Book Reviews

Jim Peterik: Through The Eye of the Tiger (BenBella Books)

peterik

Survivor is the quintessential Eighties band. Their successive run of hits were impressive—many of which centered around their 1984 album Vital Signs. Starting with their song “Eye Of The Tiger,” which was released as the theme song to Rocky III, everything the band released seem to go straight to the top of the charts. Classic song followed classic song; to this day, radio stations around the world put “High On You,” “Burning Heart” (the theme to Rocky IV), “I Can’t Hold Back,” and “The Search Is Over” in their daily rotation.  These hits were birthed from the creative mind of Jim Peterik, who has taken the time to highlight his life story in print.

Jim Peterik isn’t your typical rock star—if you could even deign to call him one. Humble, low-key, almost self-effacing, Through The Eye Of The Tiger tells the tale of a young man who grew up around music, quickly taking to playing, and though his childhood had its stresses and dramatic moments, his is an almost atypical postwar story. In his teenage years, he becomes taken with R&B, pop, and rock, inspired greatly by “the three B’s—The Beatles, Burt Bacharach, and The Beach Boys. He formed a band in high school with his friends called The Ides of March, who quickly became a popular local band with minor national success.

As rock music grew and matured into something new and fresh, so too did The Ides of March, and they added a horn section, developing into a crack R&B/rock band, and their 1970 single, “Vehicle,” became a number one hit, and thus began the touring machine. Peterik captures the tedium of the road, the hassles of being a superior opening band who would often steal the show, and witnessing the temptations and sins of the road. After three albums, the band came to a natural conclusion, and Peterik’s minor success seemed to have come to an end.

Instead, this affable musician decided to invest in a more lucrative and less high-profile music career, creating a happy groove with his high-school sweetheart wife Karen. He took to being a songwriter-for-hire and a commercial jingle singer, while still being something of a session musician and sideman. A near-fatal bout of pneumonia led him to a fever-dream about forming a band with musician friends he’d recently worked with, and thus Survivor was born.

Then things got complicated.

Though Survivor never suffered for a lack of talent, it did, however, seem to fall victim to having too much talent. When the band’s creative energies were focused and at their peak, the results were spectacular—just listen to any one of Vital Signs’ songs to hear a band getting it right. Unfortunately, egos had a tendency to create more problems than necessary; even well-meaning moments turned things into a Spinal Tap-like farce. Torn between co-founder Frankie Sullivan’s power-tripping tendencies and vocalist Jimi Jamison’s paranoia and personal demons, it’s surprising that anything got done, and Peterik, who comes across like the nicest guy in rock, is a bit passive-aggressive, which only exacerbates the situation.

But things did get done. A request from Survivor fan Sylvester Stallone to write a theme song for his upcoming Rocky III soon led the band to international acclaim, which was then cemented by the one-two punch of 1982’s Eye of the Tiger and 1984’s Vital Signs. In spite of their successes, the members of Survivor were miserable, unhappy, and took their success for granted. When the band split in the late 80s, Peterik’s relief is palpable, and he turns towards a life more domestic and structured.

Peterik is an unassuming star, and his tale is a humble, enjoyable one. Though he doesn’t hold back on explaining the ugly truth that took place behind the scenes, he doesn’t wallow in misery or spend too much time blaming others. It’s nice to read a book from a nice guy, especially when he could easily air his grievances, his acrimony, and his bitterness. Through The Eye of the Tiger is the rarest of breeds: it’s the story of a nice guy who comes out on top without succumbing to excess or the destructiveness of success.

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