There was no Santa Claus. I had come to terms with this fact at age seven.
Years later, when Adam called to deliver a similar bit of devastating news, I felt the same smack of disbelief as the night I caught dad setting up Hot Wheels tracks under the Christmas tree.
“Shut up! No!”
“Seriously. It wasn’t them. I saw their Website. It was a tribute band.”
Steve Perry had not been in front of us that night, clad in acid washed jeans, serenading the heavens. He was a hired impersonator, so were all the members of his band, and they had all manipulated me into believing I'd just witnessed the highly unlikely reunion of one of rock and roll’s all-time pretty good groups, Journey.
“No way!” I protested, “We were like 15 feet away from them. I saw Steve Perry’s mole.”
“Probably fake. Fake mole, fake mullet, fake falsetto…”
It had been the opening night after-party for “Rock of Ages,” a Broadway musical featuring the electrifying sounds of 80s hair bands. Our friend at the time, Amy, was the female lead and had offered me a last minute ticket. I attended the performance and the after-party. It was a legendary night, mostly because Journey performed. Or so I thought. What a waste of lighter fluid.
“Are you positive?” I wouldn’t let it go.
“It wasn’t them.”
When you believe in something with such vehemence, like Scientologists do, you resist accepting the truth with every fiber of your body. I continued to resist.
“What about everyone else there? They all believed it.”
Adam paused before answering. He knew this would sting,
“She knows now? Or she knew then?”
“She knew then.”
“But she was going crazy like we were. I grabbed her and screamed ‘OH MY GOD!’ and she screamed ‘OH MY GOD!’”
“This is a joke?”
“No. They’re called Evolution (release the doves!). They’re a Journey tribute band. Steve Perry was a guy named Hugo. Amy didn’t have the heart to tell us.”
Amy had held onto to the truth. Probably didn’t want to bust our bubble. I’m still wondering if it was the best decision on her part. I’d be fine not knowing forever. Maybe this was how Scientologists felt. So I went to their website.
“I can’t believe these jackasses make their living by messing with the emotions of pop/rock enthusiasts.”
“A pretty successful living.” Adam said, half-kidding.
“Well I’m going to write a letter.”
(And I eventually did.
Dear Dream Crushers,
I’ve stopped believin’. My arms are no longer open. If I can’t have it anyway I want it, I don’t want any of it.
I never sent it.)
“Jesus, I texted everyone I knew that night,” I muttered regretfully as if recollecting the moments of a black-out crack binge, “
“Yeah so did I.”
Of course we did. When (who you think is) the original line-up of Journey is belting out, “Na Na, ne Na Na nuh …” from their 1979 smash hit “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’,” you grab your mobile device and go to town, posting and texting stuff like:
“Journey's back! Full Escape line-up: Perry, Cain, Schon... I am witnessing it right now! Sucks not to be me!”
Goddam social media.
“What do I tell the people who now think Journey’s back together because of me?”
“Ahh, let it go, ”Adam countered, dismissing my panic.
“But everyone’s gonna think I’m the boy who cried Journey.”
“Why are you worried about what everyone else thinks?
Good question. Why was I worried? This was about my sense of existential loss. I needed to come to terms with being duped by a bunch of permed poseurs. Evolution (more doves!) had betrayed my memories of Journey by looking just like them. Wait a minute...
Had Evolution really betrayed me? After all, they had succeeded in recreating not just the music, the look, the everything of a Journey concert, but also my experience of being a crazed fan as a kid, which ultimately resulted in the realization that rock stars weren’t all they seemed to be – they were just a bunch of guys from the suburbs using copious amounts of hairspray and an upper middle-class music education to score chicks. Could it be that Evolution was honoring my memories? Honoring the passage to adulthood I experienced years ago when I learned that my feelings, which had seemed so intense at the time, were actually fairly juvenile and easily manipulated… kind of like how I felt that night at the after-party?
And what about my friends discovering I was a fraud? That I wasn’t the bitchin’ dude who witnessed a once in a lifetime performance? (Evolution in fact was booked fairly regularly around the country.)
Here’s how I see it.
The night of the after-party, I really was watching Steve Perry sway gently as he crooned “Wheel in the Sky.” I had believed. Just as I had believed in Santa Claus. Shouldn’t that be all that mattered now? It had still been one of the greatest nights of my life. It had still been the night Journey put aside all personal differences in the name of musical theater after-parties. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s all my social network needed to know.
“So did Amy tell anyone it wasn’t Journey?” I plotted.
“Don’t think so,” Adam replied, reflecting back, “I think she’s been trying to protect us. She did tell people Night Ranger was there.”
Night Ranger actually was there.
I continued, “So you think anyone knows we didn’t really see Journey?”
“So we did see Journey then?”
“Yeah. We did.”
“No.” I demanded, “You have to believe we saw them. Do you believe?”
“Yes, I believe.”
“Good. So do I.”