Jon Bon Jovi: How I became a poster boy for marriage
The New Jersey rock god has won a new gong but it's his family that matters. ANDREW BILLEN reports
It is not often that my interviewees break into a sweat. But the oh-so-cool Jon Bon Jovi does. Admittedly, he is working out in a gym.
The 44-year-old rock star first pumps iron, then takes it out on a cross-trainer fitted with a TV screen showing a football game.
As his thighs surge rhythmically, I consider how much this is wasted on me. A woman reporter, now she'd appreciate the sleeveless T-shirt, the tanned calves, the bicep with its Superman tattoo, the perspiration that is turning his crop of golden hair into an over-irrigated rape field.
"I need forgiveness for last night's sins," he says. What sins? "Bottles and bottles of fine wines. I come here seeking forgiveness. Man, we were taking full advantage of the grapes."
By rock-star standards, fine wines hardly rate as sinful. But that's Bon Jovi for you. He hasn't taken drugs since he had a nasty experience with dope at the age of 14. What's more, he has been married for 17 years to Dorothea, his New Jersey high-school sweetheart, now a karate instructor. They have four children aged one, three, 11 and 13.
He is keen to let it be known that, in the past, women have in fact joined wine and song among the sins to which he'll plead guilty. But it is a perfunctory admission. It is a confusing subject because he has, as he says, somehow become rock's "poster boy for marriage".
Although Bon Jovi looks like a rock star and his music sounds like rock-star music, I sometimes wonder if he is, within the meaning of the act, actually a rock star.
Happily, he has won a gong that should remove any doubts. Last night, in London, he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, bathing in the glory that has already been showered on Elvis, the Beatles and Bob Marley.
What does it mean to him? A three-day vacation, he says. "That part's exciting but I've never been one to accept accolades all that well. I don't think it's, you know, going to change my life."
And what a life. He was 20 when his first single, 'Runaway', was played on air, 21 when he was signed by Mercury and only 25 when Slippery When Wet, with its classics 'Livin' on A Prayer' and 'You Give Love A Bad Name', sold 15 million copies.
"It was our Thriller, our Like a Virgin or Born in the USA. And I only realise that looking back at it. When you're in the moment you don't realise. It was a shame: I didn't get to enjoy it because it was coming at me in warp speed."
By 1991, before he had hit 30, he was in mid-career crisis. Exhausted by his concert schedule, his eyelids propped open by steroids, he found himself speeding in a chauffered car to yet another engagement, and thinking, seriously, of flinging himself out of it.
"That's how low I got. Then I sought help and found it just wasn't for me." After 15 unsatisfactory minutes with a shrink, he went home and thought about what he needed to change. He sacked his manager and employed a mediator to talk the band through its needs.
His own needs included separate careers as a solo artist (pursued with limited success) and an actor (ditto). In a symbolic cutting of ties with his past, he cropped his famously abundant hair so severely that it ended up merely very long.
It had been the crowning glory of a poster-boy look that was not his fault but his genes. His father was of Sicilian-Slovakian stock, his mother a German-Russian Playboy bunny-turned-florist.
"I'm a mutt," he says. When did he realise that he was a beautiful mutt? "I've never really realised that shit. It doesn't hold any weight with me."
Come on, I say. "I'm aware of it now obviously, but a lot of it has to do with being a singer in a rock band. I don't pay attention to it. It's not a big deal to me. Everybody has somebody out there who finds them sexy. Rosie O'Donnell's got a girlfriend who loves her, and Brad Pitt's got a girlfriend who loves him, so who cares?"
His songs have always been hymns of possibility to his constituency of blue-collar fans. They are, he says, "all about endless optimism".
But did America honour the promise of that era? He considers this carefully. Every Dick Tracy gadget his generation lusted after is now a reality, he says, yet 25% of the population of Philadelphia, where he supports a homelessness charity, lives below the poverty line.
"The gap between rich and poor is getting greater every day. They're eliminating the middle class in this country altogether."
He was a friend of Al Gore and the musical support act for John Kerry's campaign two years ago. Might he do an Arnie and run for office?
"I will never say never. All the things I've done in my life I would have never predicted. But my intention's no. I can get more done with a social conscience as a philanthropist than I can in politics."
So personal morality comes first? "Trust me, I'm no saint. That's another thing: skeletons in my closet." How many would there be for the political press to find? "I'm a singer in a rock band. What do you think?"
I say that it must have been hard not becoming an arsehole. Choosing to stay and live in New Jersey helps, he says. So does Dorothea.
"She's much less grand than I am - she could live in a box and be content. It's my craziness that costs us money. It's not her, ever. I'll say, 'We're taking my plane to England'; she'll say, 'You asshole'."
And he backs down? "Um, I consider her input and decide accordingly. Do we row? Rarely, to be honest. I just truly like her so much and admire her. I'm her biggest fan.
"She's the reason I have four, I think, sane kids. It ain't me. I am sitting around and going to the studio. She's the one doing it all. So God bless her for it. I wouldn't want to f*** it up."
Bon Jovi, I decide, is just rock 'n' roll enough. He deserves his induction.