Jon Bon Jovi Reflects On A Music Career That Surpassed His 'Wildest Dreams'
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross.
Today's guest is Jon Bon Jovi, lead singer and songwriter of the band Bon Jovi. Saturday night in Cleveland, he's scheduled to be inducted with his fellow band members into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with the induction provided by one of his most vocal and longtime fans, Howard Stern.
The band Bon Jovi is most associated with their hits from the '80s, like "Livin' On A Prayer," "You Give Love A Bad Name," "Wanted Dead Or Alive" and "Runaway." But even in 2009, when Terry Gross interviewed Jon Bon Jovi, the group's newest CD entered the charts at No. 1. And a companion documentary DVD had just been released, as had a new book called "When We Were Beautiful," featuring band member interviews and photographs.
Before we listen back to Terry's interview with Jon Bon Jovi, let's start with a sample of one of the group's more recent hits, "It's My Life" from the year 2000.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S MY LIFE")
JON BON JOVI: (Singing) This ain't a song for the broken-hearted. No silent prayer for the faith-departed. I ain't going to be just a face in the crowd. You're going to hear my voice when I shout it out loud. It's my life. It's now or never. I ain't going to live forever. I just want to live while I'm alive. It's my life. My heart is like an open highway...
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: Jon Bon Jovi, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's a pleasure to have you here.
BON JOVI: Thank you. It's nice to be here.
GROSS: How do you prevent your voice from having been shredded after...
BON JOVI: (Laughter).
GROSS: ...So many years of concerts, particularly the stadium concerts where I imagine it's very tempting to over sing? Because even though you know you're amplified, the room is so big.
BON JOVI: Yeah, it's true. It's like anything else. You know how to work the muscles properly. And like I said, there's a great physical commitment. And there are sacrifices that are made. And in the - the cute soundbite version is that no matter what the adage is, the last sentence of it is, and then the singer went home - because while everyone else can go out and do what it is that they want to do - they can always just stand there and beat on the drums and beat on the guitars.
And it's a lot more physically demanding when your vocal chords are the size of a thumbnail, and that's what supports 150 crew members, as well as the band and, of course, the two or so million people every year that want to come out and see it. So you have to make sure that the - that instrument is well-tuned at all times.
GROSS: You know, in the interviews for the book and the DVD, you talk about how you travel with steroids for your throat. And then you always convince yourself not to use them (laughter).
BON JOVI: It's like that glass case. You know, it says break here in case of emergency.
GROSS: Exactly. Right.
BON JOVI: Yeah, there was a time when that was like M&M's. You know, you were just chewing on them to get through the night. And when I look back at the "Slippery When Wet" era - which is the point you bring up in the book - I wasn't ready for it. You know, physically, the demands were high, and there were a lot of folks around you who were really just trying to do their job - so another show, another television program, another airplane to go somewhere. But they didn't realize how physically demanding it is on the individual. And so you would just do what you had to do to get through. But with time and experience, I've really learned how to pace it.
GROSS: Tell us a little bit about the neighborhood in New Jersey that you grew up in.
BON JOVI: It was a wonderful place. It was very working-class but middle-class. These were families who were - typically, both parents went to work. They were able to provide their kids all with shoes on their feet and food on the table. But they knew what it was like to go out and work. They were typically one generation removed from the immigrants who came over. And a lot of them were just now second-generation Americans. And we were born into that, then subsequently third. But there wasn't a lot of turmoil in the latter '70s and the early '80s in suburban New Jersey.
GROSS: Now, correct me if I'm wrong about this. Your mother was a Playboy bunny.
BON JOVI: Correct.
GROSS: For how long?
BON JOVI: Yeah, amongst other things.
GROSS: Like, when you were growing up or before you were born?
BON JOVI: No, I was born. Yeah, I was born. I was a baby. I was probably 1 or so. But my folks met in the Marine Corps. My mother and father were both in the service.
BON JOVI: And they met in the Marines. And my dad brought my mom back to New Jersey. She was from northwestern Pennsylvania - Erie, Pa. - again, from a very blue-collar, working-class background. And amongst other things, buying into that whole Kennedy-Camelot kind of New York and America and, you know, you can go and do things, my mom was a waitress at the original Playboy Nightclub on Fifth Avenue and, I guess, it's about - what? - 60th Street when it was there. So there are old pictures and stories of, you know, my folks hanging around the hipsters. But (laughter) that's where it ended. She was just a waitress there.
GROSS: And your father after leaving the Marines became a hairdresser.
BON JOVI: That's correct. His father before him was a plumber, and he intended to follow in his father's footsteps. And like I said, before, you know, during Camelot, my folks came home and said, you know, I'm seeing this thing going on with hair dressing and hip and New York and things like, you know, Playboy. Why don't you try this? And my dad, you know, with all of his thumbs, learned how to become a hairdresser. And I have memories of...
GROSS: For men or for women?
BON JOVI: Primarily women. And then in the - what was it? Let's see - sometime in the '70s when they became more unisex - hair salons - and movies like "Shampoo" came out, those are my memories of my dad with the leather jacket and the goatee...
BON JOVI: ...And driving in a - you know, in a cool car going to his beauty parlor.
GROSS: Not seducing all of his (laughter) - all of his clientele like Warren Beatty did.
BON JOVI: Well, one never know, but the...
BON JOVI: You'll have to ask him. That would be another interview.
GROSS: So of course everybody's going to be wondering now, is there a connection between your father being a hairdresser and your hair in the early Bon Jovi days?
BON JOVI: Well, I guess the connection would be that he's either to credit or to blame for the '80s - you know, because he certainly cut my hair. Yeah, and it's funny because when I grew up - see, the way you got punished after - you know, you can get the belt. You can get a backhand here and there. But the worst punishment in my house - the worst - was you're getting a haircut.
BON JOVI: And it was, you know - when you wanted to be in a rock ’n’ roll band and you're emulating all of those guys in the '70s before - you think about, you know, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith and those bands in the latter '70s whose posters adorned my walls. You know, the idea of getting a crew cut was just, like, the worst, you know. And there were a few of those in my house. But yeah, that, to me, was - you know, that was the worst.
GROSS: So did he ever do your hair when you started performing?
BON JOVI: He cut it probably until his retiring in '86-ish. Yeah. So yeah, some of those hairstyles that you saw at the height of "Slippery When Wet," he would've been responsible for. Most definitely.
GROSS: So what was the first record that you bought?
BON JOVI: The first record that I bought - I don't know. Some of the early records that I remember having an impact on me were rather diverse. They could be everything from those K-tel compilations if you remember...
GROSS: Yeah, sure do.
BON JOVI: ...Those when, you know, they would put together basically a cover band to cover what was very successful on AM radio at the time. Or some of the bigger brothers of the guys that I was hanging out with introduced us to everything from punk to Bob Dylan. So it was very diverse. And then you couldn't help but gravitate towards what was popular hard rock stuff in the latter '70s - if it was Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith and that kind of stuff - because it was the most popular. And then I was drawn to what was happening in Asbury Park just moments away from where I was born and raised, with guys like Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes.
GROSS: How well did you get to know them before you started recording?
BON JOVI: Oh, Southside recorded maybe my second demo ever - would come back to my parents house for pasta, you know? So I was played - the first time that Bruce jumped onstage with me, I was probably 17...
GROSS: Wow, really? Wow.
BON JOVI: ...16, 17, 18. I was a kid. Yeah, I was a kid. And they used to come and see the kid play 'cause, you know, I had a band with horns. And we were emulating the Jukes even when I was 16, 17, 18 years old until I realized that - at a very early age - unless you wrote your own stuff, the future stopped there. And you're always going to be in a cover band.
So Asbury, though its heyday had passed and, you know, those stories of the record companies hanging out in the alleyways, signing bands - what was real is that there was an original music scene there. And the opportunities were there to perform original music.
BIANCULLI: Jon Bon Jovi, speaking with Terry Gross in 2009. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BON JOVI'S "LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME")
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview Terry Gross recorded with Jon Bon Jovi. He and his band are scheduled to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Now, a few years ago, a CD was released of demos that you'd recorded at a recording studio that was co-owned by your cousin. And before we get to that story, I want to play one of those demos 'cause I think this one is just particularly, like, influenced by this Springsteen kind of sound. And...
BON JOVI: Wow.
GROSS: ...I don't know if you'll agree, but, I'm thinking of "More Than We Bargained For."
BON JOVI: I vaguely remember that.
GROSS: Only vaguely? You want to hear it?
BON JOVI: No.
BON JOVI: No.
BON JOVI: You know, I remember those bootleg demos that they released from there. Those are demos, yeah. They were pretty darn good demos for a 17, 18-year-old kid. They weren't good enough to get me a record deal. But you couldn't help but be influenced, like I said, from what was around you. I remember vividly I was opening for a band who - see how I could say this nicely - were really a carbon copy of what had come before them and were much more successful. Is that a nice, political way to put that?
BON JOVI: And we were sort of, like, you know, the baby Muppets version of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes because, you know, I was 18 years old and wanting to be Southside Johnny. I had a four- and five-piece horn section. And we were playing Motown and R&B and juke covers and this and that. And we're opening for that other band. And that band guy came back. And the singer - he says, you know, you're pretty good, Jon (mumbling). You know, you should be playing your own stuff. And I thought to myself, if this is the end of the road, and I'm a carbon copy of...
BON JOVI: ...Someone else you know, who's already doing this, and you're a carbon copy of something, and it's going nowhere fast, it's time for me to quit my own band. And I did. And I went, and I joined someone else's band just as the guys' singer. And the musical style was much more new wave, if you remember that movement.
GROSS: Of course.
BON JOVI: You know, Capezios and tight blue jeans and that kind of thing. Just the idea that, OK, it's time to get out of this quick and start writing and move on because, you know, without it, I'd still be down there playing four sets a night.
GROSS: Well, let's hear that demo that I was referring to.
BON JOVI: Sure.
GROSS: So this is "More Than We Bargained For." And this is the one I said sounds very Springsteen influenced. So here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORE THAN WE BARGAINED FOR")
BON JOVI: (Singing) I've always wanted what I couldn't have. I hope and dream that someday - that I'd find out what love is all about. I sure grew up tonight the hard way. Now the candy store's closed. The movie's sold out. "High Plains Drifter" isn't what it's all about. And now we're parting ways. I won't say a word. Let our broken hearts cry in their where they'll never be heard. It's more than we bargained for. Our love is the price we've paid. And just like a fading dream, it's slipping away. Last night, I saw you out with my best friend. When I'm with you, I see him in your eyes. I want to hold you, but I don't understand. There's something there...
GROSS: So that's Jon Bon Jovi from a demo that he made back in the day. It was around...
BON JOVI: 1981, I think.
GROSS: Yeah, OK. And those demos that he made before the band Bon Jovi are collected on a CD called "The Power Station Years." And the Power Station is the name of this studio that your cousin Tony (ph) owned or still owns. I'm not sure which.
BON JOVI: No, it's long since gone - many, many years ago.
GROSS: Long since gone. OK. So when you were still in high school, I believe, or after you'd left high school, you worked there as a janitor. You - correct me whenever I make a mistake here - and also got to record demos in the studio, yes? Is that...
BON JOVI: Right. I met a man who was my second cousin. I didn't know him before.
BON JOVI: So for a short window...
GROSS: How'd you meet him?
BON JOVI: My dad. He was his cousin - again, much older than me, so there was no contact there. He came to see my band play. And he said, the band stinks, but the kid's pretty good. And he had a recording studio. And he said if - you know, if I could ever help you sometime, give me a shout. And I got out of high school. And I was playing the bars, and I was recording demos and doing what I was doing, you know, out of high school now and doing this full time. And I called him up, and I said, you know, can I come and hang out? He says, yeah, sure. We'll let you be a gopher. And for $50 a week, you came there and ran errands.
And while that still happens in recording studios where guys go to, you know, fetch coffee and clean up afterwards and run errands, you eventually learn to become an assistant engineer, maybe someday a recording engineer. And recording engineers have to record somebody. So while that next generation of kid engineer assistance were coming up, the kid went in and recorded some demos in the middle of the night or on weekends or whenever studio time became available. And, you know, everybody learned how to do what they did.
GROSS: And what did you do with the demos?
BON JOVI: Shopped them. You know, it was very hard to keep an original band together in the early '80s because cover bands in New Jersey and New York and Long Island were making money. But playing your own stuff, you'd be lucky if you could split $100 if you were really lucky. And the idea of keeping a band together wasn't very easy. So you'd record these demos and either ship them off to guys that were willing to play original music. Or, sometimes, you'd send them to college radio stations and - with the hope that if you got it on the radio, even on a local level, perhaps it would lead to a frat party or a dance or something like that.
And then, ultimately, the goal was to get it to a record company with the hope that you could get yourself a record deal. And so I shipped a bunch of those around to a bunch of labels. And I did like a million other guys before me - just waited for some kind of response.
GROSS: And what happened was that a local - a small, local station played your demo of "Runaway," and that caught on?
BON JOVI: Yeah. Actually, there was a brand-new station just outside of Manhattan called WAPP. And they were a Doubleday station. They were actually quite a big station. They were competing in the marketplace with the No. 1 AOR station in New York, which was called WNEW at the time. And they were so new, and I was such a forward thinker that I thought, I'm having no luck getting responses from record companies.
Who is the man who loves music the most and probably the loneliest man in the music business? And that is the DJ. And at the time, DJs could be rather influential, if you remember, as well. So a DJ had some pull. He could go on the radio and talk up a song. I went to this station. And fortunately for me, they were so new that they didn't have a receptionist.
BON JOVI: This is probably one of the keys to my luck and my success - is that they were so new that I was able to not only walk into the station but knock on the DJ's booth. And it's like a scene out of movie.
GROSS: Wow. That's amazing, I can't believe that.
BON JOVI: He looked over his shoulder, and he saw a kid holding a cassette tape. And on a break, he came out, and he said, you know, who are you? What do you want? And I told him who I was and what I had. And he said, well, stick around. When I get off the air, we'll yap. And I did. And I played him this stuff.
And he said, boy, that sounds like a hit song to me. Would you consider being on a home-grown record that we're going to put together to try to create some kind of buzz for our little radio station here? And I thought, well, that sounds nice, but it's not really my goal. My goal is to make my own records. But subsequently, I did it. And not only me but a couple of other acts that he picked for that record went on to get national recording contracts.
But in the case of "Runaway," it was that one in a million and it started to break nationally without a record deal, without a band, without a manager, without anything. And subsequently, I put together the band, which really became this band for what was I thought to be I don't know three-, four-week period of getting the name out there, trying to build upon the success of the one track. And maybe I'd get to play a couple more clubs as an original act. And 27 years later, I can't get rid of those guys.
BON JOVI: They're still following me around.
BIANCULLI: Jon Bon Jovi speaking to Terry Gross in 2009. Saturday night in Cleveland, he and his band Bon Jovi are scheduled to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. After a break, we'll hear more of their interview. And film critic Justin Chang will review the new movie starring Joaquin Phoenix, "You Were Never Really Here." I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNAWAY")
BON JOVI: (Singing) On the street where you live, girls talk about their social lives. They're made of lipstick, plastic and paint, a touch of sable in their eyes. All your life, all you've asked - when's your daddy going to talk to you? But you were living in another world, trying to get a message through. No one heard a single word you said. They should have seen it in your eyes - what was going around your head. Ooh, she's a little runaway. Daddy's girl learned fast all those things she couldn't say. Ooh, she's a little runaway. Take a line every night - guaranteed to blow your mind.
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross, back with more of Terry's 2009 interview with Jon Bon Jovi, leader of the band Bon Jovi. He and the band are scheduled to be inducted Saturday night into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Other inductees this year include The Moody Blues, The Cars, Nina Simone, Dire Straits and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Bon Jovi and the band are best known for such 1980s hits as "Runaway," "I'll Be There For You," "Livin' On A Prayer" and "You Give Love A Bad Name." When Terry spoke with Jon Bon Jovi, the band had just released a new CD, the chart-topping "The Circle," and a companion documentary DVD. Bon Jovi also was the subject of a new book featuring interviews with and photographs of the band.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Now, you say in the interviews for the DVD and the book - you say you don't - you were talking about opening for other bands, like for Kiss and Judas Priest. And you say, you didn't want me opening for you because I'd do anything to upstage you - anything. I'd come flying off the ceilings. What would you do to upstage bands you were opening for?
BON JOVI: It's a term that some - Southside told me once. It's called headhunting. And John used to tell me the stories of he and the Jukes doing the same kinds of things and - the truth was is you had very limited time, space, sound, lights. And, you know, in that 30 minutes, you had to make yourself and your presence known. Notoriously, I could - I could make a lot out of 30 minutes.
When you're playing your own stuff in a bar for 50 people or 500 people and they want to hear something that's on the jukebox because they've been out at work or at school all week and they come to that nightclub and they want to dance or they want to meet girls and boys and they want to, you know, have a drink, the last thing they want to do is pay attention to what you're doing. So you've got to find a way to get them to pay attention.
GROSS: Can you give me an example of what you did?
BON JOVI: I'll give you an example that happened a few years into our success. We were in what was then the Soviet Union, in Moscow, at Lenin Stadium. We were quite successful at this time. This was during the album called "New Jersey." And so it was even after "Slippery When Wet." But we were on this bill with a band called the Scorpions out of Germany and a band called Motley Crue out of Los Angeles and Skid Row and Cinderella and Ozzy Osbourne and all these bands. And every band had been reduced to basically becoming a bar band again, simply because in the Soviet Union, none of our records had ever been officially released.
And so the idea of going out there and resting on hit songs or whatever banter you had with an English-speaking audience was now out the window. And we played the first night. And I had been relying on, hey, here's a song called "Livin' On A Prayer." I think this'll work.
BON JOVI: Here's a song called, you know, "Wanted Dead Or Alive." I think that's going to work. Well, guess what? It didn't work. So we got our booties kicked the first night because I had learned to rely on these hit songs. And so I said, OK, guys, I've got a great idea. We got our butts kicked by the German band, the Scorpions. And then I give them credit for this 20 years later.
But the second night I said, here's what we're going to do. I said, you guys are going to start this song. Don't worry about when I get to the stage, I'll get there. And I went to the back of the stadium. And I suggested to a Russian soldier that for a pair of Levi's and a couple of T-shirts, he'd give me his uniform.
BON JOVI: And I wore it from top to bottom - hat, coat, gloves, pants, the whole 10 yards. And I walked down the center aisle of the stadium with a microphone in my pocket. And I took it out and I, more or less, did a strip tease the whole way to the stage - one glove, one hat, one coat, one shirt. And then I had a t-shirt and jeans on underneath it. By the time I hopped on that stage, the entire stadium was going absolutely nuts. And accidentally - I should lie and say - somebody hit a pyrotechnics button on the downbeat of the song...
BON JOVI: ....And boom. It - pyro went off that weren't meant to go off. And a guy in another big band turned around to the promoter of the show and punched him right in the nose. And he says, you planned this. And he says, I didn't know a darn thing about it. And I just looked at my bandmates and, you know, we won the night. We won the headlines and we won the whole deal. And it was, you know, the story was told.
GROSS: Well, let's hear another song and we'll hear one of those hits that didn't go over (laughter) initially in the Soviet Union (laughter). And this is "You Give Love A Bad Name" which is so catchy. This was your first No. 1 single.
BON JOVI: It is.
GROSS: I don't know if that was a big surprise to you to be No. 1?
BON JOVI: Oh, sure. I mean, who do - look, being a kid, getting a record deal was as big as you ever dreamt. You know, like I say, I always reference John and the Jukes. Playing regionally at the time when that was about as big as you imagine ever being. Being on a tour bus was as big as you ever imagined being. You didn't think about No. 1 records and flying in jet airplanes and seeing the world the way, you know, we ultimately did. So the idea of No. 1 records? Forget about it. You know, the idea that I could talk to you now about the hundred-plus million albums? I'd never in my wildest dreams. So this was the first of many pleasant surprises.
GROSS: OK. So this is Bon Jovi, "You Give Love A Bad Name."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME")
BON JOVI: (Singing) Shot through the heart and you're to blame. Darling, you give love a bad name. An angel's smile is what you sell. You promised me heaven, then put me through hell. Chains of love got a hold on me. When passion's a prison, you can't break free. Oh, oh, you're a loaded gun. Yeah. Oh, oh, there's nowhere to run. No one can save me. The damage is done. Shot through the heart and you're to blame. You give love a bad name, bad name. I play my part and you play your game. You give love a bad name, bad name. You give love a bad name. Paint your smile on your lips...
GROSS: That's Bon Jovi's first No. 1 hit. My guest is Jon Bon Jovi. It's amazing, you know, when you first went on tour you were still living with your parents...
BON JOVI: Sure.
GROSS: ...As were a couple of the other guys in Bon Jovi. Was it odd being a kind of, like, rock rebel on stage and going home to the room you grew up in afterwards?
BON JOVI: No. You know, the truth of the matter is, like I said before, the dream of ever getting a record deal to begin with is an incredible feat. But then the idea of ever making a dollar doing it? That was even fewer and far between. So there's a lot more people than you'd ever believe that made records that never made enough money to move out. And we were the norm, you know. The first two albums I lived at home, and it wasn't until the success of the third one that I was able to even afford an apartment, let alone buy a house. The money wasn't that quick.
GROSS: Were you getting along with your parents then? Or were they trying to, like...
BON JOVI: That wasn't too hard to have, you know, your kid coming home and, you know, he makes records, and you know, so. And by that time, it was pretty easy, you know, and you came and went. Yeah, I really - I was fortunate enough in my house that though they didn't come from a musical background, the great blessing I had was that, at least if I was going to be in a bar until 3 in the morning, they used to say at least they knew where I was. And so they supported everything that I wanted to do with this. And so it wasn't too hard. No, it was OK.
GROSS: Now, Bon Jovi hit it big during the video era - the rock video era when videos on MTV were really selling records. And you did your share of big videos. Did you enjoy doing those? I mean, having that kind of - I mean, it's clear, like, from what you were saying, that you had already known how to upstage the headliner and - but videos are different. Did you appreciate the opportunity to make those little films, or did you see them as an inconvenience that had to be tolerated?
BON JOVI: I hated them with a passion, still do. I have to do one this week and it's just the worst - worst portion of what it is that I have to do. You know, when you write a song and you have a mind's-eye view of what it is about, i.e. "Runaway," it was - if you think about it, it really was, you know, a pop song, but it had a social consciousness.
When I was taking the bus or the train into Manhattan, working in the recording studio, I was following a dream. But I had a place to go at night and go back to sleep in New Jersey. A lot of kids, you know, got off that bus at that bus station, the Greyhound bus station at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel and didn't have another place to go. And they came here looking for a dream, too. I don't think they, you know, dreamt to be sleeping outside the Greyhound station working the streets. But that's what I looked at out that bus window and thought of the song.
So now when you have your first video on your first album, and some guy just saw a film called "Firestarter" and says, I got a great idea, a girl is going to shoot flames out of her eyes and ears and her nose. And you go, OK, you know. And you're going to wear these silly clothes, OK. You don't know any better. Suddenly, you know, you're thrust into something you know nothing about. And it was - we were embarrassed to say the least.
It's a shame that the pressures put upon you as a young kid to satisfy the machine, if you will. Or - or at least believe that those who are guiding you are doing it well. You know, sometimes you fall short.
BIANCULLI: Jon Bon Jovi speaking to Terry Gross in 2009. More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BON JOVI'S "LIVIN' ON A PRAYER")
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2009 interview with Jon Bon Jovi. Saturday night in Cleveland, he and his band Bon Jovi are scheduled to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Let's get in another song. And this is another one of your early hits, "Livin' On A Prayer." Can you say something about writing this one?
BON JOVI: Yeah, I wanted to introduce storytelling. That was, I think, an important part of the growth was to start to tell stories about people and specific people. And because the song is a collaboration, it wasn't my story or Richie's story, it became our story. And so the names were changed to protect the innocent, as we say. But I was looking to tell stories of people that I knew growing up who were doing certain things and making certain sacrifices. And you could tell it from your point of view or Richie could tell it from his point of view.
And what happened was that it becomes a collaboration and it becomes our point of view. And in turn, that's sort of - part of the magic potion in why the songs have remained timeless and have crossed generations is that it's not just specific to one day and date. But our story becomes other people's stories.
GROSS: OK, so this is Bon Jovi "Livin' On A Prayer."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVIN' ON A PRAYER")
BON JOVI: (Singing) Tommy used to work on the docks, union's been on strike. He's down on his luck. It's tough - so tough. Gina works a diner all day. Working for her man, she brings home her pay for love - for love. She says we've got to hold on to what we've got. It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not. We've got each other, and that's a lot for love. We'll give it a shot. Whoa, we're halfway there, whoa, living on a prayer. Take my hand, we'll make it, I swear. Whoa, living on a prayer.
GROSS: That's one of Bon Jovi's early hits, "Livin' On A Prayer." My guest is Jon Bon Jovi. There was a period when it was a kind of rocky time for the band. The band split up for a while. And somewhere is - I think in that period, you basically asked a psychologist to intervene and - what? - help the band talk to each other. Is that...
BON JOVI: Well, let me - let me....
GROSS: Correct me. Go ahead.
BON JOVI: ...Just correct you, slightly. The band never - never broke up, nor had it ever threatened to really break up. But after our first four albums, which were really back to back to back to back and subsequent tours, oh, goodness gracious - in excess of 200-plus shows a tour, we were physically and mentally exhausted. And each of us said we have to go and find something else in our lives because this has been great. But if this is all it is, I don't think I can keep this pace anymore.
I needed a break, as did the guys because we had nothing left to talk about. We had spent from 1983 to 1990 in each other's faces. I mean, on stage, offstage, on tour, off tour, there was nothing left to say or do. So we needed to find ourselves individually. I went off and did the "Young Guns" soundtrack. Richie did a solo record. Dave started dabbling in soundtracks, which now led to his writing scores for Broadway. Everybody had to go and do things.
And one of the things that I did when I came out of the fog was started talking to some of my peers and their support systems. And Tim Collins, who was at the time the manager of Aerosmith, told me that what he did with Aerosmith - but they were doing more with addiction problems - was he brought this friend of his in who is a - I don't want to call him a shrink because that's really not the right word. He's not a psychiatrist but he's more of a mediator.
And when you had somebody in the room who you could fully trust who wasn't being paid to be there, you know, i.e. a commission or, you know, you didn't work for the record company or he wasn't a manager or anything else, you found that, you know, he was the voice of reason. That was a saving grace for the band because we finally had a place where we could be honest and talk to each other about what was good, what was bad, what was indifferent.
And when you clear the air and you realized wow, that was nothing, let's just go make the next record, everybody came back with a clear head. And we went in two years later and made "Keep The Faith." The genre of music that we were a part of was now going away. And, you know, here was this sign of faith, which is all we really had to go forward with. So we wrote that. And there was a big hit on that record called "Bed Of Roses," and that was a big hit song. But we went into the '90s with a clear objective and that was to believe in each other and have faith in what it was that we were all about.
GROSS: It sounds like that was a frightening moment in the way you said that our kind of music was going away.
BON JOVI: It wasn't actually. I found it reassuring in that as a - I don't know - as an artist who's been around as long as I have and has been this successful for as long as we've been, genres of music come and go. I've seen two groups of the boy bands come and go, two of the young girls groups come and go. I've seen, you know, when it was Debbie Gibson and then it was Britney Spears. You saw Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block. And then you saw a Backstreet Boys and NSYNC.
You know, these things are cyclical, they come and then they go. And what happens is record companies, they find one that's incredibly successful. And then they all scurry around their desks looking for tapes of 10 others to capitalize on the success of that one. And then they all sign carbon copies of them until the real one stands up and goes on and goes forward. And the rest of them fall by the wayside, and they can say that they made a record once.
I was always confident in who we were and what we did that I wasn't worried about that. We were just changing with our growing up. I didn't jump on the fads and fashions, both in the boy band crazes or the grunge phase or the rap phase. We just stayed true to who we were. And like I said, growing up, you change the parameters of the songwriting, but it doesn't mean that it's any less true.
GROSS: Well, Jon Bon Jovi, thank you so much for talking with us. It's been great to talk with you.
BON JOVI: Thank you, appreciate it.
BIANCULLI: Jon Bon Jovi speaking to Terry Gross in 2009. He and his band, Bon Jovi, are scheduled to be inducted Saturday night into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, along with The Moody Blues, Nina Simone and others. Coming up, film critic Justin Chang reviews, "You Were Never Really Here," the new movie starring Joaquin Phoenix. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BAMBOOS' "THE BAMBOOS THEME")
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