Classic Rock- 10.2002
YOU SEE THAT BUILDING THERE?" SAYS JON BON JOVI, indicating a skyscraper
downtown, somewhere towards the southern tip of Manhattan, in New York, down
near Battery Park. We're on the twenty-third floor of the Bryant Park Hotel in
midtown, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. Cars run up and down town respectively
to the left and right of us, their horns blaring, the babble occasionally clear
even from here.
"Pretty amazing, right? Ever seen anything like that?" He regards its bleak form silently for a moment, then makes his way back to the other room. The massive building is completely covered in black netting, a huge Stars & Stripes flag adorning its front. "That's right down at ground zero, right near where it happened," says Bon Jovi, a healthy looking 40-year-old, as he disappears through the door. As I join him, he's staring blankly at a daytime soap opera flickering silently on the giant TV set at one end of the room. Even without sound the characters look jerky and wooden, the acting atrocious; almost all are Hispanic.
"You know, I was in a Spanish daytime soap once", says Jon, surprising himself. "Fuck me, what was that called? I was in Brazil, we were on tour, and I did a cameo for just one day. I've got a good sense of humour, I can laugh at myself."
What was your character called?
"Eduardo? I am Eduardo," he offers with mock sincerity. He knits his brow. "What was I doing?" His tone is querulous, bemused, but he's smiling as he says it.
Jon and the rest of his band are doing a week of press to promote their eighth studio album, 'Bounce'. There are two very quizzical and earnest Swedish journalists before me, one in a woolly cap pulled down hard to his ears in the blistering summer heat. I wave at him; he waves back, then seems startled to see his hand above his head.
The new album plays at ear-splitting volume through the open-plan suite. Due to twitchy security worries by the record company, it's the first time we've been able to hear it in its entirety. It swells and buoys dramatically, as PR people swish by, attempting to gauge your reaction by catching your eye and then baring their teeth in a well-intentioned grimace. That morning a New Jersey radio station had broken protocol and aired the single 'Everyday' when the staff had been played it at their weekly meeting.
"Someone took their mobile phone into the meeting, and they played it via that to the guys on the breakfast show," says Jon. "I actually got excited, because I wanted to hear what the reaction was. It's great if there's that much excitement, but I'd be happy to leak it on the air and see what people say, it's out there now."
Jon had the title 'Bounce' last summer. Much like 'Crush', he liked the way the word resonated differently in different situations. It's been given added significance with the events of September 11, and America and New York's ability to bounce back after being attacked. But they almost changed the title at the final hour. The band's website asked for album title ideas, though only it seems as band and management (but not Jon) were getting last-minute nerves over calling it 'Bounce'. More than 30,000 people logged on with suggestions. They were given the choice of' "One', 'Won' or 'Bounce', or the freedom to choose their own title. 'Bounce' won by a seven-to-one majority, while the suggestions ("And we heard those more than once," says Jon, with a low whistle) included The Song Remains The Same' and 'Back In Black'. When the band finally opted for the original idea, no one was too surprised.
The last time I met Jon Bon Jovi he was cutting short the band's 'Crush' world tour to capitalise on his success in the movie U-571 (at the end of which, fellow star Harvey Keitel gave him an acting book inscribed with the words: To the son of a Marine: You're not half bad'. Jon treasures it). He'd been offered the lead in the sequel to John Carpenter's Vampires, as vampire hunter Derek Bliss (whose name he genuinely seems to have forgotten when I ask him about it). The film, Vampires: Los Muertos, should be available on DVD by the time you read this; in America it's available on cable and to rent, but it never got an official cinema release.
"I really enjoyed going to work every day, loved the director and the producer. They did everything they promised, and the locations were incredible." says (on, offering a one-sided smile. "But when I saw the cut it was embarrassing. The first 20 minutes of the movie are atrocious, and it gets better, but you don't even realise what's bad until you see it cut together. It just wasn't a good movie..."
More recently, Jon played Ally's final love interest in the floundering Ally McBeal. His character, contractor Victor Morrison, harked back to Jon's first high-profile role as a house painter in the movie Moonlight And Valentino. Producer David E Kelley (Boston Public, The Practice, Chicago Hope) generously offered Jon a role in any of his high-rating shows, the singer picked the most obvious- incorrectly, as it turned out.
"He was pursuing me for about six months. I didn't have any desire to do television, but no film roles came up because of the last tour... Actually, that's a lie, I was offered The Heist (written by David Mamet and starring Gene Hackman). It made me fucking sick having to turn that down, but the European shows were on sale so that was that."
We're standing outside on a corner balcony of the hotel overlooking Bryant Park. In May, magician David Elaine stood atop a 100-foot pillar for 36 hours and then threw himself off c into a pile of cardboard boxes in Bryant Park itself. Today the park is filled with office workers eating their lunch. Jon lights a cigarette and narrows his eyes as the smoke blows back into his face.
"So when Kelley came with this, I thought it made sense - if you're going to do one of his shows, of course: I picked the wrong one. I thought replacing Robert Downey Jr was a nice idea. Very specific time period. I wouldn't do any more than nine shows. I was out there for the better part of five months and did it, fulfilled my obligation, enjoyed my time, but realised that that wasn't for me. They didn't know that they were shutting down until after I left. I think he was thinking he could get another season out of it. The last discussions we had were: would you marry Ally's character and stick around for three or four more shows and we'll call it a day? Basically, I told them between the baby coming and the guys waiting on the record, I couldn't do it and I didn't want to do it. You realise that you're on a sinking ship - do your time, say thank you and get out.
"And that was the weird thing, the character was based on the guy who I'd played in Moonlight..., and part of the reason I kept on acting was because I'd had such a pleasurable experience making that film. Eventually, though, Kelley didn't do anything with the character. I wish he had. There's a song on the new album called 'Open All Night', and that's about Victor and Ally, that's why we wrote it. I was dancing with her in one of the episodes where I sang her this Tom Waits song. 'I Don't Wanna Fall In Love With You', so I took that line, talked to Richie [Sambora] about it and said here's what I would have done with Victor, and he =j says we've been trying to use the title 'Open All Night' for years and here it is. We ° wrote the song, and I gave Calista Flockheart the lyrics as a gift, and we cut the track. Had David [Kelley] worked with me, we would have jived, I would have given him an unreleased song, I would have performed it for him, we could have had something great, and Victor could have had a backbone. Basically, the guy turned in to this spineless non-entity. You know, at the end of it, I'm like, did I offend you in some way? Did I do something strange?"
Jon was 40 in March ("My last pretty birthday," he cackles); his wife Dorothea threw a tarts and vicars party ("All my favourite housewives with their boobs pushed up") in his honour. On May 7 the couple had their third child, Jacob Hurley (Hurley is Dorothea's maiden name). Jon, who dotes on his children, almost missed it.
"That afternoon, it was a Monday, we went to the doctor's and he said the baby's not due for another week and she's fine, go. So I went down to New Orleans to do this thing for MTV, and instead of coming back that night getting home at four in the morning. I said I'll get a good night's sleep, so I had a few and then went to bed. Honest to God, I'm laying there asleep by myself, and the phone's ringing and someone's banging on the door, and I'm thinking: fucking fans, all the strippers followed us back to the hotel, goddamn it. all I wanted was to go to sleep. And it's my road manager, who eventually takes the door off the hinges and is like: 'Goddamn, it you... she's having the baby now!' So we ran to the airport, beat the pilots there, and they got air clearance to go over 600 miles an hour, which is 100 miles faster than those planes are allowed to fly. Even over Washington they cleared the air space, had a state trooper sitting on the tarmac in Jersey. Then I was doing over 125 up the Jersey Parkway in the front seat of a cop car, which was nice. Got there and did it in time. He's three months old now and doing really well."
Richie Sambora was asleep on the morning of September 11 when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. Jon was in the gym at his home, David Bryan had just dropped his children off at school. Tico Torres was in Florida. A few hours earlier, Torres had dropped his wife off at Miami airport so that she could fly to New York to pick up a dress for a wedding they were both going to attend; she was still in the air. Bryan's sister was going to work at the World Trade Center. The train dropped her off as it did every morning, deep underground under the towers themselves, and as she came up the escalator she heard a commotion and thought a rock concert was happening in the grounds of the buildings. Jon's stockbroker friend was in the tower, too.
A little later, Jon's publicist, Lauren Murphy, is driving in to town on the morning after her first wedding anniversary. She sees all the debris and dust falling towards her car, and thinks there's a ticker tape parade going on but doesn't know why.
On 'Bounce' there are direct and indirect references to September 11, though none more so than on 'Undivided'. The title is zealous enough, and the sentiment heart-felt, and as testimony to a horrific moment in modern history it's neither clumsy nor overblown. It's heroic and ebullient and, much like the rest of the album, has more to do with going forward rather than looking back.
Sambora had been staying at Jon's house in New Jersey for a few weeks before the attack took place. The initial sessions were going well. Jon was scheduled to spend time out on the west coast a few weeks later to film Ally McBeal, and they planned to continue working together when he got there.
"In all honesty it was..." Jon gropes for the words, decides there really are none, and continues. "We were mesmerised by the television, right after the first one hit (he claps his hands sharply causing the PR girl in the corner to swivel in her chair). All the news went to it, and now the second one's in the air. He's [Sambora] still sleeping, I was up in the gym that morning, and my wife was then coming in there. We were watching it, and I realised that I had to wake him because I thought this is something more than an accident, there's something going on. But in the same breath, he's 3,000 miles away from home, the phones lines are dead, we don't know what's going on; they're saying we don't know if this is Armageddon or if it's world war three, you know. Who's doing this? And I had to think: 'Do I run over to the school to get the kids?' What do you do? And do it without alarming your friend who can't get to his own wife and kids. If this was Armageddon then I'm going to shelter my babies in my house; what can I tell my friend?
"You've been down to ground zero, right? I don't want to go down there. I've not been at all. But you know that building I showed you? That's history; it's been like that since September. And it's like, what should they do with the space there now? I know they've been debating this, but I don't honestly have an opinion. I saw the six different buildings, the mock ups, but I don't know what they're going to be used for. I read it briefly, but they have these things with weird radio towers on them and I don't know what they're meant to signify, I don't know what the meanings behind them are, so I can't really have an opinion. It still all seems too much. Those 16 acres, there has to be some kind of memorial..."
'Undivided' made the final record, other songs written in the aftermath of those bloody events didn't. Wary of making a record that used September 11 as its primary focus and therefore constructing an album constrained and labelled as an historical anomaly, the band branched out, paid their respects and moved on.
"Strangely, 'Undivided' wasn't even in the top three or five of the 9/11 songs we wrote. On the eleventh we didn't write, obviously, on the twelfth we sat down to write because there was nothing else left to do - we couldn't keep watching the same newscasts and that same footage over and over again, and Richie couldn't leave, so we had to write. I remember the first lyric I wrote was 'I don't want to write a song today'. I said to myself: write that down! It was the way that I did when we wrote 'Bed Of Roses', and it was 'Sitting here drunk...' It was in that way that you say how rotten you're feeling. And in that way I wrote a song called 'Crying' [which isn't on the album]. My publicist here in America, it was the morning after her first wedding anniversary and she thought there was a ticker tape parade on, and it was the papers of her husband's fucking office building blowing up with him in it, you know. He died. She's driving up to the label, yapping on the phone, kissed her husband goodbye. He went to work that morning, and those were the Cantor Fitzgerald firm guys. So I wrote a song, because she was still in that 'Is he coming home again?' 'Will they find the body?' you know... so I wrote a song like that.
"Then you had to realise that you're going to be talking about this a year from now, the emotions are going to change. And they did, so 'Undivided' came well after those... The reality is that the people where I live, where it's the hardest hit county [Monmouth County] in New Jersey... 163 families, kids in my kids' classes, you know, that were in the stock business. They all take the boat over, they all take the ferry, so our school, our town is full of those guys. And now, a year later, you're seeing all the stories and you know all the widows that are having to get on with life. So 'Undivided' was more appropriate in that 'dust yourself off and get on with your life' way. The idea of' 'Bounce', too - bouncing back.
"And you know with all of this going on we were much more conscious of telling a story. If it affected me, it was: be poignant in what you have to say, say something more important. There was an article out in Hollywood about the fluff movies, you know. It's now like two minutes of fame, with these disposable film and music makers. You haven't seen the new Bob Dylan, or the new Cobain even, in years, and everything has become commerce and less and less about art. So I was more conscious of saying something specific from that day forward; making a song count. I didn't want it to be a 9/11 album, that's a bad idea. But that is one aspect of the record, because these are all things that have happened to me in a year and that's the way I look at it: August until now, and that's one aspect of it, so you pay homage and you move on. And I see the widows and the widowers doing that, moving on.
"A buddy of mine who works in the stock trade and who is now retired, like a lot of these guys won't come back, they're just done. He has a big boat and we're out cruising one day, and I've never done this, but I said to him; 'What's your story, what happened that day?' And he was one of those guys who was covered in the white dust that you saw on the TV, went down to the water and said if have to dive in and start swimming then I will. I don't know where I am, I don't know what's going on.' And he managed to get on one of the ferries and get out of there. And he actually went home in that white dust. Never really went back. You know that Dave's [Bryan] sister was in the building and she got out? "She came up the escalator at 8.45, the same exact time the first plane slammed in to it. So needless to say we were a little worried at my house."
David Bryan and Tico Torres are sitting either side of me. The conversation is polite, funny and absurd, the tone light, and the subject matter hideous and faintly miraculous. Bryan: "It was bizarre, too, because I asked her for her perspective. I said: 'What was it like?' And she said the building is so huge that they're always having events, and she thought there was a rock concert going on. They always have stuff going on outside of there; it's thousands of square feet and it's blocks wide. There was a cop, and he saved her life. Se went up to him and asked what was going on, thinking it was another event, and he just said: 'Run for your life, turn around and run for your life.' And she's like: 'What's going on?' And he goes: 'Don't ask, don't look back and run for your life.'"
"That's the kind of thing you only hear in movies, you know," says Torres, as we try to imagine the enormity of the moment.
"You don't think it's reality. And then she said when she ran outside there was just debris and shit falling all over and people, it was just raining everything." Bryan pauses, significantly. "And she saw one of her co-workers just freaking out, and she just grabbed her by the arm and they just ran. She said people were going down to the piers, they were just climbing up, scratching up the walls, and ferries were going... People were just jumping on to the ferry from the wall, just running, out of control.
"I was at home on the day it happened. I'd just taken my kids to school, and I came back and I remember my wife going: 'Come here, run to the TV, look at this. There was an accident, somebody went into the tower. What a terrible accident. And I went: 'Honey, I've been on seven million private flights in my life. You hit that on purpose, you don't hit that by accident. This is no accident.' And when the second one came in, that was insult to injury. Those bastards, they knew the world was watching at that point. And then the Pentagon went, and we live right by Earle Naval Weapons Station. It's where there's a couple of hundred acres, and that's where they store all the weapons, nuclear weapons and everything else. Major target," he laughs grimly. "I just went and picked up my kids. I was scared. The teachers were telling us to not say anything to the kids, so I just brought them home. I thought if we're going to go here, then we're going to go in a circle. "I actually had an e-ticket for that day, I was supposed to fly. I had a business meeting that day. It says 9/11 on the e-ticket. It's realty bizarre to look at. I was like. I guess that flight's cancelled."
"I was in Florida. I was preparing for a wedding," says Tico quietly, his gaze trained out of the window, "and my wife was on a plane on the way up here for a wedding dress, so she was in flight at the time on the way to New York. I heard it [the news of the attack] after I'd dropped her off to get the flight to New York, and then I started to get concerned, because they [the terrorists] were taking planes from all over the place. Our travel agent, believe it or not, found out through the computer system that she'd been diverted to Atlanta, so I just had to arrange a car to go and get her, and got her back the day after."
In response to the tragedy, Richie and Jon played their part in aiding the victims as part of the East Coast leg of the America: A Tribute To Heroes telethon that took place on September 21, while the band performed as a whole for The Concert for New York City, which was staged a month later at Madison Square Garden. The band also pulled together to play a show for the residents of Monmouth County in New Jersey, an area where more than 150 families were decimated by the effects of the attack.
"I think the telethon producers knew who they could call on who could pick up an acoustic guitar and make an impact," says Jon. "We did 'Livin' On A Prayer', which was a difficult choice because we didn't know. What do you do that's going to move people in a way? Do you play them one of these new songs, like 'Crying,' or do you play them something that's going to have a different meaning - an old song that was a part of someone's memories and people like that song? So we chose that, and we called a violin player I knew and knocked it out. But it was a very sombre thing: very different, I understand, to the way that the LA one was. I think LA wasn't quite affected the way New York was, because we were in it, we knew people. It was like a ripple effect out there. They watched it on TV. It's like watching Afghanistan on TV - it happens, but it's 'over there' somewhere. Here, nobody had a drink, there was no green room, we were in a recording studio on 53rd Street, and you performed your song and you went home. In fact, Bruce [Springsteen] said to me that night he had these backing singers, and I said I'd feed them if they did this. He said to go and have dinner with him, and I said I'm going home to bed. I got in my car, I was home before it was over, crawled in to bed with my babies and went to sleep. I wouldn't even eat a plate of pasta with the guy, I just couldn't. And I heard, only hearsay, but in LA people were talking about their movies and stuff, supposed to be out there drinking and chatting, and it made my stomach turn...
"And it was so weird being there, because it was at the Sony building, and that's " right next door to the Power Station Studio where I used to work as a kid: getting beer for David Bowie, meeting Mick Jagger [he famously told photographers that = the young Bon Jovi was in his new band called The Frogs], being told off by Diana I Ross... Yeah, from running errands, to doing something important for your country across the way from the same playground that you used to stare at. New York was like under Marshall law. All the streets were closed off, you had to drive one block up and then one block over, one north, one east, you couldn't drive straight. I asked one of the cops why, and he said: 'If we're chasing somebody, we don't know what the fuck's happening here with terrorism, we want to make it as hard as possible for them to get out of New York.' And you're sitting there, and the innocence I had on 53rd in 1980 to 2001, it was all gone...
"By the time we came to do The Concert For New York it was a different feeling. People were allowed to finally show their emotions and get pretty pissed at all of them, to be honest with you. It was the freedom. You know you have security guards at a show that keep people out of the backstage, who's going to tell the cops no [laughs]? They'd just walk into your dressing. B, but it wasn't the same thing as the telethon, that was much more sombre."
Torres is pushed back deep in to his seat, his jacket pulled up and rumpled at the shoulders. He looks impassive, thoughtful: "You know what? It wasn't so much mourning, it was an elegy, like, instead of people crying, holding pictures. They were smiling and holding pictures. At that point it started going up, you could see the energy. We were there seven or eight hours into the evening, and you could feel that - that people were starting the healing. Then with the music and the vibe it all came through. But eventually it was all about them, and I've never ever witnessed anything like that before. Unlikely I ever will again, to be honest."
"You know what too," says Bryan, leaning forward to make his point, "it was probably like the first big break for all those people that lost family members, and for the fire fighters and the police. It was the first day where they could go: 'Okay, I'm not at ground zero, I'm over here. There's a crew at ground zero who can't enjoy this, but it's okay, people, let's take a break here, let's get away from this for a second. I think it was a great thing for those people."
The band were also heavily involved in the Alliance Of Neighbors benefit concert that also took place in October, at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey. It was close to home for Bryan and Jon especially, who had both seen the knock-on effects of the attack at first hand.
"It was 163 people who got killed in Monmouth County, where we live," says Bryan, sighing, as he slowly pulls his thoughts together. "There was this one concert, it was a different concert at the time, where this pregnant woman with two little kids walked into the Mayor's office and said: 'I've no insurance, I've no money, I've nothing. Help.' And that's when I pulled together... It was meant to be a concert for something else and they changed it. We raised a million bucks, gave everyone of those people 80 grand in cash, no red tape; it was: 'Here's the money.' We lost seven dads in my kid's school, it's only kindergarten to fourth...
"My neighbour lost 25 friends, he went to 25 memorial services. I mean, the guy was so beat up it was nuts. I saw the smoke, and I remember the next morning getting the newspaper and the smell just hitting me as it drifted down from the site."
Torres, who looks like he might once have gone a few round himself, draws a fitting analogy: "New York's like a boxer. It took a hit, lost its mouthpiece, went down on one knee, but put the mouthpiece back in and got back up and went for it. And that was amazing to me. It wasn't like it was over, it wasn't that kind of energy, it was pretty incredible to see."
Bryan submits to it with a heavy shrug: "Especially in America, we've never really been... we haven't been attacked like that. For the rest of the world, terrorism was much more real, this was fucking evil right in our faces."
By the time you read this, Bon Jovi may have played a warm-up show at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London (remarkable when you think they haven't played indoors in the UK for more than 10 years) before they do similar sized shows in Japan and Australia. The world tour starts in earnest in December, and after that, as Jon says, "We'll figure it out from there. I'm not the kind of guy who loves gardening, I just sit around on the couch and act miserable. I love to get out. I love playing".
There's a 20-year anniversary box set next year: "There's a lot of unreleased Bon Jovi material, studio and live stuff too," says Jon. "I don't want to just do a remastered album collection to make a buck, I'd like it to be more than that." For now, though, it's more interviews, more stories, more 'Bounce'. But it's something Jon is not unhappy about.
"On this record we're telling the truth," he says, making to leave for lunch before another journalist arrives. "There's no bullshit here. But after all that's happened it's finally got a sense of optimism to it, too."
And he's smiling as he says it.