Entertainment Music

Monday 20 November 2017

Bon Jovi: rockin' on

Ed Power

Ed Power

It takes a lot to rile Jon Bon Jovi -- a rock star you could bring home to meet your gran. But mention car-crash reality show Jersey Shore to this proud son of the Garden State and he's practically spewing bile. "I'm disgusted by it," he says, his perfect incisors gleaming in the afternoon light. "I can honestly say, I've never sat through an episode. I've seen them in celebrity magazines. That's not my New Jersey. It isn't the place I know."

Resting in an opulent Munich hotel suite, Bon Jovi is courteous, engaged and, once he has exorcised his loathing of Jersey Shore, pretty darn chilled. He certainly bears little resemblance to the grumpy singer who gave an ill-tempered interview to a UK newspaper late last year, lamenting his rumpled physical condition, and the endless dreariness of life on the road. "I'm 10lb overweight and I'm drinking too much," he said at the time. "And I'm bored to tears." To be fair, he had just tumbled off a long-haul flight and was woozy with jet lag. Whereas this morning he is basking in the glow of a sell-out performance to 75,000 screaming fans at Munich's Olympic Stadium the previous evening.

"Things are actually really enjoyable right now, because, knock on wood, I'm in pretty good health. It's not over yet, so I shouldn't count my chickens.

"We're on the longest tour we've done since the mid-90s -- about 130 shows in. Last night I did three hours and 10 minutes. And there ain't no drum solos at a Bon Jovi concert. That's me singing for three hours. The point is, we are smart and old enough now to pace a tour properly."

By 'pacing' he means foregoing the traditional rockstar perks of drugs, four-in-a-bed romps and champagne-filled hot-tubs.

Post-concert, Bon Jovi whizzed back to his hotel room and tried to switch on the TV. When he couldn't get the remote control working, he figured it was time to call it a night. He brushed his teeth, read a few pages of a book and killed the lights. The picture he paints is of a travelling salesman knocking off early after a successful but basically run-of-the-mill day (it comes as no surprise to learn Bon Jovi's pastimes include wine collecting and cooking). We're not exactly talking Ozzy Osbourne snorting powdered virgin blood out of a groupie's armpit.

"One minute you're in front of 75,000 people in a stadium that's as big as that one we played in Ireland, what was it called? Croke Park.

"You come back, you're sitting in your room by yourself and your ears are ringing. I couldn't figure out how to get the TV or the internet to work. So I said, 'oh well, time to go to bed'. Sad but true. I'm technologically challenged."

If only the rest of Bon Jovi were as straight-laced. While drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan (the sole member of the quartet to bravely retain his 80s perm) have followed their commander in chief into mid-life sobriety, guitarist Richie Sambora refuses to transition gracefully into the slow lane.

In April, as Bon Jovi geared up for the North American and European legs of their world tour, he was packed off to rehab amid rumours his boozing was out of control again.

There were fears Sambora, a big-hearted dude with a weakness for the arena-hero lifestyle, might be out of commission for the rest of the year, a huge setback given that his backing vocals and guitar parts are integral to the Bon Jovi sound.

However, he has returned to the fold and remains on the wagon. Bon Jovi's publicists have insisted the subject is off limits, so it's somewhat surprising that the singer brings it up himself. "Richie has fought the good fight," he says. "He's back on his feet again and he's swinging with everything he's got, every time he has the chance to do it."

A musician with the buttoned-down demeanour of a Fortune 500 chief executive and a politician's slick turn of phrase -- once touted as a governor of New Jersey -- it's easy to see why Bon Jovi has survived 25 years in the snake-pit that is the music industry. He writes fantastic, cheesy songs, --who doesn't have a weakness for Bad Medicine or You Give Love A Bad Name? -- and conjures rock-lord schtick better than anyone, with the possible exception of Bono and (for how much longer?) Mick Jagger.

And while he takes himself as seriously as a superstar millionaire, he has made peace with the fact that, to a fair chunk of the populace, Bon Jovi will never rise above the status of guilty pleasure. In his own mind, he is a blue-collar truth-sayer in the tradition of Dylan and Springsteen. But if critics can't get past Livin' On A Prayer's cornball sentiments or his 80s poodle perm, he isn't losing sleep. "Does it bother me? Am I bothered that I'm playing the Olympic Stadium?

"My take is we specialise in a kind of anthemic optimism which we are trying to share with audiences. And which can be perceived by people who don't think about it in the way I do as 'light' if you will, a simple rock and roll song, end of story.

"Optimism is infectious. There are kids in Iraq and Afghanistan who know Bon Jovi records."

Bon Jovi is married with four children and lives in a mansion in the New Jersey commuter belt. At home he insists his wife, Dorothea Hurley, wears the britches.

However, in interviews, he has hinted at straying occasionally beyond the marital bounds. In his defence, he has probably been propositioned more often than Shane MacGowan has necked a whiskey chaser.

One of the few rockstars to genuinely rate as a sex symbol, Bon Jovi has a mesmerising effect on women. When the band played Punchestown a few years ago, one female fan vaulted the security pit and seized the singer, hanging valiantly on as four bouncers tried to drag her away. How does it feel to cast that sort of spell over the ladies? "You know women, they can be pretty threatening," he laughs. "On that occasion, I was able to handle myself okay. She worked hard to get up on that stage. She didn't have any mountain-climbing gear and yet she scaled that wall like Spider-Man. The least she deserves is a hug.

"A woman that has a mission is not be be messed with, especially an Irish woman."

At 49, he's sufficiently grizzled to deal with the mania of fronting one of the world's biggest rock bands.

When Bon Jovi broke in the mid 80s, the rollercoaster took a little getting used to. One minute four school pals from New Jersey were playing friends' basements and dive bars. The next they were global superstars, chased wherever they went by paparazzi and squealing fans. It was, says Bon Jovi, every bit as insanely crazy as you'd imagine.

"It is exactly what your childhood idea of rock-and-roll stardom is -- a big, maniacal moment. Growing up in New Jersey, there was no such thing as a stadium show. I heard about one show in 78. I didn't have the money to go to it. Generally, those things didn't happen. If you were lucky enough you saw a rock band, it was in a 3,000-seater stadium. I thought if you had a bus and you play Cleveland, Philly, New York and Boston, that's pretty much rock stardom."

The tour stretches on until July. After that, the band has an open slate. Bon Jovi the man, however, will be back on the road for a very different reason. A passionate advocate of progressive politics in the United States, he'll be batting for Barack Obama as soon as the election is under way. Given the conservatism of his music, the singer's left-leaning tendencies are a surprise to many. It's all there if you look hard enough. His 2005 hit Have A Nice Day, for instance, was intended as a kiss-off to George Bush; Work for the Working Man, from the band's last album, The Circle, a paean to America's jobless millions. David Axelrod, Obama's former political advisor, was so moved by the track he had the lyrics framed and hung in his office.

"In Ireland, you can understand as well as Americans that the economy has taken a huge hit. That song was written about a town in Ohio where DHL employed 10,000 people. When the company pulled out, they practically folded up the streets. How could you see that and not write about it?"

He sits forward, warming to the subject. "I know times are tough now. People are paying hard-earned cash to see us. Tickets aren't cheap, this production costs a ton of money. I know people expect me to go out there and leave my lungs on the microphone. I'm up for the challenge. The success, the clichéd bullshit -- none of that has anything to do with it."

Bon Jovi play RDS, Dublin, on Wednesday and Thursday

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