Steve Perry on 'Don't Stop Believin'

Who knew back in 1981, when Journey released its inspirational, lighter-in-the-air anthem “Don't Stop Believin',” that it would be embraced by gangsters and presidential hopefuls alike? But this month alone the song set the final scene for the final episode of “The Sopranos” and served as the soundtrack for a high-profile spoof on that HBO series finale starring none other than Bill and Hillary Clinton. The latter production, on hillaryclinton.com, was part of a campaign song contest where voters cast online ballots to decide which pop hit should become Hillary's song for the 2008 presidential race. Journey's ubiquitous hit was not chosen, or even nominated, but the band's former lead singer Steve Perry is not complaining. Perry explains to NEWSWEEK's Lorraine Ali why music and politics don't mix, but Journey, baseball, serial killers and the mafia do.

NEWSWEEK: Did you know that Hillary was also using “Don't Stop Believin'” as the premier track on her own “Sopranos” spoof?
Steve Perry:
Not until the last minute.

Are you a Hillary supporter?
When I vote, it's private. You pull the curtain and nobody needs to know how you voted. I've kept that pretty personal throughout my whole life.

How about if I put it this way: is it better that Hillary used your song in her campaign drive than, say, Rudy?
I've vacillated back and forth from party to party, but I've just never been excited about the idea of a political party—whoever it is—associating themselves with a piece of music that is free, full of fantasy and for everyone to love in the backseat of their own car. It polarizes that song. Music should stay open and free and not be hijacked.

What about the use of the song in the last episode of “The Sopranos”? 
It was done so well, I loved it. Nothing could make me happier than seeing a resurgence of the music I believe in as much as I did when we were doing it. It knocked me back in an exciting kind of way.

But everybody expected some major whacking in the last episode. Weren't you wary about how the song might be used?
I held out until I knew how it would be used. It was like, “Is somebody being massacred while the song's being played?” The Thursday before it aired, they finally said, “We'll tell you, but you have to swear not to tell anybody.” When they finally told me how it was going to be used, I thought, that's way beyond awesome. Watching it that night was pretty exciting.

Did you really keep it a secret for four long days?
I swore not to tell anybody and I didn't. I was at a wedding and a friend of mine was just jacking me up for info. The only thing he got out of me was what song they were using. Then he was like, “Ah Ha!” And he starts coming up with all these scenarios: “That means . . .” I just said, “Stop, you'll never guess.”

“Don't Stop Believin'” was already making a comeback of sorts, even before it was used on “The Sopranos.” 
Yes, the resurrection started with “Monster.” They did a beautiful job making that song represent the hopes and dreams of those characters. Then it went to “Laguna Beach,” then to the White Sox.

Why the White Sox?
After losing a few games, the team were in a karaoke bar that played “Don't Stop Believin'” and they started singing it. The next day they won the game. So from then on they'd play the song before and after each game. Then they made it to the World Series. That's when they invited me to be a guest of theirs, and it was a thrill. When they won in Houston, I went down the locker room and they all jumped up and down and chanted “Steve! Steve! Steve!” I was in the band in high school. I was not a jock. My body would break too easily. So to be part of that was a long-absent testosterone boost.

“American Idol” also used “Don't Stop Believin'” for a sentimental montage of Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee moments.
Right. We get requests from them pretty often . . .

You've gone silent. Is that a painful memory?
I'd love to answer that question but I really shouldn't.

Have there been requests for you to sing the song in public again?
Yes, and I've respectfully declined at this point. Journey have been performing it with several singers since we parted ways in 1998. I could go out and do it myself if I wanted, but I won't.

Why?
I want to protect the integrity of the songs, keep them the way they were when we were together. We were good together and what we did was good. That's my timeline of the stuff that matters.

Did sales of  “Escape,” the “Don't Stop Believin'” album, jump after “The Sopranos” finale?
Well, our greatest hits went up 98 percent, and that's unheard of. I owe David Chase lunch and dinner. I'd love to personally thank him for giving such a great emotional interpretation of the song and putting in such a magical place as the last episode of “The Sopranos,” you couldn't ask for a better moment

But if you can roll with that song capping a gangster series, you must be able to see the how funny--in an oddball way-- Hillary's parody is?
Nah. C'mon. I thought, Hillary, you don't need to do this. But politics has got to have this showbiz quality in recent years, and everybody tries to give off a sense of being loose enough to have a sense of humor about themselves. I think she did accomplish that.

Are you glad your song wasn't one of the choices for her campaign song?
I personally think “Don't Stop Believin'” is the wrong campaign song for her.

Apparently, because they voted for Celine Dion's “You and I”  ...
And that's OK.

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