’s how good he is.
So he just sits, patiently waiting for you, bobbing his head to the sounds of Outkast being poured out of his stereo speakers. Sure enough,
within five minutes of his arrival, you in fact do sense his presence and bound out of your house and into the passenger side with the
enthusiasm of a five-year-old on Christmas day. He smiles at you, says, “What’s up?” adjusts his Ray Bans, smoothes his brilliantly
glowing man-hair and puts the car in gear.

But we are, both of us, risking misinterpretation with that kind of talk. If I say “Steve Perry is so badass!”  just what exactly am I saying, culturally?

Well, once upon a more straightforward time I might have been claiming that he is an actual badass. I probably wouldn’t have been, though, because… well… he isn’t.

Later on, in a postmodern age of caustic irony, I might have been saying: “Steve Perrythinks he’s such a badass but he is so drastically wrong that it’s really funny of me to say that he is.” That’s the kind of nastiness Steve was reacting to.  (And who could blame him?)

But SVB is not saying “Yeah, right, this is how Steve Perry spends the day, snark snark!”  I can state this as fact because I know her and she really does love the guy.  On the other hand, she’s  not saying “this really IS how Steve Perry spends the day” because the story involves a bar fight settled with a disco dance competition. Oh, and he’s a surfing master. Also there’s a baby dolphin.

What she is saying is a little more complicated, because we’re going beyond postmodernism now, we’re into the luscious arena of post-post modern double backflip irony.

Om. Om nom.

And in sifting through, we turn to John Darnielle, Effing Genius (that’s his formal title, btw) and his amazing piece about Spandau Ballet. His description of listening to Gold, their follow-up to True is about as close to a definition of ppm-irony as one can get:

I remembered that I’d bought Gold back when it came out, in the hopes of hearing something even more unbearable than True.

Back then, I hadn’t known quite what to make of it. I knew now though — it was good! It made me wonder if I hadn’t missed whole
schools of good music because their public presentations had been all wrong. Musical moves that had seemed like some very nasty
schmaltz in 1983 sounded, in 1996, like huge, gaudily passionate gestures, bravely standing up embracing themselves in preparation
for the waves of ridicule about to crash against them.
” (italics mine)

And that’s what SVB is celebrating when she writes some piece of ridiculous genius like How Steve Perry Woos His Woman. She speaketh truth in bombast.

JD wrote that analysis back in 1996, and the shift in perspective he’s describing  is even more pointed now. Because now, whether it was 9/11, or George Bush breaking the world, or simply growing up and having children and losing loved ones and facing financial ruin and realizing that, no, real life is not quite as entertainingly pointless as our flip younger selves were so happy to believe…

Now, as I say, that dismissive glare has weathered into a cheeky communal wink, NOT at the subject at hand but at ourselves, and our pointless surface-cool, at the swagger we once affected now slowing to a standstill as we wonder what the hell was so f*ckin’ funny.

It would be lovely to see in all this a return to Modernity, to a genuine belief that the world is a place of opportunity! That life is worth working hard for! and that every generation will be better off than the last!

But, come on. That kind of wide-eyed optimism really is impossible now. Not because we’re afraid of looking like goobers — oh, we’re so far beyond that — but because the cultural supports for that kind of forward motion have been so weakened that it feels actively dangerous to drop the mistrust and cynicism that have served us so well.

Back in the day, Steve Perry thought cynicism was bullsh*t.

Back in the day, Steve Perry took over stadiums with those gaudily passionate gestures.

Back in the day, Steve Perry knew for a certain fact every time he stepped on stage that someone, somewhere, was going to have a nasty laugh at his expense. He knew the critics would just have a blast tearing him apart.

And he did it anyway.

That open emotionalism, that absolute conviction, that refusal to dial it back where love and pain and desire are concerned… screw the Harley, man, that’s dangerous!

And as it turns out, we’re just not that brave.

So we overstate. We become ironic about irony. We add one more reversal to the formula, a hyperbolic flourish that does not hide but glorifies our complete and utter geekiness…

because we know this much is true, dammit…

Steve Perry is so badass.


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