Come, if you will, into a world of private planes, tight trousers and hydraulically operated stage sets, where large men guard every doorway. For tonight, Bon Jovi will launch their spectacular world tour which continues until 1990. “Who wants half measures?” they ask Adrian Deevoy.
“BON JOVI... Back To Kick Ass” declare the T-shirts outside the Royal Dublin Society Arena. Below this raunchy statement of intent is the list of dates scheduled for Bon Jovi’s ongoing assault on the world. Cynics say that starting a world tour in Ireland, with its modest market percentage, is akin to having a public dress rehearsal prior to starting the tour proper. To this charge, Bon Jovi say, “Bullshit!”
Inside the great barn of a venue, 7,000 fans, many swathed in the vastly marked-up tour T-shirt, surge against the front-stage crash barriers, eagerly anticipating the bizarre bottom-kicking ritual.
Moving through the stetsons and headscarves - worn by the dedicated Jovi follower, in uncomfortable combination - you can just make out a small blond woman on the stage engaging in some rock and roll horseplay with a guitarist. Through a mist of dry ice and unsavoury body-steam, she appears to be just a huge hair-do and a pair of spindly legs. Closer inspection reveals her to be Lita Ford, raw-throated 24 hour rock-chick by appointment, who is doing what she does best: supporting a band who are a lot better than her own.
Weaving further forward, stepping upon scuffed cowboy boots and stained sneakers, you happen upon a black curtained-off section to the right of the stage. The custodian of this curtain is an unsmiling creature with legs for arms who, despite the frost on the ground outside, is wearing only a straining singlet. An attempt to engage him in conversation about, you know, how the nights are drawing in is foiled by a series of terse neanderthal grunts. Enquiries pertaining to life beyond the curtain that he is guarding so doggedly, fall upon even stonier ground. Fortunately, his micro-span attention is momentarily distracted by a young girl who has fainted in the crush. He reluctantly leaves his post and scoops her up in a surprisingly gentle movement.
Behind the curtain, burly, bearded individuals efficiently coil cables, tune guitars and walk about purposefully, oblivious to the colossal noise emanating from the sound rig resonating mere feet from them. Beneath the stage itself lies a labyrinth of corridors leading to various hydraulic devices which will miraculously elevate members of Bon Jovi up through the floor during their performance. With their obligatory big bunch of keys tugging ill-fitting jeans down over fjord-like bum cleavages, the roadies disappear into the sub-stage network like well-drilled worker bees, only to reappear, minutes later, from a different entrance.
Walking at brisk roadie-pace through the hive of hyperactivity, you are soon confronted by another burly specimen that would have had Charles Darwin reaching for the Tipp-Ex. Again he is the only, though admittedly sizeable, object denying you entrance to another particularly enticing enclosure where, just above his shoulders, you can see TV lights and cameras, small Japanese men sipping cans of Budweiser, tour-jacketed Americans brandishing laminated Access All Areas passes and flustered girls carrying glittering stage costumes.
“Can I help you?” asks The Missing Link in a heavy Dublin accent.
A deft body swerve and you’re heading in the direction of 2 caravans around which a small collection of photographers and TV reporters are milling. On a concreted area between the caravans sit 2 plastic beer garden tables covered by bright yellow umbrellas. They look almost surreal in the black and freezing Dublin night, as does the pool table beside them, all set up, should anyone require a little potting practice amidst the media mayhem. Standing outside one of the caravans is Danny, Jon Bon Jovi’s personal bodyguard. He is English, politely suspicious and bigger than you and your 2 best friends put together. A firm handshake later you’re crossing the threshold of the inner sanctum.
“Sonuvabitch!” snaps Alec John Such, Bon Jovi’s ‘seasoned’ bass player, wrestling with the laced fly of his leather pants. “I can’t get my nuts right.” He attempts another unsatisfactory arrangement of his trousers, cursing them with copious use of the Oedipal compound noun.
Guitarist Richie Sambora sympathetically studies Alec’s predicament. “Stick ‘em both down one side,” he offers after due consideration. “You should get a pair of these,” he suggests, energetically slapping his own curious cowboy-style leather over-trouser devices.
Tico Torres, the band’s well-nourished drummer appears and makes for the drinks table in the corner of the makeshift dressing room. Ignoring the traditionally flavoured hard stuff, he reaches into an icebox for some sparkling spring water. “No alcohol before the show,” he announces in an impossibly low New Jersey rumble. “Afterwards, however...”
The door swings open and keyboard player David Bryan (who changed his name from Rashbaum as the band began to become successful because it was ‘too ethnic’) joins the party. He’s wearing long boots, figure-hugging leather strides and, worryingly, no shirt. He’s holding 2 large ball bearings that tinkle when he shakes them. He explains that they are oriental percussion instruments and proceeds to entertain his fellow band members with a series of laboured double entendres about ‘his balls’. Alec, understandably, doesn’t see the funny side and determinedly persists with his fruitless reshufflings.
In a box-room- hitherto thought to be a wardrobe - at the end of the caravan, Jon Bon Jovi is having trouser troubles of his own. “Hey, c’mon in,” he shouts enthusiastically, “and help me get into these jeans, man.” The denims in question are soprano-inducingly tight and have a hand-painted naked woman - with long tresses of ‘real’ hair - coiled around the right leg. “Whaddya think of this?” he chuckles, pointing to his groin. The maiden’s hand stops at the wrist, giving the impression that she is delving into the front of the tousle-haired vocalist’s breeks.
They are, are they not, rather sexist? “Heeeeey!” he smirks, inadvertently resurrecting a classic Spinal Tap-Ism. “This guy thinks my jeans are sexy!” There’s a flicker of concern that I might be questioning his masculinity. “Get the f**k outta here man. It ain’t that kinda band!”
He paces impatiently around the caravan whooping and gibbering frantically. He makes tea, puts it down and pours himself some lemon juice then leaves that for the tea again. He talked about this moment earlier, back at his hotel.
“I dreaded this moment up until about 2 months ago. I hated it towards the end of the last tour. I was tired and I loved going out there but I hated it. It almost killed me and I didn’t realise because you just run on adrenaline. There’s time changes and you don’t know what country you’re in or what day it is and it really got to me. I look at the pictures that were taken then and realise how sick I was. But I’ve really gotten in shape for this, mentally and physically. I was running and working out real hard, then I started bulking up but I had to stop because it looked like I was getting fat. I went back to singing lessons and really studied the guitar and the harmonica again. I was thinking, ‘You do this for a living. You can’t get sloppy about it.‘
This evening I’ll be scared shitless. There’ll be a lot of adrenaline. There won’t be a wall that I can’t knock down. There’ll be sweat before I even get on stage. There’s a fear of f**king up - of not remembering stuff because you’re nervous. We’re doing Street Fighting Man and I still don’t know all the words...”
Out on stage, Lita Ford concludes her set to a charitably warm reception. Jon Bon Jovi flings open the caravan door - revealing, as he does, Richie, who is giving a minute-before-the-gig interview to MTV. All the guitarist can be heard to say is “rock ‘n’ roll is like a cloak...” before he is drowned out by Jon. Trembling with nervous energy, the singer is - almost unbelievably - yelling, “Get the dog off! I’m on fire!”
At the soundcheck that afternoon we saw a considerably less vociferous Jon Bon Jovi wandering about in woolly jumper and baseball hat, shyly nodding hellos to the various friends who had turned up to meet and greet him.
Def Leppard’s singer, Joe Elliot, a lanky, garrulous Sheffield man who now resides as a tax exile in Dublin on account of his band having sold a total of 22 million albums worldwide, shows up to meet the band. Although Jon had said that morning that the two were ‘old buddies’, Elliot’s arrival sparks off a curious reaction. Jon studiously avoids him, moving around Elliot - who is, to all intents and purposes his English counterpart - in a wide circle, much like a stalking cat. A little fazed, Elliot repairs to the crew room for a coffee and admits that Jon ‘seems really nervous’ adding that ‘he was going to sleep at my house but they’ve had all these complications so they’re going to have to stay at the hotel now’. Elliot wanders back to the hall to shoot the breeze with the unusually energetic Richie Sambora. Despite being in the early romantic throes of a relationship with brat-packer Ally Sheedy, Richie finds it difficult to talk about anyone but Jimmy Page.
“Me and Pagey were trying to do some sheesh together,” he froths, “but I’d ring Pagey and he’d be drunk or he’s ring me and I’d be out of the country, so he’d leave a message and I’d call him back but he’d be too out of it. You gotta see it, I start the show playing a twin-neck Gibson, just like Pagey.”
Bon Jovi and Elliot eventually get to meet up in the venue manager’s office over a conversation being largely conducted by Bon Jovi’s Danny de Vito doppelganger manager Doc McGhee. He is cheerily relating horror stories about his other charges Motley Crue who, earlier this year, had to be confronted about their dangerously debauched leisure pursuits. He tells Elliot, who has been teetotal for a year, how he had to put a sign up in their dressing room that read ‘You Don’t Have To Do It All’. ‘It’ referred to the ‘10 bottles of Jack Daniels and 2 ounces of blow’ they were doing every night.
“Sometimes,” McGhee says, “I’d get a message on my walkie-talkie at 10 o’clock the next morning after they’d done all the blow and you’d hear this, ‘Is anyone out there holding?‘ What a nightmare.”
McGhee then delivers the happy ending: the band have been ‘clean’ for 5 months now and have regular ‘piss-tests’ to make sure they stay that way. Elliot recalls a story about Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler being so ‘out of it’ one night that he decided to open the set with the song they normally used for their finale. Such was the strength of the chemical cocktail Tyler had previously ingested, he finished the song, said, ‘thank you and goodnight’ to his bemused audience and wandered back to his dressing room marvelling at how time flies when you’re enjoying yourself.
McGhee rolls his eyes and comes back with a story from the time he worked with Aerosmith when, after much drinking and powdering of nose, Tyler was out on stage showing the audience how to, if you will, Walk This way. He became so involved in the dance however that he ‘walked’ past the monitor engineer, past McGhee who was watching from the wings and fell off the side of the stage. “He’s clean too now,” concludes McGhee, “Can’t even stay in the same room with a guy who’s having a drink.”
Interestingly no-one, at this point, mentions McGhee’s own history of drug involvement, his arrest in 1982 for smuggling 20 tonnes of marijuana, the 5-year suspended sentence he received this summer on condition that he does 3,000 hours of community service in a drug centre set up and funded out of his own pocket.
Instead Bon Jovi and Elliot, two of the most successful rock musicians on the planet, are discussing how to keep a fish dinner warm. Carla (Elliot’s model girlfriend) has made this Japanese fish thing,“ says Elliot earnestly, ”I said we’d get back for about 9 o’clock but obviously you’re going to be a bit later than that.“
”I guess it’ll be about eleven,“ says Bon Jovi, ”Can you apologise to her from me? She’s gonna wanna kill me.“ ”No, it’s no problem,“ insists Elliot, ”She’ll just pop it in the oven.“
”Or microwave it,“ suggests Bon Jovi helpfully. ”Wait a minute, can you microwave fish? Is that cool?“
Later that evening in a Dublin nightclub, Joe can confirm that the dinner party went well. Dorothea - Jon’s girlfriend since high school - and Carla got on terrifically and the fish went down a treat. The club, on the other hand, isn’t such a raging success. Jon is smiling patiently and answering questions put to him by a growing group of tanked-up fans. ”Yes,“ he replies for the third time, his smile fading, ”I’m really looking forward to the show.“ He leans across to the table. ”I’m sorry. I gotta get outta this place. I’ll see you tomorrow.“
”Man, that was the worst! I couldn’t quit that joint quick enough,“ laughs Jon at his hotel suite the following morning, ”I got back here and had a good night’s sleep.“ He removes his dark glasses, as if to prove his point. In close proximity, he is an unsettlingly pretty man.
”If it wasn’t for the stubble,“ a stridently heterosexual photographer comments later, ”I could quite fancy him.“
As we talk, Bon Jovi’s 4th LP, New Jersey is sitting at the top of the UK and US album charts. ”It’s got a great view from up there,“ he says, ”I’ve got U2 right up my ass and they’ll probably knock us off in a couple of weeks but at the moment, the view is beautiful.“
New Jersey came as the follow-up to Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet album which, following the release of the singles Living On A Prayer and You Give Love A Bad Name in 1986 became the fastest-selling LP of all time and went on to shift 7 million copies in the US alone. When did they begin to feel the inevitable pressure of writing a follow-up?
”The Slippery tour ended in Hawaii,“ he begins in a gravelly Jersey drawl, ”and we stayed there a while because everyone needed a rest. Then, one by one, we all left apart from Richie who stayed there for about a month. We didn’t do anything for about 3 or 4 weeks then the phone calls started to change from “Whatcha doin’ today?” to “Hey, I got this neat hook.” Then we demoed the first batch of songs. Seventeen in all. There were a couple of good ones in there but we really started to feel the pressure then because we didn’t have the amazing song. I panicked to be honest. I really wanted to do it again, not for monetary reasons - I have plenty of money - but it was such an amazing feeling to have done what we’ve done. There was this real fear of not being able to write Bad Name again. We sat in the house and wrote this song called Love Is War and it sounded great but I wanted to write Bad Name so much, it came out with exactly the same chord progression! Richie was saying, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll get back in the groove’. And I’m walking around the house yelling, ‘I gotta pay for this place, we gotta write some f**king hot songs!‘ Then we started on the second batch and they came flooding out: Born To Be My Baby, Bad Medicine, Lay your Hands On Me...“
The security or this tour has been increased, you have a bodyguard with you almost permanently. Can that element of fame become a major pressure?
”It’s not a pressure really,“ he laughs, ”Deep down I think we love it. We say it’s a pressure and all that sheesh but it’s a pretty good feeling. Better than being f**king ignored and we’ve had plenty of that too! It can be fun. In Australia because the hotel was, like, under siege, I bought this baseball cap with a wig that, like, hangs out the bottom, real black and curly - like Harpo Marx - and I bought a little moustache. I put them on with this pair of regular eyeglasses and I went into the show and I walked right past the wardrobe girl who’s been with me for a year and a half and said, ‘Hi, my name’s Sal.‘ She goes, ‘Hi Sal‘ and kept walking. I thought, ‘This is great!‘ Then I walked up on stage and kicked my guitar and my guitar roadie came running out and went nuts at me - ‘Who the f**k do you think you are? Do you know whose guitar that is?‘ Then I just took off the hat and peeled off the moustache real slow and stood there smiling. Man, they were dying! Then I put them back on and walked out on the street and I swear to God, as soon as I got out there, the first person I walked past said, ‘Hi Jon!‘ I couldn’t believe it.“
New Jersey is crammed full of overblown sentiments and ridiculously passionate gushings. Surely, you’re not actually that romantic?
”Sure.“ He says unconvincingly. ”Maybe I’m just like that, y’know? I kind of think about things in a big way, I guess. When I go for something, I really go or it, do you know what I mean? But I like to think that a song like Blood On Blood is more about friendship than romance. Anyway, who wants half measures? I like those kinda songs, always did. I love that majestic sheesh! But at the same time sometimes I’d like to come out on stage like Willy de Ville used to. He’d come out real cool, smoking a cigarette, then he’d take it out of his mouth, look at the f**ker, stub it out and start the song. Part of me wants to do that but the other half is split between being Eddie Murphy and Mick Jagger. People think, ‘That Jon Bon Jovi is such an energetic performer.‘ Man, I’m scared to sheesh up there. The only reason I can’t stand still is because if I did there would be brown stuff falling out my ass!“
Did the pressures of writing New Jersey have any effect on the band’s relationships?
”It made us stronger,“ he nods, ”I’ve always said that if it was all over today, we’d still all go on vacation together. That’s the best way I can describe it. We’re like brothers.“
The album has taken a different course to Slippery When Wet: there’s less of a heavy rock bias and more of a Springsteen flavour to it.
”It shows more of our roots,“ he admits, ”Not that Bruce is solely responsible: there’s too many people there who have been an influence. But I’ve come to the conclusion that everybody in this business wants to be somebody else. Bruce wants to be Bob Dylan. I don’t know who I want to be yet. I’m too mixed up...“
It’s been suggested that you wanted to be Bruce last year and this year you want to be Bono.
”I’ve never really wanted to be Bruce,“ he says sounding surprised, ”I’ve always admired Bono. He has a great voice. And I’ve been a big fan of U2 since the Boy album. I was really hoping that they’d come to the show tonight but they’ve got the premiere of their movie in London. I would have got them up. That’s a thing I have - if you come to our shows you have to get up and work for your ticket. Joe’s doing The Boys Are Back In Town with us here tomorrow.“
Are you still awestruck when you meet famous people?
”Sure,“ he shrugs, ”but the number of people I would be awestruck by has dwindled. In a way that’s a sad thing because there’s a loss of innocence there, but you get to the realisation that they’re just people.“
How has uncountable wealth changed you?
”I got this sweatshirt for free,“ he laughs, pulling at his blue hooded top, ”A kid threw it over my gate and it’s one of my favourites now. I also got these sneakers for free. That’s one thing about having money - you suddenly get everything free. When you have no money and you’re freezing in your old sneakers, no-one gives you sheesh for free. But I don’t think we’ve become extravagant. I still wake up in the morning and thank God that I’m able to pay my hotel bill. It’s great to be able to go out to dinner and pick up the bill if you want. It’s a real good feeling to know that you can go buy your old man a Mercedes every day if you want. I bought my old man a car recently. That was good.“
Do your parents find it hard to accept presents from you?
”It was a real problem at first and I just couldn’t understand it,“ he says, upturning his palms, ”But they’ve begun to accept it for what it is now and I have as well. To me it’s as much their money as mine. They’re part of this. I understand how some parents get kind of strange about it. It’s still not easy. I’m taking them to Italy or the first time soon but I had to give them the tickets last Christmas so they had a year to get used to the idea and accept that they don’t have to go to work for a week. They both work full time still and they can’t stop working. I told them, ‘I’ll buy the goddam businesses you work in if you’ll just stop.‘ But they don’t listen. They just tell me to shut up and remember where I came from.“
Is there an element of revenge in such massive success?
”As a kid,“ he begins, sounding alarmingly like a Springsteen song-intro ramble, ”I never had first place in the race, never was the all-star baseball guy. I was always the schlep who hung in by the skin of his teeth. I just wanted to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band. The success is a great feeling. It’s not so much of a F**k You thing but it’s rewarding and the pay is just the icing on the cake.“
Does it change your attitude towards people?
”It makes you humbler,“ he says solemnly, ”Makes you more aware of how easy it would be to blow the whole thing. We could blow this real easy but I don’t think we’re that stupid. There’s been an excess of people who have sold as many albums as we have and had 18 minders and had to have flower petals thrown on the ground wherever they walked and I’ve sat with those people for 2 hours while they’ve told me how they screwed up.“
How have you taken to the responsibility of being an employer?
”That’s real weird,“ he chuckles, ”It’s hard to accept that you’re that guy. But I take the attitude that if the drum technician didn’t show up today then I couldn’t go to work. My crew has a hard time swallowing that. Because they treat me like, ‘Oh Hosanna’. I go, ‘Ah, c’mon you assholes, if any of you has a hangover today, I’m the one who is gonna suffer! I get the bad f**king review.“
There must have been a stage when the success went to your head. How did you keep that arrogance in check?
”That happened,“ he frowns, ”For a time you think you’re more than a real person. But it wasn’t really because of the way we were, it was because we were meeting these other bands and they had this superior air about them and we wanted to be like them. Then we realised these guys were stupid f**kers and we decided that if we wanted to get on we’d just have to be ourselves. A great way to keep that arrogance in check is to go home and they say, ‘Hey stand in the line and pay cover to get in the bar again. When you’re home, you don’t go out in the hats and the jewellery and the heels. You put on a sweatshirt and you go out and be a man again.
We went on a little tour - played a bunch of clubs on the East Coast - about 2 weeks ago in a van, in preparation for this. We stayed in f**k-motels and got humble again. We played Woodstock to about 150 stoned-out hippies and about 3 of them clapped - it was like starting up again. Then we drove a couple of hours upstate and played another club and met up with The Stray Cats and we said, ‘We’ll open for you’ and they said, ‘No, no, no, we’ll open for you.’ We played together at the end ‘til 4 in the morning. The cops turned up and they were on our side! They started drinking with us and Tico took one of them out until dawn and the cop gave Tico his leather motorcycle jacket and all sorts of weird sheesh happened. It was a neat exercise but, by the end of it, the band were saying, ‘We’ve had enough of being humble. Let’s get back to reality again!‘“
Are the songs you write as simplistic as they seem or do they have a deeper meaning for you? Take a song like 99 In The Shade, although it is ostensibly just a long-haired, hit-the-beach chant-along song, is that really a tinge of sadness you can detect in your voice?
“I’ll tell you about that,” he says, removing his baseball cap, warming to the idea of discussing his lyrics. “This summer someone dumped a bunch of garbage in the Hudson river. All hypodermic needles and vials of blood with AIDS in it and that washed ashore so most of the Jersey shoreline was closed down this summer. It was a real drag because as kids we’d go there and get laid and hang out and that was a real big thrill but for the kids growing up there now, that’s gone. That song is kind of sad now but at the same time it’s an affectionate kind of photograph of those times.”
Don’t you think a line like ‘Got a party in my pocket and I just got paid’ detracts from its sobering atmosphere of wistful regret?
“That was Sam Cooke, man,” he blushes, then sings, ‘Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody. I got some money ‘cos I just got paid.‘ I was thinking of that! That party in my pocket is just money!... All right there’s a bit of kinda subtle stuff in there. OK, I’ll admit that!“
Back at the concert, the house lights go down, Bon Jovi dash across the roadie-area - Jon still shouting ”I’m on fire!“, Alec obviously much happier - to take their starting positions beneath the stage. It’s an awesome spectacle as Jon rises up from the stage floor to the anthemic strains of Lay Your hands On Me. Not without good reason, the audience all but combust.
In spite of the band’s lengthy and impassioned assertions that they are not sex symbols, they still tease and torment their more impressionable female followers and in turn get showered with freshly laundered underwear for their trouble.
Throughout the show, Jon’s brother Tony Bongiovi (he has retained the Italian family spelling of the surname, meaning ‘good youth’) taps his foot and claps occasionally. He has been upgraded from second carpenter to merchandise co-ordinator for this tour. At one point, Jon runs to the near side of the stage, catches his brother’s eye, feigns mock exhaustion, winks and is gone again. Tony looks on unsmiling, evidently feeling that life has short-changed him somewhere along the line.
Mercifully, the tedious inter-song addresses have gone the same way as the excessive soloing of yore. ”We’re cutting the f**kers out. I’m bored with that sheesh. You go and see Van Halen and you know the minute the solos start you can go have a drink for the next 45 minutes. Dave (Lee Roth) probably goes back to the hotel and takes a shower. I used to go and sit round the back while Richie took a solo and man, it seemed like a week! It’s just the songs now.“
This is more or less true. Just the songs. With a little bit of choreographed ‘flying’ above the audience during Wild Is The Wind, just a handful of overt come-ons and a lot of knickers.
Physically drained and swamped by a huge sheepskin jacket after the show, Jon Bon Jovi is quiet, almost pensive. He tentatively solicits an opinion on the concert and looks pleased to learn that it was unchallenging but massively entertaining. ”Hey, what else did you expect?“ He asks with a self-effacing grin, ”We’re just a good-time rock ‘n’ roll band.“