As we discussed his influences under a portrait of The Beatles in New York City’s The Cutting Room, Jim Peterik looked up at the picture and pointed to Paul McCartney.
“Hey Paul,” Peterik laughed. “I’m still here.”
He sure is. At 64, Peterik still looks like a rock star, right down to the purple hair and animal print jacket, and that’s not surprising, considering that the founding member of Survivor is a survivor himself, someone who always focused on the music and not the after party.
“I took it as a badge of honor,” he said of a career where the job always came first, second, and third. “I always felt a little bit superior because I wasn’t messing round. It was a pride to say that ‘I don’t need that.’”
That went for his personal life as well. Married 42 years to his wife Karen, Peterik is an example of a musician who calls himself a journeyman, but only because back in the old days, that was a positive term, one to be received with pride.
“I’m a hard worker, and Jim Peterik is not necessarily a household name,” he said. “But some of my songs are, and they’re still on the radio. So I always figured that I was the bridesmaid and not the bride, especially when I took a backseat in Survivor. So I felt like the worker bee.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, especially with Peterik-penned tunes like “Eye of the Tiger,” “Vehicle,” “Hold on Loosely,” and “Caught Up in You,” being staples of classic rock radio to this day, and likely to be there for eternity. So what better time than now for Peterik to pen his autobiography “Through the Eye of the Tiger,” which is one of the more unique rock books to be released in that it captures a time that has taken its share of heat for a long time, yet is still loved by fans.
“It’s getting legitimacy again,” Peterik said of 80s music. “When Survivor was big and we had all these top ten records, we weren’t hip. We wouldn’t get a good review in Rolling Stone, we’d be on Solid Gold instead of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. We had zero credibility, and the videos didn’t help either. (Laughs) And it’s not until now that those hits are gaining more legitimacy.”
They’re good songs, even if it’s a child of that era (me) saying that. But seriously, how can you hear the theme song of Rocky III, “Eye of the Tiger,” and not listen to the whole thing and remember it fondly. Even now, professional boxers and mixed martial artists continue to use the song as their walkout music, and Peterik knows just how far reaching it has been.
“They (the fighters) all hang out at Carmine’s down in Chicago, and a lot of them are mid-level or even amateur, but they are passionate about that song,” the Illinois native said. “I’m not a huge fight aficionado, but I really respect it and I used to watch it with my dad all the time. And the fighters haven’t cornered the market on that (loving the song) though. I probably sang “Eye of the Tiger” before every sport event available. And it’s also runners and people trying to recover from cancer, treating the cancer as the rival. We all have rivals.”
One of the key parts of the book is reading about the genesis of the song and of Peterik’s initial interactions with the man who created the Rocky Balboa character and the films, Sylvester Stallone. And whether it’s the driving riff that opens the tune or it’s lyrical content and unforgettable chorus, the song still holds up today.
“Every element of that song works,” Peterik said. “It’s the only song I know with a 30-second intro. (Laughs) Radio would kill that today, if you didn’t get to the hook right away. But the intro is half the song. And every lyric means something in this song. I determined there would be no chaff, no filler. And it’s the same thing with “Burning Heart” in Rocky IV. I made sure every lyric and every word was nutritious, as I call it, to that song. It feeds the soul, feeds the spirit.”
So does Peterik’s book, because it tells the tale of a talented musician and songwriter who isn’t Mick Jagger, but whose story is still compelling.
“I couldn’t have really written this 20 years ago,” he said. “It takes a while to get a perspective on where you’ve been. When you’re living it and it’s all fresh, it’s like ‘what is this jumble called life?’ When I hit 60 – I’m 64 now – I started putting it all in perspective and I saw it more clearly. The highs, the lows, what went wrong with that, why I didn’t stand up for that better, what was the weakness that allowed that, or my strengths. I could see my life in a better perspective.”
Peterik may as well be 34 with the energy and zest for life he still has. Most of that is his personality, but more recently, the death of one his Survivor bandmates, Jimi Jamison, due to a heart attack at 63, reminded him that when life can change in an instant, you need to live every moment like it’s your last.
“I’ve always known that, but Jimi passing was a major wake-up call and a major punch in the heart too,” he said. “I’m still getting over it and I’ll never totally be over it. I think of him every day, and he was a dear friend and one of the most giving rock stars I know. He had time for every fan, every friend, and every time he performed, he had that X factor. He had the good looks and the great voice, and yet he was so humble.”
He pauses, then continues.
“There’s no shelf life on this guy and no sell-by date either,” Peterik said. “I’m gonna keep doing it. When I get up in the morning, I say ‘what can I do to better myself?’ I want to extend this thing, have more chances to sing and put a message out there of positivity. That’s what I’m all about.”
Oh yeah, Paul, Jim Peterik is still here.
To buy Through the Eye of the Tiger by Jim Peterik, click here