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Journey’s Jonathan Cain writes of escaping Our Lady of Angels fire, writing hits

Jonathan Cain performs with Journey during a 2017 show in Las Vegas. | Getty Images

Sometimes it’s impossible to ignore the obvious play on words because it really has been quite the journey for Jonathan Cain, the Chicago native best known for his songwriting and keyboard work with the mega-successful rock anthem band Journey.

In his new memoir “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Cain, 68, chronicles a path that includes surviving the deadly Our Lady of the Angels School fire in 1958, coming of age in the tumultuous 1960s in Chicago, co-writing such hits as “Faithfully” and “Open Arms” (and, of course, the song that gave title to the book), rediscovering his religious faith and marrying Paula White, the pastor / televangelist and longtime spiritual adviser to President Donald Trump.

Cain worked on the book, which is out Tuesday, for the better part of decade. The result is an autobiography that’s equal parts trip down memory lane, detailed recap of writing and recording of some of Journey’s biggest hits, spiritual quest — and love letter to Cain’s father.

Young Jonathan Cain (right) with his brother Tom. | Zondervan
Young Jonathan Cain (right) with his brother Tom. | Zondervan

Born as Leonard Friga to working-class Italian parents, Cain was a third grader at Our Lady of Angels and was in class on Dec. 1, 1958, when students and teachers began to smell smoke, and the classes on first floor (including Cain’s) were evacuated even before the fire alarm was sounded.

“I looked at my Mickey Mouse watch and saw it was a quarter to three,” writes Cain. “School was almost done. We were so close to leaving.”

Many of the students on the second floor never made it out. A total of 92 students and three nuns perished in the fire.

“My life was just [filled with] love, everything was fine,” Cain told me. “Until that fateful day: December 1st, 1958, when we faced evil right in the eye. … We were all destroyed by that. How could this happen next to God’s house?”

Cain returns to the subject of his faith again and again in the book. He also speaks in glowing terms of his father, who always encouraged him and even provided musical inspiration by telling his son, “Don’t stop believing,” over and over.“

“He was my hero,” says Cain of his dad. “He was an affectionate man. He’d come home and hug ya. My mother, not so much. She was the disciplinarian. But it was a good balance.”

The cover of “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” by Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain.
The cover of “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” by Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain.

By his late teens, Cain knew he wanted to be a musician. (He writes of being blown away by a local band and its live performance of a song called “Beginnings.” That band became the Chicago Transit Authority, and then simply: Chicago.)

Cain moved to California, recorded a solo album and found work as a musician — but it would be years before he found any kind of mainstream success, first as the keyboardist for the Babys (“Isn’t It Time), and then with Journey.

“By the time I was in the studio with Journey, I was from the wrong side of the tracks, I’d been through a lot of things. So the experience of recording with them still feels fresh to me,” said Cain in a recent telephone interview.

In the spring of 1981, Journey recorded “Escape,” which went on to sell nearly 10 millions copies and yield hit singles “Who’s Cryin’ Now,” “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” and “Open Arms.” In the early and mid-1980s, the group could sell out football stadiums.

But Cain struggled with his marriages and his faith. The man who wrote “Faithfully” for his first wife wasn’t always faithful. (A second marriage, which produced three children, also ended in divorce.)

“The first divorce was a crusher for me and I never really dealt with it. We lose ourselves sometimes in these painful moments, but that’s not who my dad raised. I was losing my way, if you will.

“The road messes you up. You’re floating in space, you’re not grounded, there’s no anchor. You don’t make great life decisions.

“I never thought I’d be that guy, and you look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘How am I ever going to get back to the guy I was?’ The only way I knew was to call on God and surrender to it all.”

Jonathan Cain (right) with singer Steve Perry (second from right) and the rest of Journey in 1981. | Pat Johnson
Jonathan Cain (right) with singer Steve Perry (second from right) and the rest of Journey in 1981. | Pat Johnson

Cain says he’s in a good place with vocalist Steve Perry, who walked away from the group (“He got a point where he didn’t want the fame any more, he just wanted to live his life and be with his family”) and with guitarist Neal Schon, who was critical of Cain on Twitter and in interviews after Cain and some other members of Journey went to the White House and posed with Trump.

“We’ve hit reset,” Cain says. “Thirty-seven years, there are going to be bumps in the road and misunderstandings. That shouldn’t happen, but hey, we’re moving on.”

Jonathan Cain will sign copies of “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” at 7 p.m. May 3 at the 2nd and Charles store in Naperville. Tickets — which cover an autographed book and a photo with Cain — are $29, available at jonathancain.eventbrite.com.