All the world's a stage for busy Bon Jovi
Published in the Asbury Park Press 2/18/00
Jon Bon Jovi is a restless rocker, eager for new challenges, impatient with the same old same old.
At the same time, he's something of a homebody, or yearns to be. Too much time away from home -- an astonishing estate on the banks of the Navesink River in Middletown -- can be draining, especially for someone who thinks New Jersey is pretty much the best place on Earth.
The Sayreville native keeps up a hectic pace. This year, he looks forward to the release of his band's seventh studio album, "Crush," as well as a world tour that begins in June, and an ambitious role in the drama "U-571," scheduled to hit theaters April 21.
"I do have a lot going on and I've been like this in the past," Bon Jovi said last week. "I don't know if it's something I need to do or what. Last week, I was in two different studios in L.A., while fitting in rehearsals for a new movie, and I caught the red-eye home and all I could think was, 'Man, I can't wait to get a break.'"
Bon Jovi found himself in an ideal situation last week, when the world came to him. Web surfers around the globe tuned in to "Bon Jovi 2000," a month-long project that documented the band's recording process with three cameras in the studio and then simulcast it on its Web site. Viewers could log on 24 hours a day to glimpse the band in Bon Jovi's home studio. When the band wasn't working, pre-recorded segments were shown, such as a guitar clinic with Richie Sambora or drumming tips from Tico Torres.
The grand finale of "Bon Jovi 2000" was a live concert in the studio, viewable only on the Web site. Thirty-six fans were also chosen to attend in person through a contest on the Web site.
No band of similar stature had ever attempted a promotional feat like this on a Web site. In an interview the morning of the concert, Bon Jovi spoke about his own personal "Truman Show."
"I didn't find it intrusive," Bon Jovi said, "but I certainly was aware it was there. When I would eye the monitor, I'd think that this must be the most boring thing for people to watch, because when you're in the studio, it's very intense, but to most people it looks like we're just staring at the speakers."
"But I figured, it's no big deal if people watch," he said, "and I thought about what I would've given to have seen my favorite bands at work."
Larry Mattera, vice president of new media at Island/Def Jam, said the label took pains to protect the musicians' privacy and to safeguard new material from bootleggers. "There were no microphones just hanging about," Mattera said. "The only sound that's heard comes through the sound board. And when they'd play a new song, we spliced the feed with an overdub, like 'Hey, you're listening to Bon Jovi...'"
The innovations worked. At last week's concert, contest winners from Germany and England were singing along to the new songs. That kind of word-of-mouth buzz about the material will likely give Island/Def Jam a headstart in promoting the album. "Crush" is expected to hit stores May 30.
Bon Jovi himself, a novice to the Internet, was surprised how much he enjoyed the whole cyber thing.
"I don't need to shop on line or go into a chat room," he said. "I don't e-mail people, I just call them on the phone. So for me, it was, 'What's it going to do for me?' But now I'm seeing more reason for it."
The newness of it all appealed to Bon Jovi. He doesn't rehearse with his longtime bandmates -- guitarist Richie Sambora, drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan -- "When you've been in a band for 17 years, you either know it or you should give it up," he said) and he doesn't like the ordinary aspects of the music business. As he puts it, he only signs on to projects that are about "thinking outside the lines."
Therefore, he heartily endorses fellow Jersey rocker Steven Van Zandt's side project from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band: portraying mobster Silvio Dante on HBO's "The Sopranos."
"It is so funny to see Steven acting," Bon Jovi said, laughing. "If you had told me this a few years ago, I would've said, 'You're on glue.' This is not the Steven Van Zandt I've known all these years. And now his wife (Maureen) is playing his wife on the show. Fantastic."
Word around Asbury Park was that Bon Jovi might be taping a VH-1 special at the Paramount Theater sometime this month. But Bon Jovi said he gave thumbs down to the music channel's proposal.
"For the record, if I'm going to do something, it has to be different," Bon Jovi said. "There was no way I was going to a 'Behind the Music' because I'm tired of hearing people whining. And I'm not going to do anything that's just boring."
This is not to say that the superstar can avoid all the trappings of the industry. His music videos are well regarded -- in December, MTV ranked "Wanted: Dead Or Alive" number 41 in its list of the best 100 videos of all time -- but that doesn't sweeten the task for Bon Jovi.
"It's something I don't care for," he said. "It's the worst part of the record-making process. You're not playing or singing. It's ridiculous."
The acting that goes into making a music video didn't influence Bon Jovi at all in his burgeoning career as a movie star. "To me, making a movie is much more like a collaboration on stage," he said. "We were a great stadium rock band and I've always been very comfortable in that atmosphere, more than with just an acoustic guitar."
In other words, the camaraderie among bandmates echoes the chemistry in a good cast. Bon Jovi is proud of his work in the World War II thriller "U-571," for which he had to get submarine training.
"I was in Rome and Malta and for five and a half months, I was in the submarine business," he said. "I felt it was important to learn because if you're in a movie about submarines and you point to a gauge, you'd better be sure what that gauge did. And I couldn't just go to Earle, because World War II subs don't exist anymore."
It's a safe bet that Bon Jovi would've been very happy learning about submarines at Earle Naval Base, close to home in Monmouth County. Ask this zillionaire what keeps him in Jersey and you can practically see the state flag unfurling as he speaks.
"Summertime, football, pizza and bagels," he said. "It's the ocean; it's the seasons. L.A., you can keep L.A. Manhattan, it's the greatest city in the world, but I can get to it really fast from where I am. I really love London, but the more you go, you realize it's not America."
"This is my home," he said. "I've had houses in other places, but I lived in Rumson for the past 13 or 14 years until I moved across the river to the new place. This is where I plan to stay. Bury me under the old tree!"