Friday 20 September 2019

Bon Jovi: Ex-altar boy Jon still living on a prayer

Ahead of their hugely anticipated stadium shows in Dublin next summer, Barry Egan tastes the bad medicine of Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi in concert at Slane Castle, Co Meath in 2013
Bon Jovi in concert at Slane Castle, Co Meath in 2013
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Former altar boy John Francis Bongiovi - he changed it to Jon Bon Jovi when he formed a certain rock band in 1983 - was born on March 2, 1962. He was raised in Perth Amboy, a working-class New Jersey town, 30 miles south of New York - "close enough", as Jon once said, "to the centre of the universe, but far enough away where nobody was really watching".

You would imagine that because he grew up in New Jersey like a certain Bruce Springsteen that the Boss would have been a major influence on him. But no. As he told me in an interview in London in 2013: "Bruce wasn't big. He was playing colleges. He wasn't an arena band yet, unlike Aerosmith or Kiss or whatever that was more popular at the time. And then they had that three-year hiatus between Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town albums, so they hadn't really been in the Zeitgeist.

"So I found it [the Zeitgeist and Bruce] from an older cousin of mine," Jon said, adding: "Then you'd go down to Asbury Park and sneak into bars when you're 16. The drinking age was 18 but somehow they let me play. I remember being found out at The Stone Pony club. The owner went so ballistic with me. He told me 'between sets, you sit at this table next to that door and if I give you the sign, you hightail it out of here'. He was livid."

As Ingrid Sischy pointed out to Jon in an tete-a-tete with him in Interview magazine in 1998, "often, with the music, the critics have been busy with what you're not. For instance, the way they've seen you compared to Springsteen".

To which, Jon replied: "Second place, sure. I've known the guy since I was 16, when I first played with him. We've played countless bars together. Obviously, I'm always going to be in the guy's shadow, coming from the same place but later. But I don't resent that. I would never have wanted to be a musician had it not been for Bruce and the E Street Band. And Southside Johnny. And Little Steven. Those were my heroes. So yes, I'm in Bruce's shadow. But no, I don't want to be him."

Polly Vernon once described Jon as "a long-serving rock god, philanthropist, ageing yet viable pin-up" with "truly stupendous teeth... semi-threatening when bared, but blindingly, staggeringly glamorous otherwise". That said, Jon has admitted that the arrogance that emerged with the giant global success of the Slippery When Wet and New Jersey albums - in 1986 and 1988 - "in retrospect, was out of fear of the success and not being there forever. People who have to tell you how successful they are aren't really successful. That's something I learned sweeping floors at this recording studio called the Power Station," Jon said in reference to his time working as a janitor at a New York recording studio owned by a cousin, for $50 a week, back in the day before he became a multi-millionaire rock star.

"Mediocre stars were the biggest pricks, and the big stars were the ones who came in and said, 'How're those demos going? Keep pushing, you'll get it. It'll happen for you'.

The lead singer of a band with air-punching modern hymns like Livin' On A Prayer, You Give Love A Bad Name, Bad Medicine and Wanted Dead Or Alive, Jon has long since nailed his political colours to the mast. He appeared at campaign rallies for Barack Obama and, of course, for Hillary Clinton during her ill-fated presidential bid.

"We don't need Jon Bon Jovi," a miffed Donald Trump harrumphed. Oh, but we do, Donald...

The group whose 2013 Because We Can tour was the highest-grossing in the world (bringing in a whopping $205m according to trade magazine Billboard), are back on the road again.

Bon Jovi play the RDS Stadium in Dublin - with special guests Manic Street Preachers - on June 15 and 16.

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