Clinging to the Classics

Irony is the New Apathy, and Other Reasons Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing' is the Song of Our Generation

Nami Sung

Sachi rocks out...ironically.

When I was 14, I fell in love. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last. In fact, it wasn’t even the first time that week I had fallen in love. (Earlier things I’d fallen in love with included Jimmy Fallon, caramel apple lollipops, Jelly Roll pens, and the color cerulean.) But this was different, or at least it felt different.

While simultaneously talking to three girlfriends and a boy I liked on AIM, leaving a Testimonial on Friendster, doing homework, and watching an exceptionally good episode of “Scrubs,” a song came on that perfectly matched J.D. and Turk’s medical and emotional struggles. I moved a window on my laptop over and typed the first lyric I had heard into LimeWire, “...took a midnight train.” Immediately, a song popped up: “Midnight Train,” by Journey. It downloaded within minutes, and soon, I was IMing my best friend Rachel, who I knew was also watching “Scrubs.”

“Did you hear that song, ‘Midnight Train’? OMG WTF LOLOLOL” I exclaimed.

“It’s called ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’” she said.

And thus, an obsession was born.

Generation X had the apathy of the grunge movement, but today’s youth is happy to indulge passionately and wholeheartedly—as long as they can do so with a grain of salt. We laugh about our poor choices, triumphantly exulting in our drunken mistakes and guilty pleasures. We like the political commentary of “South Park” and “Chappelle’s Show,” but we really watch them for the ridiculous and dirty humor that follows. We like our news bundled up with jokes and regurgitated back to us by sardonic pop-culture pundits. We can fall in love on the Internet or fall in bed with a random person at a party, but deep relationships are way too passé for us. We can do 100 things at once, but have trouble doing one in depth. (If we do only one, people might think we actually care about it, and God forbid that might happen.) Irony is the easiest way of doing something without fear of being judged. Irony is safe, and we like safe.

Consider the Frat Pack comedies, which regularly spoon-feed ’80s rock songs to young moviegoers. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” had Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” “Old School” had Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” and “Anchorman” had Kansas’s “Carry On, My Wayward Son.” These songs, many of which came out before we were born, were once considered the least cool songs in American music history. Now, knowing the riffs is the mark of a true hipster. We changed our ringtones to reflect how awesomely uncool we were. And yet, we knew, if anybody tried to judge us, we could always use the safety phrase, “We’re doing this ironically.” A revolution had begun.

“Vice” magazine, practically a hipster bible, has described Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” as “the most complete use of every single second of recorded music,” going on to say, “If everyone listened to ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’ it would be a drug-free, bad-attitude-free world.” The song has been used by “Family Guy,” “Talladega Nights,” and Dave Eggers’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” It is the ultimate ADD-song, jumping around from vignette to vignette with no real story. The song starts with the tale of a small-town girl and then, suddenly, a city boy. Journey never mentions them again. This is followed by a rocking guitar solo, and then a new setting: a smoky room. What is going on? Whatever it is, it is fucking awesome. The chorus is equally frenetic: “Streetlights...people...whooaooooaaahhh.” WTF is lead singer Steve Perry talking about?!?

Perhaps our generation, with our short attention spans, is too focused on the shallowest sections of this song. Perhaps what we should be listening for is the ultimate message: “Don’t stop believing. Hold on to that feeling.” What the song teaches us is to stop searching for the next quick pleasure in the easiest way possible, to look around us and enjoy what we have now, without irony and without shame. Because, ultimately, life’s not about the destination: It’s about the Journey.

—Sachi A. Ezura ’08 is a Sociology concentrator in Eliot House. At time of writing, she has not stopped believing.