Together and with The Power of We, we can start a revolution. One Soul at a time... ~Jon Bon Jovi *** There's a Story on every street corner, my friend. All you have to do is open your eyes... ~Richie Sambora

Jon Bon Jovi Inc...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

An article from the Times:

He’s cornered the market in air-punching anthems, but there is more to rock’s prettiest front man than big hair and bare chests. The singer who runs his band like a business is as interested in philanthropy and politics as he is in power ballads. We meet the chairman of the band

Wherever you’ve come from, Camden, New Jersey, probably isn’t an improvement. Even on a sunny October day, it’s a grim place, recently described as America’s most dangerous city. A man whose day job is performing in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans in stadiums around the world should have no business here. He should be tucked up in bed with a groupie, or whatever rock stars do in their downtime.

But Jon Bon Jovi is not your average rock star. When you tell people you are meeting him, you get two reactions: disdain or “Phwoar”. Both are usually followed by a rousing rendition of Livin’ on a Prayer. So for the conflicted out there, let’s start by getting a few things straight: he is not tiny; he’s a very respectable 5ft 10in or 11in. His hair, while by no means a No 1 all over, is no longer so big that it need dominate our thoughts. He’s a handsome and successful rock star who gets a reliably sneering press (too commercial, too soft-rock, too cheesily uplifting); a stratospherically rich man who nonetheless keeps plugging away with the CDs, the tours, the long absences from his family. And today, he is in a rubbish part of America listening to local dignitaries drone on at a tree-planting ceremony. Why, for the love of God? Is he, as rumour has it, planning to follow in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood,and swap showbiz for politics?

“F*** no!” he says, grinning good-naturedly. “Fifty per cent of people hate you before you walk out the door. You can get much more done philanthropically than you can ever do shaking hands. I probably could run, because celebrity would win you office, and what a shame that would be. The difference between me and the President is that I get to keep the house and the plane.”

It turns out that philanthropy, through his Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, and not politics, is what gets JBJ out of bed. And it is his foundation that has helped to fund today’s tree-planting. But he could just write a cheque, and not bother hacking down here on the train (quicker than the chopper, apparently). “My going there gets the community involved. If you go there, and you speak to people, and look them in the eye and say, ‘You do this, I’ll do that…’ It’s the power of ‘we’.”

Of course, plenty of famous people give money to charity, or support charitable foundations. Bon Jovi is different. He set up his own foundation because he wants to know exactly where his money’s going. He also does most of it when the cameras are categorically not rolling, refusing to do photogenic things more than once during the day because, “This is not a photo opportunity.” Finally, he’s different because he isn’t preachy – he just gets on with it. He could spend his life sitting on a beach; he chooses not to. “What a selfish, miserable, s*** life that would be. It’s a terrible existence! What good are you doing? What purpose are you serving? What legacy are you leaving?”

But then, he’s as successful as he is precisely because, unlike most of us, he never aspired to make enough money to sit on a beach. While his contemporaries wanted to be on the cover of some local magazine, he wanted to be on the cover of Time. He’s an entertainer whose job is to make people love him, and he does it very well. Although low-key in behaviour and appearance (black leather jacket, dark jeans, Chelsea boots that need reheeling and wraparound rock-star Prada shades), he’s in his element, earlier, over the state line in a deprived Philadelphia neighbourhood, where his foundation has pumped in millions of dollars. People cross the street to shake his hand and high-five him. “Yo,” mutters a disbelieving hoody. “Is that Jon Bon Jovi on my block?”

John Bongiovi was born in 1962, in Sayreville, New Jersey. His mother was a Playboy Bunny turned florist, his father a hairdresser; both were former US Marines. He thinks his showbiz gene comes from both of them, but that the Reagan era in which he grew up was inevitably formative too, in all its flag-waving, gung-ho glory. “Coming of age when Reagan was telling the world there’d be a chicken in every pot and God bless America, you’re very easily influenced… Sayreville was a real Polish/Irish/Italian little town. We didn’t have black kids. No one went to college… Bono had Northern Ireland outside his window; we had a white picket fence.”

He didn’t pay any attention in school, and at 16 was playing in clubs before going to work as a gofer at a recording studio in New York. At 21, he got a record deal – after he hand-delivered the single Runaway to New York radio stations – and he had met Richie Sambora, his bandmate and fellow songwriter ever since. The secret to the band’s success, Bon Jovi thinks, is that the songs have universal appeal. “The themes were uplifting and optimistic, but they weren’t specific. You can relate to Livin’ on a Prayer whether you live in London or Wisconsin.”

Access all areas

In 1986, when he was 25, Slippery When Wet, the album that contained that anthem, exploded on to the scene, and Bon Jovi had arrived. Sure, the good looks helped, he concedes, but, without the songs, many of which are now classics (whatever the critics say), “I’d have been the next Terence Trent D’Arby or Milli Vanilli.” He tried to break the pretty-boy mould on the cover of the Slippery album, which was slated to be called Wanted Dead or Alive. The whole band grew thick beards and looked stern for the cover shoot. The publicist took one look and said: “No. No, no, no. And smile.” That was the end of that.

But keeping the show on the road hasn’t always been plain sailing. The band nearly imploded in 1990, burnt out after four years of solid touring. They turned things around, seemingly by Bon Jovi’s sheer force of will. But up until then, they were wild times: Slippery was named in honour of Vancouver’s strippers. Does he feel any nostalgia?

“F*** no! I wouldn’t want to be 25 years old and bouncing off the walls and doing all the great kids’ stuff that we did. But it’s not like [these days] I’m reading a book and going to bed, trust me.” Oh? So what is he doing? “I’ll be uncorking a bottle of wine and sitting in some restaurant and eating and going home. It’s a progression. I grew up in public.”

And he’s growing older in public. It’s a lifestyle laid bare in When We Were Beautiful, a new fly-on-the-wall documentary about the band, which goes a fair way towards showing just how weird it is to be Jon Bon Jovi, yet how seemingly unscathed by it he is: a man whose job is to sing and be screamed at by thousands of people, most of whom want a piece of him. “It’s based on jet lag and hotel rooms and drinking yourself to sleep because you’re bored and restless,” he says, sounding weary. “The sounds of silence are deafening.

I go from a stage in front of 70,000 people to sitting in a hotel room, and your heart’s racing, and it’s...” He shrugs. “You know, it’s my job. It’s what I do. I’m not complaining. But it is what it is.” He says he’s not burningly ambitious, just driven. In When We Were Beautiful, he tells someone: “I’m the CEO of a corporation who’s been running a brand for 25 years. I’m not some guy in a rock band. “I always saw it differently,” he reasons. “Not better, just differently.”

He’s possibly the only rock star who says he applies the Henry Ford theory of management: that someone has to be at the top. Unsurprisingly, it’s him. Everyone accepts that and you don’t pay someone else to run it for you. “You do that when you’re 21. You don’t do that when you’re 47. They should hang a handicapped sticker round my neck if I couldn’t handle my own business at 47.”

Never say goodbye

Yet for all his commercial success, Bon Jovi have to date had little critical credibility with anyone other than their accountant. That could be changing: the new album, The Circle, is terrific. Just before the economic meltdown, he and Sambora sat down and wrote a couple of songs for a greatest hits album. “Nothing of any substance. Then Madoff happened, the Lehman bubble bursting, the election of the President, the promise of hope, and we started writing.” The result is classic
Bon Jovi, with tub-thumpers such as the new single, We Weren’t Born to Follow,
alongside Happy Now, a more thoughtful number inspired by Obama’s election. And they were on The X Factor last Sunday, the single is playlisted on Radio 1 and
Absolute, and they’ve done a Radio 1 Live Lounge.

But Bon Jovi just shrugs. What has he got to prove any more? The last Bon Jovi tour was the highest-grossing and number one-selling tour of 2008, raking in more than $210 million (£128 million), ahead of Bruce Springsteen and the Police, and playing to more than two million fans. He’s sold 120 million albums, and sung at 3,000 gigs to 34 million people. He used to care, he concedes, back in the day when Livin’ on a Prayer had just broken, that all the girl from Rolling Stone magazine cared about was whether they could shoot him with his shirt off. These days, he couldn’t care less.

The title of When We Were Beautiful (also a song on the album) fortunately doesn’t refer self-consciously to those bare-chested times, but rather to his desire for his country to “get back to a simpler time”; less cynical, before the recession. He was horrified by the vilification heaped on Obama during the Presidential campaign.

“There were newspaper cartoons that were blatantly prejudiced – drawings of monkeys. It was beyond my comprehension. I didn’t agree with anything the last President said or did, I wouldn’t have shaken the man’s hand, but I would never have said anything disrespectful of the office. Is it that they think he’s a young man, and a young African-American man, so it gives them the right to be arrogant and
cocky? I think the world of this President, and I’m watching him go grey in nine

So there will never be a President Bon Jovi, or indeed a Governor Bon Jovi of New Jersey. He’s more interested in his Soul Foundation, with its philosophy, “Rebuilding pride in one’s self and one’s community – one soul at a time.” He puts the hours in, coming to Philadelphia roughly once a month. He wrote his own speech today – “Why wouldn’t I?” – and took two hours over it.

Home for the Bon Jovi family used to be a pile in New Jersey, but for the past three years has been a $24 million (£14 million) loft in SoHo, New York. (He’s typically forthright on the subject of the residents’ committees who control who moves into chi-chi uptown condos: “They want to know all about my money? And get seven referees? Seven? F*** off.”) He wanted the stimulus of the big city. He likes going to museums and talks, and being in the same room as a NYU economist who predicted the economic downturn (“You just shut up and listen.”) He didn’t have that, he says, in New Jersey, adding, “I didn’t know anybody else... It just beats the deafening silence of the house, sitting there doing nothing with just the kids every day.”

He met his wife Dorothea when he was 18, and they had their 20th wedding anniversary earlier this year. He frowns, trying to remember if he bought her anything, then gives up, ostensibly stumped, and says he bought her “stuff. I don’t think we went out anywhere. Or maybe we did? I honest to God don’t remember. How f***ed is that?” Is he a good husband? He thinks about it for a long time, then sighs. “I don’t know that I’m a good one. I don’t know. You do the best you can.”

They have four children: Stephanie, 16, Jesse, 14, Jacob, 7, and Romeo, 5. Stephanie is newly an adult: “Her boyfriend seems OK.” When she was little, he was the clichéd dad who thought he’d take a shovel to anyone who came near her. “As she becomes more outspoken and independent, I pity the fool that comes to pick her up. In fact, I’ll give him 20 bucks if he makes it out of the driveway.”

Maybe it’s all those nights thinking about things before the sleeping pill kicks in, but Bon Jovi is not an easy man to pigeonhole, not least because he knocks your critical faculties sideways with charm. His conversation segues from George W. Bush (“I for one was not proud of the last eight years in American politics”) to Bernie Madoff, to how the youth of today are ever going to be able afford a house: “Everything seems like a million dollars. Did you ever dream of having a million dollars when you were a kid? I never dreamt of having a million dollars.”

He says he feels “socially conscious but not politically engaged”. A longstanding Democrat, he performed at one of Obama’s inaugural balls and did fundraisers for Hillary Clinton (“We’re dear friends”). Yet he’s also an admirer of Arnold Schwarzenegger, calling him “the model of the kind of Republican that I understood. Someone fiscally conservative… and very liberal-minded when it comes to gay rights and women’s rights. Granted, it didn’t all work out at the end of the day… But in theory I don’t care whether you’re Republican, Democrat or independent; if you’ve got the right ideas, I could be supportive.”

Only lonely

Away from the campaign trail, he wanders round on his own; no entourage, no security. But with a world tour next year – including a residency at the O2 arena in London next June – those days are coming to an end. “It’s not any easier [going on tour], but it’s time. If you’d told me a year ago I’d be doing this, I’d have said you were lying. But I’m so excited by the record. I can just imagine what the songs’ll be like in stadiums. I’m that pumped,” he concludes, with a blinding grin, his enthusiasm palpable although his voice never rises above a low, husky monotone that can sound like he’s reading the shopping list. But he’s 47 now. Hasn’t he had enough? He’s mates with Bruce Springsteen, another New Jersey boy. Over dinner
recently, Springsteen told him he always knew he'd still be touring when he was
60. Bon Jovi isn’t so sure. “I’ve always said the minute this is a nostalgia
tour, I’m out, it’s over. I’m leaving on top.” What’s the alternative? He rules
out a return to acting – he starred in, among others, The Leading Man, Moonlight
and Valentino and U-571 (set on a submarine. Jon Bon Jovi in a navy uniform. You
can see their point). He’s made guest appearances in The West Wing and Sex and
the City. He enjoyed acting, and says it gave him humility.

“What I hated was sitting in some waiting room to audition for some s*** role that five other actors already turned down, and I walk in and he goes, ‘You’re too short.’ F*** off.

A working actor is unemployed every two or three months. Wow! That’s a tough gig. I’d rather write a song.” The truth is, he doesn’t much care what comes next, and he doesn’t have to worry about it. “Whatever I want to try, I’ll try it. If I fail, that’s OK. It’s part of the fun. But at 50 I’ll still feel 18.”

Nonetheless, for someone pushing 50, he seems unfussed about ageing. His wife threw him a 40th birthday party and he jokingly told her to take plenty of photos, “Because it’s the last pretty birthday. But I ain’t gonna do no shots, no Botox, no hair plugs, anything. I’m comfortable enough in my skin to know that such is life. I’d rather age gracefully.”

Back in New Jersey, he’s about to be mobbed in a school playground – part-funded by his foundation – by teachers who think he looks just fine. “The kids are going to
paint a mural,” says the head of the charity, as she briefs him beforehand in
the car. “Will you sign it?” For the first time all day, he looks mulish. “I’m
not doing anything goofy.” He doesn’t sign the mural, but he makes another
speech, and successfully works and charms his way from one end of the playground to the other without being ripped limb from limb.

Later, when it’s all over for the day, he reappears at the station, on his own, entirely unmolested, waiting for the train home. Nobody gives him a second glance. How can this man, so charismatic he can hold 80,000 people in the palm of his hand, slip entirely unnoticed through a busy station? “Well, that’s just another fallacy, that you can’t do that,” he says matter-of-factly. Surround yourself with bouncers and tell the press where you’re going and you’ve got yourself a circus, he reasons. Bon Jovi does the opposite and gets away with it, partly because people don’t expect to see Jon Bon Jovi queuing up at the newsstand.

“Being a rock star’s my job. I’m very good at it. If those doors over there opened up on to the stage, I’d go out there and…” He shrugs. Without the stadium and the
screaming fans, he’s just a bloke. He turns it on and he turns it off. The train
comes in, he waves, and disappears into the crowd. “I can always make a buck,”
he said earlier, “and I’m not a fame junkie. I can turn it off, walk away. The
rest of it’s just the icing on the cake.”


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I am and always have been a Bon Jovi fan. This blog is just my obsession taken a step further, my imagination in high gear if you will. I love to read and decided to see what would happen when I took that love of the written word and ramped it up a bit.

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