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Journey's Jonathan Cain Credits Success to Dad's Support After Tragic School Fire
by Pat Pemberton -
July 11, 2011

For Journey keyboardist and guitarist Jonathan Cain, 'Don't Stop Believin'' has been a creed he has followed since he survived a horrific fire as an 8-year-old child. Having escaped the Our Lady of the Angels School blaze, which killed 92 of his classmates and three nuns, in 1958, the Chicago native was determined to live a meaningful life, which he did as a musician with the Babys, Journey and Bad English.

He's had his most success with Journey, writing or co-writing many of the band's big hits in the '80s. Thanks to a resurgence of 'Don't Stop Believin'' - famously played in 'The Sopranos' finale, covered on 'Glee' and blasted in sports stadiums everywhere - Journey waged a major comeback in 2008, scoring a Top 10 album with new frontman Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer the band discovered on YouTube.

Now the band is back with 'Eclipse,' its second Top 20 album in three years. The record, partly influenced by Cain's Hindu beliefs, is a nod to Pineda and the spirit of 'Don't Stop Believin',' the song Cain introduced to the band 30 years ago.

It's been kind of a remarkable comeback. Did you guys think you'd one day be back on the charts?

To use a cliche, we wrote the song 'Don't Stop Believin'' and we never did. We knew that it would just be a matter of time 'til we'd hit it and get it right. When Arnel got in the band, we believed we had something special and we thought that people would relate to his voice, because he blew us away. And it takes a lot to blow us away - we're pretty critical.

A lot of bands that have been around a while would say something like "We hope to get back" but fans are always kind of thinking "Good luck. It's not going to happen." But you guys really did it.

We had a lot of good circumstances happen to us with 'The Sopranos' and 'Glee' choosing our song. I think it really mattered to have that kick in. It takes a lot of things to build momentum and we needed some things to line up for us.

On the new album, the first track, 'City of Hope,' has the line "Never stop believing." Is that an homage to 'Don't Stop Believing''?

Kind of. It was written about Arnel. When we were in Manila, Neal and I wrote it in a hotel room. I had these lyrics come to me, like they do, and I got inspired meeting [Pineda's] family and friends and going to places he grew up. And I thought, "This guy is the 'Don't Stop Believin'' song. He is the city boy that grew up the hard way. And he found his way to YouTube, and somehow we looked at him through a window and chose him as the successor."

You survived that horrible school fire as a kid. How did you get out of there?

I was on the first floor. It was a blessing. They turned me away when I went to sign up for school [the year before] because I had been born in February. January was the cut-off date. So I would have been on the second floor, in the flames with the rest of them. You look at that as divine intervention, maybe.

I always felt like something bigger was waiting for me out there. And my father believed it. After the fire, he looked at me and he said, "God has plans for you to do something else. And we've got to make sure that you take advantage of the opportunity to live that you've been given." So it lit a fire under me to be mindful to what had happened and not to just take it for granted.

I was never one of those kids that had wished that he had died in the fire. There were some of those kids that were like, "Why didn't I die? Why did they have to die?" I was like, "Don't go there."

We didn't have any counseling. It was really, really hard. All I can remember was that I had to move on. I had to get on with it and forget it.

I tried to go back to that school when they rebuilt it and I couldn't. I just couldn't deal with it. I said, "Get me out of here. This is the loony bin." And we were all f-ed up. I mean, all of us kids. It was complete chaos in class. I was miles away. Kids were behaving badly. Those first three years were probably so hard for the teachers. We had this brand new school, and we all had brain damage. But it teaches you to grow up quick. And then I was still pissed. My faith kind of waned.

What a place for that to happen - a Catholic school.

Yeah. I'm supposed to be a soldier of Christ. Where was Christ? Where was God? Where was Jesus? Where was anybody? How could you let this happen? When you're 8 years old, you blame God. So that's what I did. Then I worked it out as I got older. I talked to priests about it. I said, "How am I supposed to think about this?"

A lot of people from your dad's generation might not have been in favor of a music career and yet it was during the Babys that he told you "Don't stop believing," right?

It was actually before the Babys, when I was trying to make it in L.A., starving on the streets. I had come close to success, and then the bottom fell out, like it always does for people like me. I didn't know where I was going to turn. I quit the business for a while. I sold stereos, did odd jobs. I was just lost. I didn't know what to do because I had the ultimate rejection - they told me they didn't want me. And my father, I was borrowing money from him because things were tight, and I just didn't know where my rent was going to come from. He sent me the money and told me, "Stick to your guns. Don't stop believing and things will look up."

I paid him back every dollar. And the look on his face when he showed up at the Horizon in Chicago with us playing for 10,000 [people] was worth millions and millions of dollars. The wonder on his face ... When I came off the stage, he just looked at me and went, "That's what I've been talking about."

The line "Don't stop believing" has got to be like a mantra almost for you. It's so powerful.

You have to remember, he was in Chicago and I was in L.A. He could have been selfish and said, "Naw, get your ass home." He could have done that. But he didn't. He said, "This is waiting for you." He believed that something bigger was waiting out there for me. We didn't know what it was.

Even when I made the Babys roster, he said, "Ah, it's just a stepping stone to something greater." He was dead serious. And I always thought, "How do you know this?"

I was 8 years old and I sat at a bar with him. He liked to have a scotch and water before he went home to the old lady. And Pat the bartender would say, "What is your son gonna do with these music lessons?" And he'd say, "He is going to be one day a famous musician and songwriter and play for thousands of people."

You had an immediate impact when you joined Journey. How was a newcomer able to have such influence with an established band?

First of all, I knew this was what [my dad] had been talking about, so I wasn't going to second-guess it or look over my shoulder. I never looked back. I never had a doubt that I was destined to be with these guys. But what surprised me was our chemistry and how it clicked and how easy it was to work with these guys. They had a swagger, and it was contagious.

You guys have so many things in TV and film. Do you have a favorite use of one of your songs?

It's got to be 'Sopranos,' absolutely. I was riveted.

We read that you and your co-writers, Steve Perry and Neal Schon, all had to sign off on it. Was that complicated?

We knew three years before it happened. The writer of the series, David Chase, told the producers of the show, "It's going to be Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin'. I've already written the last episode," and they went, "Are you sure?" And he said, "There's no question. That's going to be the song. Once you read the script, you'll understand why." So we knew about it for a long time, and I had seen the request. And I'm like, "Absolutely, 100 percent."

What do you miss about Steve Perry the most?

His intuition. His sensibility. He had a certain panache and style that I clicked with. And there will always be that chemistry that we had. It was the most success that I've ever been associated with.

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