Neal Schon’s blood froze in his veins as he watched a grinning Jonathan Cain lead a Mar-a-Lago ballroom crammed with MAGA celebrities in the chorus of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Schon is the only original member of Journey, the arena rock band he founded in 1973. In its early years, Journey won a small but devoted fan base in the San Francisco Bay area playing jazz-influenced progressive rock. But when the golden-throated Steve Perry signed on as the band’s lead singer in 1980 and Jonathan Cain took over the keyboards a year later, Journey was ready for the big time. To appeal to a mass audience, you needed a sound that appealed to as wide a swath of listeners as possible.
“Don’t Stop Believin’” began as a word of encouragement from Jonathan Cain’s father. Steve Perry helped maximize the song’s appeal by imaging a small-town girl and a boy from South Detroit who both “took a midnight train going anywhere.” The midnight train appears to be whatever allows you to “hang on to that feelin’.”
The midnight train is what theologian Paul Tillich called an “ultimate concern.” It is Cicero’s summum bonum, the highest good. The midnight train is what Anselm defined as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” It is Gollum’s “precious.”
The midnight train could be God but is more likely to be a squalid substitute. And once you climb aboard you will ride that train until you die or the train runs off the rails. Like the song says, “it goes on, and on, and on, and on.”
“Don’t Stop Believin’” established the template for a monster 1980s hit factory. But as arena rock was gradually eclipsed by grunge, hip-hop and synthesizer music, groups like Journey were edged off center stage. The fans still came out to hear the old hits, but their new music was largely ignored.
Then David Chase, producer of The Sopranos, decided to use an old pop song as background music for the final scene of the final episode. It had to be something a guy like Tony Soprano would like. And it had to be a song that produced a strong visceral response (positive or negative). When Chase said he was considering “Don’t Stop Believin’” his crew groaned and begged him to pick a different song. Chase knew he had his number.
“Don’t Stop Believin’” is now the most downloaded song produced in the 20th century, drawing more attention than anything the Beatles or the Stones produced. That being the case, you can understand why Neal Schon’s soul ached as he watched a video of his bandmate performing the song for the crowd at Mar-a-Lago.
The first person to appear in the video was Newt Gingrich, speaker of the House of Representatives in the mid-nineties. Prior to Gingrich, politicians in both parties played to the base during primary season, then went after the widest possible audience in the run-up to the general election. It was like Journey’s shift from niche music to corporate rock.
But Gingrich taught that to win elections you appeal to the base and forget everyone else. You pour gasoline on simmering coals of racial, regional and religious resentment. You associate “liberals” with crime-ridden big cities, socialism and godless secularism. Then, when the faithful are mad with rage, you sell yourself as the midnight train going anywhere.
In the course of a political career stretching back to 1978, the thrice-divorced Gingrich repeatedly was accused of marital infidelity. According to a close associate, he asked his second wife for an open marriage, then divorced her because “she’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the president. And besides, she has cancer.” So long as he was bludgeoning his opponents, nobody cared. In 2012, when a debate question alluded to his marital track record, Gingrich earned a standing ovation by feigning outrage.
Like everyone in attendance, Gingrich bought his ticket to the exclusive Mar-a-Lago event by endorsing Trump’s Big Lie. In the video, Gingrich tries to engage the host in conversation, but Trump’s attention appears to be locked on the stage where Kari Lake, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Kimberley Gilfoyle are impersonating the Supremes, all three auditioning for the role of Diana Ross. Swaying seductively, they’re belting out the chorus to “Don’t Stop Believin’” as if their very lives depended on it, which, in a way, they did.
Kari Lake is one of the Trump-backed candidates who underperformed in the November election. But like her mentor, Lake is claiming election fraud. Do Trump and Lake believe it? It doesn’t matter. The outcome feels rigged because they lost. This boundless sense of entitlement is their midnight train to anywhere.
Lake wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t that long ago, her friends say, that she identified as Buddhist and was smitten with Barack Obama. Her transformation began in her days as a reporter at the Phoenix Fox affiliate. Her audience, she gradually discovered, possessed an infinite appetite for outlandish and controversial stories. As she developed a hard-right, attack-dog persona on social media, the response was electric, particularly when she signaled her unqualified support for Donald Trump in 2015. The more “fringy” her posts, the greater the response. It was addictive. When Lake decided to run for governor, she ignored her Republican opponents, focusing all her fire on her Democratic opponent, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
Adopting a “God, Guns and Glory” campaign mantra, Lake’s assault on Hobbs grew more extreme by the day.
“We cannot let (Hobbs) win this race,” Lake told the crowd at one of her rallies. “Frankly, I think she should be locked up.”
After four years of Trump, the audience response was predictable: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”
When Hobbs declined to debate her media-savvy opponent, a Lake victory seemed all but assured. But as the vote trickled in over three agonizing days, Hobbs maintained a slim but unsurmountable lead. In 2020, Lake had been at the forefront of Arizona’s “stop-the-steal” campaign. But when she applied the same tactic to her own campaign, few rallied to her side.
However, at Mar-a-Lago she was sure to receive aid and comfort. Once on the midnight train going anywhere, there is no easy way to disembark.
Kimberley Guilfoyle, one of the women sharing the mic with Lake, had experienced a similar transformation on her way to MAGA celebrity. Guilfoyle was working as a prosecutor in San Francisco when she first met Gavin Newson in 1995. Two years after their 2001 marriage, she worked on Newsom’s successful mayoral campaign in San Francisco and Slate was calling them “the new liberal power couple.”
But when Guilfoyle’s career as a CNN legal analyst forced her to spend most of her time on the East Coast, the marriage began to crumble. Newsom ascended to the governorship in 2011, a position he still holds. After moving from CNN to Fox in 2006, Guilfoyle’s political views lurched rightward. She had found her midnight train.
In 2016, when Gretchen Carlson accused Fox CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment, Guilfoyle leapt to her boss’s defense. But Guilfoyle’s tenure at Fox ended in 2018 when her female assistant accused her of the same offense. Among other things, the Fox celebrity was accused of forcing her assistant to view “junk pics” of Guilfoyle’s sex partners. The lurid accusations never were adjudicated in court but, following a months-long internal investigation, Fox News quietly dropped Guilfoyle from their roster and paid her accuser $4 million in compensation.
By this time, Guilfoyle was dating Donald Trump Jr., an old friend who was estranged from his wife, Vanessa. The move from Fox News to the Trump family was a matter of moving from one car on the MAGA’s midnight train to another. Guilfoyle was named Trump’s unofficial ambassador to Catholics, a position she relished due to her deep adoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Marjorie Taylor Greene
After marrying in 1995 and giving birth to three children, Marjorie Taylor Greene had lived a thoroughly apolitical life. Raised in a Catholic family, she was baptized into a non-denominational megachurch in 2011.
When her interest in religion began to flag, Greene was drawn to the rigors of CrossFit training, eventually opening her own center. After two lengthy affairs with men in the CrossFit community came to light, her husband filed for divorce, but the couple eventually reconciled.
Then Donald Trump descended his golden escalator, and Greene was mesmerized. Shortly after Trump’s election, she clicked on a #SavetheChildren hashtag that led her to a QAnon site. To her horror, she learned of a Democrat-run pedophilia ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza shop. She discovered Bill and Hillary Clinton were involved in the murder of John F. Kennedy Jr., and that Hillary had murdered a child with her bare hands so she could use the blood in a satanic ritual.
If this stuff was true (and Greene knew in her heart it was) she had found her calling.
“Have you guys been following 4chan? Q? Any of that stuff?” Greene said in a Nov. 2017 social media post.
“Q is a patriot,” she assured her rapidly growing online community. “He is someone that very much loves his country, and he’s on the same page as us, and he is very pro-Trump.”
In 2020, with vocal backing from GOP officials like Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, Greene ran for Congress and won in a landslide. When her colleagues picked up on past statements in which she embraced 9-11 conspiracy theories and denied school shootings had actually occurred, she was immediately stripped of her committee assignments.
It didn’t matter. With each new tweet, her following grew. Trump’s approval was all she cared about because it was all that mattered to her base. The momentum behind the midnight train she was riding seemed infinite.
Jonathan Cain and Paula White-Cain
The last few seconds of the Mar-a-Lago video are dominated by a beaming Jonathan Cain. In 2014, the Journey keyboardist met Christian television star Paula White on a Southwest Airlines flight. A year later, Paula and Jon divorced their partners, joined hands and jumped on a midnight train going anywhere.
Three years later, Neal Schon was horrified to see publicity shots of Cain and two of his Journey bandmates being feted at the White House. Cain’s photogenic wife had delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration and, by the time of her husband’s White House visit, she was effectively running Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council.
White’s ascendency was no accident. In 2002, Trump had invited White to visit him at Trump Tower after seeing her perform on television. She had the “it factor,” he said. She knew how to work a crowd.
Most of the high-profile preachers on Trump’s advisory council viewed women preachers with suspicion. But if they wanted access to the White House, these men had no choice but to work with Paula White. Like Journey in 1980, she was making a strategic move from a niche market to the MAGA big time.
In 2019, confident that Trump would be re-elected the following year, White announced that Brad Knight, her son, and his wife, Sarah, would be taking over as pastor of her Florida church. Recovering from the shock that her conduit to the White House had evaporated, White quickly switched course. Check out the congregation’s website these days and it’s all Paula White-Cain and her rock star husband.
Although he still identifies as Journey’s keyboardist, Jonathan Cain has emerged as an artist in the contemporary Christian music field. At every opportunity, he lets it be known that all the big hits he co-wrote with Journey were dictated, word-for-word, by the Holy Spirit. Which is why Neal Schon was so disturbed to see “Don’t Stop Believin’”associated with a form of political religion which, although wildly popular with the MAGA faithful, is anathema to most Journey fans.
In late December 2022, Schon fired off a cease-and-desist order demanding Cain stop using the band’s iconic song in political and religious settings.
With Journey’s 50th Anniversary Tour scheduled to begin in late January, fans are wondering how, with the rancor between them at fever pitch, Schon and Cain could possibly stand to share a stage. But the two men have been feuding over much the same issue ever since Cain and White blended their personas in 2015.
On New Year’s Eve, the two men were at Times Square performing “Don’t Stop Believin’” at “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.” Having hopped on the same midnight train 43 years earlier, they have little choice but to keep riding. Like the song says, “it goes on, and on, and on, and on.”
The unsavory fact is that all the folks featured on the Mar-a-Lago video (together with white American evangelicalism, and the Republican Party) have clambered aboard Donald Trump’s midnight train and are destined to ride that train until, in the fulness of time, it hurtles off the rails.
One thought on “Don’t Stop Deceivin’: A Mar-a-Lago video unveils an American Apocalypse”
This one was a bit of a struggle. Being a musician, I can remember playing that song. I’m happy to hear that Cain became a Christian. I’m reticent to speak for God on any other person’s faith journey; certainly, mine cannot be called perfect. Yet to sell out to MAGA, to bow down and worship that train … I cannot help but wonder … was it God or was it Gold?
I joined in supporting Christian music in the church because I wanted to make the music enjoyable and I’ve played my heart out in worship. For me, singing hymns is how I do tedious jobs with a spirit of joy. Yet listening to CT’s The Bulletin this week, the observations kind of called into question how the whole idea of improving the music. Now I see this. My heart is for Jesus, not for this kind of stuff. I sure hope that I am serving God through worship.
The “Midnight Train to Georgia” is the image I have of the midnight train. It’s a song about a man’s broken hopes, yet at least someone plans to stay with him. There is riding the train to Gloryland. Yet how do we know which train that is? Many questions.
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