Streetlight People

Arnel Pineda
(image stolen from

It’s 3:AM Monday morning and I’m procrastinating again. Big consulting contract is several days overdue and I must get it done before the start of the business day. But instead I’m on youtube looking up old classic rock clips. I’ve been through the entire Queen catalogue and moved on to the Queen covers. Now I’m into the category of music that a a girl I once dated used to call “butt rock”.

I’m not sure what “butt rock” is supposed to be. I always failed that particular ex’s quizzes on the matter. Apparently, Kansas is “butt rock” but Alice Cooper is not. Neither is Foreigner, but Journey definitely is. I really don’t understand her classification system.

Anyway, speaking of Journey, this is probably old news to most of you, but have you heard that they have a new singer? I’m a great fan of powerful stadium voices, and there are few modern rock voices as petrifyingly awesome as that of Steve Perry, the founding singer of Journey.

Here we are, more than 20 years after the reign of Journey atop middle America’s “butt rock” charts. Steve Perry left the band a long time ago. They went through a few interim singers, but no one captured the public’s imagination. Then the band saw a Youtube clip of a Filipino street kid singing in the Hard Rock Cafe in Manila, and were blown away by his raw power.

Long story short, the new lead singer of Journey is the formerly impoverished, self-trained long-haired Filipino dude named Arnel Pineda. How good is he? Check out this clip from last year:

Eerie, no?

So why do I care? What relevance does Arnel Pineda have to the regular themes and topics of Deonandia? Well, for one thing, I get a kick out of how the media refers to him as “that Filipino kid”. Arnel is exactly my age, 42. He’s no kid. More to the point, he’s a 40-ish, short brown man from the poorer part of the developing world. I gotta say, that’s more than enough to get me rooting for him. In fact, his tale is a classic one of beaten-down underdog who aspires to stardom; a classic Americanesque fairy tale that, one would think, would be embraced by anyone still holding to the fading myth of the American Dream.

Arnel, you see, was the eldest of several children. His mother’s illness and early death bankrupted the family, forcing all of them out of school and Arnel, literally, onto the streets. It was music, specifically Arnel’s otherworldly voice, that lifted him from squalour, and that has allowed him to lift his family and others from dire straits indeed.

The sad part, though, as alluded to in this article, is the degree to which racism has entered the fray, even with respect to something as irrelevant as who fronts a washed up 80s band. When Arnel was announced as the new Journey singer, US fan forums across the Internet lit up with peals of protest, along the lines of “Journey is an ‘all American’ band” that should not be tainted by a singer of the wrong race and nationality. I wish I’d kept the original links; can’t find them right now.

It’s interesting and sad that nationalism continues to be conflated with race, particularly in nations, like the USA, that were constructed in the modern era from commercial and philosophical principles rather than ethnic ones. It’s further sad that so many people feel the need to conflate their artistic tastes with racial overtones.

I’m reminded of when I lived in the USA, almost a decade ago. I was on a few local dating sites back then and was constantly shocked by how many White women had in their profiles, “I prefer to date all American men, so Caucasians only, please.” My objection isn’t that someone has or expresses their racial dating preferences –that’s a personal choice– but rather the bewildering conflation of race with “all American”. It was a meme I saw and heard a lot, both in dating profiles and in casual conversation.

The same sentiment is repeated in the current “Tea Bag” movement among the American Right, whose verbiage includes the sentiment of wishing to “take back their country from the current President”. Is it not his country, too? I wonder how much of that sentiment is informed by racial prejudice, either acknowledged or subconscious; that their country is White and does not belong to a Black man, let alone a Northern, educated, liberal Black President.

So I will continue to watch the reception of Arnel Pineda carefully to see how prevalent this conflation of race with things unrelated to race becomes. Until next time, here’s Arnel’s first public performance with Journey, in Chile in 2008:

Apparently a big screen biopic about Arnel’s life is coming soon to theatres near you. It’s title? Don’t Stop Believing, of course.