They look different now. Their hair is thinner than it was, their teeth yellower, their mullets -- so many mullets, even now -- flecked with gray. They wear vintage concert shirts stretched across 45-year-old bellies, black with white sleeves, tour dates on the back.
One of them, a 40-ish blonde named Jill, left two dying cats at home and drove from the southern tip of Orange County to be here, all the way from San Clemente, a good two hours in traffic, easy. "I'm not missing this," she says. "I didn't stay home to comfort the babies, I came here, because this is for me." She will later shriek and gasp and wipe streaks of mascara from her cheeks. She will proclaim herself ready to die.
Thirty feet to Jill's left, a woman with a round nose and a fried perm clutches an old LP that she hauled all the way from Boston, all the way from 1981. Fifteen feet beyond her, a man from Myrtle Beach, S.C., holds a boombox above his head. From its speakers comes a familiar voice singing a familiar ballad, perhaps the most familiar ballad in rock history. All around him, Alabamans and Oregonians and Californians scrunch up their eyes and contort their faces and sing along, thumbs hooked through the belt loops of their faded 501s.
They're here, all of them, standing 10 deep on Hollywood Boulevard, to see something they've been waiting two decades to see.
They're here -- and here's the kicker -- they're here to see Journey.
Yes, that Journey.
Well. Sort of.
OK, not that Journey.
That Journey, the Journey you're thinking of, almost certainly no longer exists. Because chances are the Journey you're thinking of has Steve Perry singing, Neal Schon playing guitar, Ross Valory playing bass, Jonathan Cain playing keys, and Steve Smith playing drums. Or perhaps it's Perry, Schon, and Valory, with Gregg Rolie on keys and Aynsley Dunbar on drums.
Or maybe it's just Perry and four guys whose names you never knew.
One way or another, though, the odds are good that the Journey you're thinking of involves Steve Perry. That's because the Journey that involved Steve Perry was one of the most loved -- and loathed -- bands San Francisco ever produced, a group responsible for a pile of albums and songs you probably heard far more than you ever wanted to and know far better than you'd ever admit. Think Infinity. Think Departure. Think Escape. Think "Wheel in the Sky," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Lights," "Open Arms." Especially "Open Arms."
Of course, Journey existed before Steve Perry. It began here in 1973 as the brainchild of manager Herbie Herbert, a fusion band centered around Santana alums Schon and Rolie. They called themselves the Golden Gate Rhythm Section, then settled on Journey after an abortive name-the-band contest on KSAN produced such memorable listener suggestions as Rumpled Foreskin and Hippie-potamus.
But that Journey put out three albums in four years and produced zero hits, which is why Herbert hired Perry, virtually forcing him on the rest of the members in 1977. They didn't want him at first, Schon least of all. It made no sense to them. Journey was prog-rock, and Steve Perry was a crooner.
Whatever. It worked. From 1978 to 1986, Journey -- the Steve Perry Journey -- released six top-10 singles and seven platinum albums replete with futuristic cover art that managed, in less than a decade, to turn the ordinary scarab beetle into a mystical symbol of raised lighters and back-seat make-out sessions. And yet, even coming as the band did in the malodorous wake of disco, it never managed to amass so much as an ounce of cachet. Journey was huge, but it was never cool -- not by anyone's standards.
"They weren't held in high regard," says Berkeley-born Herbert with a trace of long-held frustration. "They sure the fuck weren't the Police."
"They were really unhip with the guys," Herbert elaborates, "because they weren't Ted Nugent, they weren't Aerosmith. They weren't hard enough. But if [guys] wanted to get laid, they'd better go to that show anyway, because all the girls were there. So what made us look a lot hipper than we were is that we had such a deep penetration -- no pun intended -- into the female target demographic."
"Because of the songs," he says. Then, falsetto, "'I come to you with open arms ....' You know, all that kind of sloshy stuff that the girls loved."
Hip or not, it's that Journey that has inspired the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to immortalize the band with a star on the Walk of Fame. And it's that Journey that brought them here today to see it happen, maybe 500 of them, maybe 1,000, enough to make the fire marshal reroute traffic on this stretch of Hollywood Boulevard.
Today's Journey, however, is not that Journey. It is a very different Journey. It looks like the Steve Perry Journey, and it sounds like the Steve Perry Journey, but it's not the Steve Perry Journey. The Steve Perry Journey is long gone. Steve Perry himself is long gone. And anyone familiar with the acrimonious circumstances surrounding his absence from the band knows that Perry showing up on this scene is about as likely as today's Journey playing Ozzfest. And yet they have made this pilgrimage anyway.
Typical: They haven't stopped believing.
The story, in brief: In 1984, during a break from Journey, Steve Perry released Street Talk. Buoyed by the No. 3 single "Oh Sherrie," Street Talk went platinum, certifying Perry as a solo star. When Journey regrouped to record 1986's Raised on Radio, Perry, clearly feeling his power, forced drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory out of the band, replacing them with drum machines and studio musicians.