The roots of Journey's Don't Stop Believin' can be found in a tragic school fire

Jonathan Cain headshot
(Image credit: Desiree Navarro/Getty Images)

Journey keyboardist and guitarist Jonathan Cain has revealed the spiritual connection between the band's classic 1981 hit Don't Stop Believin' and a tragic school fire that left 92 of his classmates dead. Cain made the remarks in an an episode of I Am Second, a series of Christian films in which athletes, actors, models and musicians talk about their relationship with God. 

In the film, Cain tells the stories of two near-death experiences he had as a youngster. The first came as he was rescued and resuscitated after almost drowning in a lake, while the second came in a tragic fire at Chicago’s Our Lady of the Angels church school in 1958.

"I watched 92 children die right next to the House of God, and three nuns" says Cain.  "I felt so lost. My father saw my sorrow right away and led me straight to music. He told me, ‘Son, your life was spared for something greater and that must be music.’”

Cain’s father went on to enrol him in at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, but success eluded him.

"My dog got run over and I needed money to pay for the vet bill," says Cain. "I had to call him, and I hated asking for money, and I said, 'Dad. I just wonder. Should I give up on this music dream and come home to Chicago, and just forget about it?' And there was a silence for a minute, and he said, 'Jon, this is your vision. No, you're not coming home. Stay the course. Don't stop believin'. And I wrote that down in my lyric book."

Cain joined John Waite in The Babys in 1979, before departing for Journey the following year. In the film, Cain reveals how he then returned to the lyric book, using the three words his father told him as he co-wrote Don't Stop Believin' with guitarist Neal Schon and frontman Steve Perry. 

Cain also used the fire as inspiration for The Day They Became Angels, a song from his 2018 solo album Songs You Can’t Leave Behind.

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Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.