Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Don’t Stop Believin’: Arnel Pineda’s Journey

What is the ratio of jobs lost to positions gained from tweets or any other internet postings?  It must be astronomically negative.  Arnel Pineda is the exception.  Based on performance clips uploaded to youtube, he would find himself trying out for the biggest prospective gig of his career: filling Steve Perry’s shoes as the lead singer of Journey.  Ramona S. Diaz documents a true rock & roll Horatio Alger story in Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Pineda was a Filipino bar singer, barely eking out a subsistence living.  He had one super-fan posting videos to youtube.  Scouring the internet for a new vocalist, Journey lead guitarist Neal Schon stumbled across Pineda’s covers and fell out of his chair.  The other band members could hear what he was talking about, but were a little skeptical of going so far out of the box.  Nonetheless, they arranged to bring a flabbergasted Pineda over for an audition.

Presumably, a documentary about how a scuffling singer from the streets of Manila failed his audition for the big time would not get much distribution or festival play, so it is safe to assume Pineda overcomes his initial jitters and earns his shot in the band.  Diaz follows the newly reconstructed Journey as they spend their first year on the road together.  She had “rockstar” access right from the start, capturing the entire audition process, Pineda’s debut concert, and wear and tear of a punishing tour schedule.

While Believin’ is all about Pineda’s rags-to-riches story, it is a pretty effective infomercial for Journey as well.  Evidently, they started out as an early jam-band, but became more radio friendly to placate their label.  It worked.  Viewers who are not diehard fans of the stadium-rockers will be surprised by how many recognizable songs are heard throughout their sets.  It is more than just the title song, which Diaz shrewdly holds in reserve for the big climatic payoff. 

Naturally, the focus is on Pineda and his family, but founding-member Schon also gets his due and considerable camera time as Pineda’s biggest booster and a rock & roll survivor in his own right.  Audiences can tell they have real chemistry on-stage.  If their band-mates do not get as much attention in the doc, they are still reaping the rewards of a rejuvenated Journey, at least according to Billboard’s figures, ranking them at #12 on the 2012 moneymaking chart, right ahead of Elton John and Katy Perry.  The way they have also embraced their legions of new Filipino fans is also a cool subplot.

It is impossible to resist Pineda’s feel-good story, especially when you see the impoverished neighborhoods where he once lived.  It might be predictable, but is immensely satisfying.  A rare happy look “Behind the Music,” recommended both for the band’s Baby-Boomer fan base and the Facebook generation that will more likely identify with Pineda, Don’t Stop Believin’ opens this Friday (3/8) in New York at the Quad Cinema.