Death by Power Ballad: Jimi Jamison, “As Is”
The next few DbPB installments will feature the work of a man who, to these ears, has contributed as much as if not more than any other artist to the power ballad arts and the melodic rock genre in general”Jim Peterik. Many know him as the voice and driving force (no pun intended. Okay, maybe I intended it) behind “Vehicle,” the great 1970 single by Ides of March. Many more know him as the bespectacled keyboard player and chief songwriter (along with Frankie Sullivan ) in Survivor. Yeah, that guy. “Eye of the Tiger.” “I Can™t Hold Back.” “High on You.” “The Search Is Over.”
Ah, “The Search Is Over.” How many makeout sessions/couple skates/lonely nights of the soul in ’84-’85 had that one as their soundtrack? Survivor contributed many other fine, powerful ballads”“Man Against the World,” “Everlasting,” “Ever Since the World Began” (read about my personal relationship with that song here)”but none had all the weapons that made “Search” such a killer”the developing tension, the underlying power chords, the dramatic chorus and bridge, plea for redemption, the key change at the end. The voice.
The voice is so important. Peterik co-wrote a Survivor track called “It’s the Singer Not the Song””a sentiment I do not share”in part to focus attention on the band’s new singer at that time, Jimi Jamison. While Survivor’s first vocalist, Dave Bickler, possessed a monster of an instrument”akin to a Paul Rodgers or a Steve Marriott”Jamison’s baritone was tailor-made for the commercial rock for which Survivor was best known in the mid-’80s. He had strength to spare and could tackle a rough-hewn rock song, but was also versatile enough to lighten up when the music slowed down. The Peterik/Sullivan ballads on Vital Signs, When Seconds Count, and Too Hot to Sleep were the perfect canvases on which Jamison could apply all the colors of his voice.
In fact, without seeming dismissive of Bickler, Don Barnes (of .38 Special, which has recorded many Peterik tracks), Toby Hitchcock (Peterik’s vocal partner in Pride of Lions), or any of the other singers Peterik has worked with over the last four or so decades, Jimi Jamison may well be the perfect voice for the man’s music. This sentiment made the news of their recent collaboration on Jamison’s solo record, Crossroads Moment, all the more exciting. They may not know it, but they need each other; they certainly bring out the best in one another, as evidenced by the wonderful ballad “As Is.”
Jamison was apparently Peterik’s muse for most of the tracks on Crossroads Moment”Peterik would use conversations between the two over meals or drinks as fodder for the songs he wrote for the project. If that’s true for “As Is,” Jamison must have been going through a doozy of a time.
The piano intro gives way to a weary-sounding Jamison (is he Auto-tuned? Just a little? God, I hope not), setting the scene, explaining his current standing in life:
I’m out of time, I’m out of place
And looking up it seems I’ve fallen from grace
Ragged and torn these clothes I wear
I’ve paid my price, fallen out of repair
This is characteristic of much of Peterik’s oeuvre””I’ve been through hell, I’m busted up, but I’m still standing here. Is that all you got?” Very Rocky. Very tough. And, as we soon discover, very vulnerable:
But look beyond my doubt and fear
You’ll find a treasure beneath the tears
Inside this timeless heart betrays my trembling hand
There’s that nugget of goodness, of determination, still inside him”the “treasure beneath the tears,” the burning heart, if you will, that keeps him standing. Whatever had him down has been overcome; there’s just one thing left to find, and he reveals it as he slides from verse into chorus:
Won’t someone take who I am
As is? Take me as is”
You could restore me, shine down you glory
From under the dust and the rust
Won’t you take me
It’s the voice of a man who is sufficiently self-aware to know he’s broken and in need of redemption, but he also knows there’s enough good in him to be worthy of that redemption. One is tempted to believe he’s talking to a woman”this is, after all, the man who asked us to listen to him “tell you ’bout the girl I had last night””but there’s something deeper here, something considerably more spiritual. While there’s no indication of a Michael Sweet-ish God/girl switcheroo, that spiritual aspect becomes more explicit as the song progresses.
As the second verse moves forward, we get more detail about what has punished the singer so””When love goes wrong or can™t be found,” Jamison sings, “The tug of life forever pulling us down / That’s been my tale, that’s been my plight.” He’s once again on a search”this one not over, but ongoing”for “the missing part,” someone to “take this broken heart / As is.”
Then something extraordinary happens in the bridge. Jamison spends more time listing his infirmities, before coming to really the pinnacle of the song”three lines that make explicit the spirituality that merely served as underpinning until this point:
Well, I met the man who cast the giant shadow
And I stand before the kingdom that is his
Now, unless he’s at the gates of Graceland, this is a reference to a higher Power, and it ties the song together perfectly. He wants redemption and acceptance”indeed, he has earned it”but if the objects of his entreaties in his life will not oblige, he’s got a backup plan, a spiritual redemption of which he can be sure, regardless of how ragged his appearance, or how hard that big Russian hit him.
Crossroads Moment is the true successor to Survivor’s Too Hot to Sleep, 20 years after the fact, and the songs therein bring Peterik and Jamison’s musical approach from that era into a modern context, with all the accumulated maturity one would hope for, if not expect. “As Is” is a song by adults for other adults, and it extends both Peterik’s and Jamison’s legacies into the here and now.