He's written some of the most memorable songs of all time with his band Journey, selling tens of millions of albums to adoring fans the world over. Now in his affecting new memoir Don’t Stop Believin’ (out today), keyboardist and songwriter Jonathan Cain speaks of the triumphs and tragedies he faced on the road to rock superstardom.
A big congratulations on your new book. I had a hard time putting it down!
I’m glad to hear that. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame [induction] was really the turning point to do it. Of course, then I had my favor from God to get Zondervan and Harper Collins to see the vision that I had for it. I had another deal on the table, but I didn’t want to write a music book because it would be a Journey book. I wanted to tell my story. I’m not the authorized biographer of Journey. Thirty-seven years of my life have been in Journey. It’s a big part of my life, but I wanted this book to be from my lens. The way I saw it, the victories and the struggles. It’s not as easy as it looks up there.
Being a guy that’s written music your whole life, was it interesting to dig into a completely different kind of writing?
Stephen King’s book On Writing was fresh on my mind. I read it, and it said "Everybody has a book in them." It just resonated. I thought to myself, "Yeah. What’s it going to be like to try to tell my story?" So I began simply. I had a laptop in front of me and I started writing that first chapter.
What year was that?
Probably 2008. But what’s interesting is that hardly none of it remains. They were little anecdotes and things. I didn’t find my voice until later when I had several editors go through it and help me. I must have written the first three chapters 10 times, and I wasn’t happy with the way it was flowing. I learned a big lesson: You show, you don’t tell. And I had to learn about writing in memoir style. It was like learning how to play the violin. And then also things like grammar and where quotations go, and trying to write decent dialogue that sounds real. I had a lot of women helping me, actually, and I spent an untold amount of money with editors, sitting down with them and learning. It was a lot of tedious time taken on my behalf. I had a guy who was a ghostwriter sit down at a bar one time and tell me, “You’ll never get it done. You won’t. You’re not a writer. You’re a songwriter. You need me.” I thought, "I don’t know you from Adam, dude, and you’re telling me I’m gonna fail?" I thought, "Alright. I’ll show you." That was kind of the mindset I took to it. So I started the book maybe 10 different ways. And then when we were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and I stood on that stage, I knew that that was going to be the beginning of the book. I finally had my intro and what had been missing, because that was the pinnacle of all those years. So I’m so glad that I didn’t get a deal before then because that really was the cornerstone to the accomplishments that we all hoped for. It’s probably one of the greatest honors that I’ve stood and accepted. Just standing up there makes you look back, and then you see from a different lens again. So I went back and tweaked it more. And then from that point on, I pretty much rewrote the book. I think I had 500 pages or something crazy and I knew I had to distill it all down to 300.
It’s a fast read, though.
I didn’t want to take anyone down a rabbit hole because I’ve read books where you think, "What are we reading about? Why are we talking about this?" There’s no point, you know? And the point of this is to inspire and to give people confidence. And I think the big message is, you’re not always who they say you are. You can wake up another day and you can be somebody else. You’re not stuck where they say you’re stuck. You’re not going to fail if you believe you’re going to succeed. When they told me back in the ‘70s I didn’t have a chance, I was like, “No, I refuse to accept that.” And it was really co-writing that opened my eyes. I wrote songs with a guy from Albert Grossman’s publisher back in the day. He wrote a couple songs with Bob Dylan - a really legendary pirate of a dude. I was at the Chateau Marmont with him sitting there trying to write a tune and he said to me just out of the blue, “You know what you need? You need some mud on you, man. You need some pain. You need to get kicked around some. You’re just too squeaky clean.” I looked at him and I said, “Yes sir, I guess you’re right. I do.” And boy, did I ever get kicked into the mud. It’s like he prophesied it and I got it full tilt, man. Rejection, rejection, and more rejection.
Everybody assumes that success cures all, but your book talks about how fame itself is not a panacea. Here you are - one of the most successful songwriters of our generation, saying you’re not a complete person just because you have a million dollars in the bank or because your songs are on the radio.
Exactly. And it’s constantly looking into areas where the weaknesses are and trying to shore them up. Honestly, when [singer] Steve Perry left the band, I had to become the lyricist, because there wasn’t anybody else doing it. So I hired a few of my friends to come in and "babysit" me through that season of building confidence and saying, “I got this.” And the more I spent time with these guys, I could just go there. I guess that’s what I always wanted. I wanted freedom and I didn’t want to doubt about what I was doing. So when the Arrival album came around, I had some friends that were very good writers that I sat down with. And that kind of got me over the hump. With Revelation, I was writing with Neal [Schon] and taking it all on, not even thinking about it or questioning it. It’s just a muscle. You’ve got to use it everyday. With my Christian music, I’m continuing to use that muscle. I just wrote like three or four new songs and I’m singing them tomorrow. People say to me, "You never stop." I say, “No, I don’t!”
To me, the book is a sort of little instruction manual that says, "No matter what you are doing, you can be working harder." I loved where you said you listened to your old songs after you had success with Journey and you said the reason you struggled previously was because you weren't ready. You asked yourself, “Hey, I like what the Eagles are doing. Why does that work?” You were always looking for answers.
Well, I’ve just been a seeker my whole life. My father gave me that drive. It’s funny because I came out of a fire of destruction and death, and my father planted a new fire in me of desire. He said, “Let this burn and let this be something that drives you.” [EDITOR'S NOTE: Cain survived a school fire as a child that killed nearly 100 of his classmates]. I went to Washington DC to speak about music in schools to several senators with Taylor Dayne, and I told my story. I said, “Without music, I would have gone crazy,” because what we saw and what we had to endure that day was just a nightmare. I don’t know how many years of therapy it’s come up. I continue to feel sorrow. Why did those kids have to go? And then you realize it was a game-changer for the entire school system around the world. That fire made everyone have to have sprinkler systems. So we became the model for fire safety in schools all around the world, which is something pretty big. So those children might have been messengers of a better way to do things. It’s just sad to know that 93 of them died.
Will you be doing a tour for the book?
Yeah, I’m doing a book tour in approximately 10 cities. It’s not a giant one. We’re also going to do some signings on the road. I’ve got books on sale at the gigs and I’m going to sign them all. I’ve also got a CD out that’s going to have all of the audiobook songs. We have over 20 songs featured on the audiobook that are autobiographical.
Are you excited about the upcoming Journey tour with Def Leppard?
Yeah, they rock. They’re cool dudes. They’ve got swagger. It’s good for us. They’re a little younger. It gives us a little edge. We can hang with those guys. We played with them 12 years ago. That’s actually when [former vocalist] Steve Augeri lost it on tour and we had to go home. It was so depressing. And then of course, Jeff [Scott Soto] sat in for the rest of the tour. He kind of came in and got us through that period until Neal found [new Journey vocalist] Arnel.
Journey just keeps on going. It's a fitting summation of your book, which is that if you keep trying and working and believing, this is the fruit of your labor. All these years later, people can’t get enough of your songs.
It’s part of the legacy, again, of what you leave behind. And to go out and represent that music is simply an honor. No matter what differences that anybody in the band has, the love of the fans, the love of the music, is far greater than anything. That is first and foremost in all of our hearts. So that’s solidarity.
For more information visit http://jonathancainmusic.com