Will your Believin’ pay off for you?
What author doesn’t – at some level – dream of fame? I think most of us harbor a secret desire, if not to be a household name, to at least sell enough books to demand some serious shelf space at the bookstores still left in the world. To be booked for signings where people wait on line for tickets. To be given the chance to tell our stories and share our messages with as many readers as possible. The reality is that there aren’t many famous authors, compared to the total number of people who actually publish books. And I’ll bet if you were to ask most of them, they worked hard and toiled into many a night to earn their fame.
Such was the actual case with Arnel Pineda. He worked hard and toiled for years. But he had a magical experience – a fairytale, not-in-most-people’s-lifetimes kind of occurrence – when he was lifted from obscurity and near poverty to become the lead singer of one of the most famous rock bands in the world. His journey is chronicled in the documentary film, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey (available on Netflix). I had the joy and the privilege to see him perform live at a sold-out show at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix last weekend.
When Pineda lost his mom as a boy, he and his siblings were forced out onto the streets of Manila to join hordes of other homeless children. He was fortunate he had a skill, and often was seen singing on street corners, literally for his supper. By age 12, he made his way into a band, and began performing and improving his vocal skills. Fast-forward MANY years, after decades of travel and performing throughout Asia, to 2007, where he and his band, The Zoo, were performing in clubs several nights a week at clubs in Manila and Olongapo, Philippines.
Fortunately for Pineda, he had a raving fan in Noel Gomez, who would go to the shows and record Pineda and his band performing. Next, Gomez would head to an Internet café where he would sit for hours, uploading the videos he’d shot to YouTube, all told about 60 of them. “It was slow – sometimes four, six, maybe even eight hours to upload one video,” Gomez says during an interview for the documentary. The thing is, he believed in Pineda for a reason: the guy is really that good.
“He kept believing in me, like a fairytale dream,” Pineda says in an interview for the movie, “that one day I would be famous.” He admits he shrugged it off as a silly pipe dream.
Then, one day, the email arrived that would change Pineda’s life forever. Neal Schon, guitarist and founding member of the band Journey, had come across Gomez’s videos of Pineda’s performances. At a crisis moment after having lost their second lead singer to illness*, the band was scheduled to release a new album and had no one singing lead. After days and weeks of watching demos and reviewing YouTube videos of Journey tribute bands and singers of every stripe, Schon was about ready to give up and cancel the album because the singer they needed just wasn’t showing up. Before shutting down his computer, Schon clicked one last link, and Noel Gomez’s fairytale beliefs paid off. “Oh my God,” Schon said, “this is the guy!”
Schon emailed Gomez for Pineda’s contact info. When he called, Pineda thought it was a joke and all but hung up on him. Schon confirmed with an email to Gomez – and it took some prodding, but Pineda became convinced that Journey was knocking on his door and inviting him to an audition. He got the gig. Pineda debuted as the lead singer of Journey on February 21, 2008, at the Viña del Mar International Song Festival in Viña del Mar, Chile, and has been touring with them ever since.
Of this famous image of him with the band, Pineda says during an interview for the documentary, “It looks like someone just Photoshopped me into the picture. I’m very short and so Asian, and now I’m the lead singer of Journey.”
Pineda’s role in the band was not well accepted by all Journey fans – in fact, he received some pretty hateful anti-fan mail, at least in the beginning. But he was so philosophical, even about the racist comments. “Steve Perry was the voice of Journey. I was a huge fan, too. Without him, I could not be here. I know why they worry I could not do this music justice.”
Pineda more than does the music justice.
After Perry sang two Journey songs in a surprise 2014 appearance with a band called The Eels, Pineda was quoted as saying, “[Perry] should come back. His voice is still there. He can take over, too. It’s his righteous place, anyway.” The Filipino singer received a lot of pushback for the comments, with people doubting his desire to continue with the band. According to UltimateClassicRock.com, Pineda later tweeted: “Let me be clear. I took Journey’s leap of faith coz they generously gave it to me. Yet, I’ll never be addicted to fame.”
That was so incredibly apparent in his Phoenix performance. It would be understandable if the rocket ship that catapulted Pineda from obscurity to worldwide fame had gone to his head even a little bit. But it hasn’t. Except for the new tatted up look and shorter hair, the nearly 49-year-old singer still has his feet figuratively planted on the ground. He demonstrated this by laying down on the floor of the stage to reach across the barricade and slap the hands of about a dozen fans in the front row. What lead singer does that?
Pineda has embraced his role as the new frontman for this legendary band, dedicating everything he’s got to the job. The band’s grueling tour schedule, often three shows in four days, as was the case when they visited Phoenix, doesn’t allow much downtime or time for Pineda to rest his enormous voice. Couple that with the thought of how big the burden really is to carry a band like Journey from the brink of collapse back to one sell-out stadium tour after another. It’s not just the band that’s counting on him. Look down the line to the people employed to create and sell Journey merchandise, all the people employed by the band’s road crews, stadium employees from ticketsellers to security. Wow!
Before and during his stint with The Zoo, Pineda wrote some of his own songs, but it’s always been his renditions of other bands’ well-known classics – from Journey to the Police to Heart to Guns ‘N Roses – that have gotten people’s attention. This year, after signing a record deal with Imagen Records, he is finally poised to release his first solo album.
What’s the point of the whole story for you, an author or would-be author who may be reading this post? Am I suggesting that you might one day find your own rocket ship to fame? Eh, that’s pretty unlikely – but hey, I’m pretty sure Arnel Pineda never quite expected it would one day happen to him, so who knows?
There are takeaways, however.
(1) Show up. And do a great job when you show up.
(2) Trust your friends who believe in you. If you have a Noel Gomez in your life, thank them, as soon as you finish reading this!
(3) Believe in yourself, too. Noel Gomez couldn’t have willed this to happen for his friend if Pineda hadn’t had some measure of belief in himself.
(4) Never forget where you came from. The biggest concerts of his life happen when Pineda returns to his hometown of Manila. There, he’s not just a rock star, he’s the local boy made good.
Never stop believin’!
* Journey’s original frontman, Steve Perry, was forced to leave the band after experiencing a debilitating hip injury. He was replaced in 1998 by Steve Augeri, who was eventually dropped in 2006 because of a vocal chord injury that left him unable to perform.
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