JON BON JOVIAL
After 20 years at the top, Jon Bon Jovi now appeals to fans as young as his daughter, as well as their mothers. But, as he tells Lina Das the loyalty of his long-suffering wife is the real rock of his life.
To many of us it may seem that Jon Bon Jovi has been around for ever, so it is not unreasonable to believe that in his attic there must be a Dorien Grey portrait of him that is rapidly decaying. At 42, he may be middle-aged, but he looks more like a rock-god than any man in his 40’s decently should. His body is well-honed and once he is persuaded to remove his sunglasses (“I always wear them – I’d sleep in them if I could”) he reveals a face that, apart from a few laughter lines, could belong to a man in his 20s. But it is his hair, naturally, that one notices first. Blond, flicked and immaculate, it crowns his head in suitably rock-godlike way. Such importance has his hair assumed over the years that when it was cut in 1991, the event was reported on CNN and, like the blond who is never taken seriously, Jon frequently bemoaned it became the bane of his life. Today though, he seems to have mellowed dramatically on the topic.
“I’ve kind of come to terms with it over the years” he smiles “and I’ve just realised that that’s what some people want to talk about."
Isn’t it a compliment?
“Well, sure, for a girl, but I always wanted people to talk about the music, not about my looks. I used to get quite tired of the whole sex symbol thing. I went through a period of trying to hide it because I hated it so much and, when it came to shooting photos, I insisted on posing with my back to the camera. But I’m fine about it now and I’m in pretty good physical shape apart from my right knee where I’m contemplating surgery. It’s been damaged through general wear and tear, but it’s no big deal really"
He works out to stay in shape but otherwise, he insists, is far from a health nut. He admits to a fondness for a drink or two and even has an English-style pub – with a dartboard, pool table and pinball machine – installed in his New Jersey home. We have to move outside the bar where we meet in Los Angles so he can have a cigarette in this most anti-smoking of Californian environments. So, as the years progress and as he insists on behaving – by American standards at least – like an unhealthy naughty boy, would he ever be tempted to resort to plastic surgery to maintain his looks? He looks aghast! “You’ve got to be kidding me!” he says, “No way. Absolutely not. I am not that vain”
His modesty seems genuine. 14 years ago he was given a lifetime achievement award at the MTV music awards and was so embarrassed by it, he gave it away to a friend. “It just didn’t seem right to be getting a lifetime achievement awards at 28” he says
Now, he has just received the prestigious Award Of Merit for his "outstanding contribution to musical entertainment”.Previous winners have included Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash, so he is in distinguished company. Jon received the honour with commendable good grace and says “I wasn’t going to give this one away”
Few would begrudge him his place in the pantheon of musical giants. Although the critics have never been particularly effusive about his band Bon Jovi, due to the groups steadfast refusal to deviate dramatically from the essentially middle-of the road rock they perform, their rousing anthemic numbers have garnered an increasing number of fans over the past 20 years. Of course, few of the fashion conscious would confess to being Bon Jovi fans in public, but in private, it’s a rare person who can resist singing along to hits like Livin' On A Prayer and You Give Love A Bad Name.
“You’ve got to have a sense of humour about the whole thing” Jon chuckles. “But we’re also really proud of our achievements too. The Award makes me feel not young enough to be young, but not old enough to be old either. As a band we decided not to change anything, not to jump on any bandwagons or follow the rap or grunge routes and in retrospect, it was a good decision to make because it wouldn’t have rung true if we’d done all that. So we just left it up to people to decide whether or not they like us and that”, he smiles, “is fine by me”
The rock in Jon’s life is his wife of 15 years, Dorothea. She might have counted on her husband’s looks starting to fade; giving her some respite from the hoards of female fans who have stalked her husband’s every move. But no such luck. He is better looking than ever and still very much the target of over-zealous groupies. “Only nowadays” he grins “there tend to be mothers and daughters coming after me, although I got to tell you, I probably lean more towards the mothers heh heh! The daughters are all around Britney Spears’s age and frankly, that’s too close to my daughter’s age to sit comfortably with me”
In the past, Jon has admitted he has not always been faithful to Dorothea – “I’ve not been a saint, I’ve had my lapses”- and even now he says “Other bands get press because of their antics, but we’ve always been of the opinion that what we do is nobody’s business but ours, and we don’t tell our secrets to anybody”
Certainly, the longevity of his relationship with his wife suggests that Dorothea, at least, is as formidable a woman as they come. “Oh, she’s a really strong woman. She once said that groupies would walk right over her to get to me and I’d like to think that if I were ever in her position, I’d be as strong as she is about it too” he adds, in the tone of a man who doesn’t sound too sure. “But, with what I do, I have long periods of time when I’m home and then long periods when I’m away touring or promoting albums or whatever, so it can be quite tough. The fact that we don’t see each other for ages has probably been a big part of us still being together, and I think the fact that we are two people who aren’t very needy has been a big help too. That, as well as mutual respect and friendship, God, in my line of work, if my wife was the kind of woman who needed to be called three times a day it just wouldn’t work. I’ll call Dorothea once a day and that seems to be fine”
The couple met in high school when Jon was 17 and he says “it was definitely love at first sight on my part. She was the cool girl of the class, and I do know that had I met her after I had become famous rather than before, I might have questioned why she was with me. We had a brief period initially when we were apart, but otherwise, we’ve been together all this time. Actually, my wife & I recently celebrated our 15th anniversary and we just stayed at home and had dinner and drank wine while out kids served us. That” he smiles, “was pretty cool”
The couple have recently added a fourth child to their brood, with 8 month old Romeo joining Stephanie Rose, 11, Jesse James, 9 and Jacob, 2. “Are we planning any more? Christ, no” he yelps. “It just seems that every time Dorothea sneezes she has another one, so I think that’s definitely it for us. We actually named him Romeo thinking it was the most beautiful, original name in the world, only to find out David Beckham had already chosen it – so we apologise to the Beckhams for that”
“I’m proud to say that my kids are very grounded, though. I don’t any have platinum records hanging anywhere in my home, and as far as my kids go, I’m just Dad to them. My eldest child Stephanie, only grasped about 4 years ago who I was. Her teacher at school explained that I was in a band and she came home and said to me “You’re Jon Bon Jovi aren’t’ you” Jon sounds like a pretty contented soul and he agrees “I’m a very happy man. I enjoy a good drink, sure, but drugs have never appealed to me because people take drugs to escape and I have nothing to escape from. I can’t even imagine having a midlife crisis”
During the late 1980’s, though, he did go through a crisis. “I would say I was on the verge of a breakdown. The band had had huge success bit I was having to deal with a lot of conflicting emotions. All the innocence of my youth and the aspiration of being in a band and being like the Rolling Stones had gone because we’d achieved it. But we were just touring, moving from one hotel room to another, living out of suitcases. I’d just got married and we were working all day, every day”
“Eventually, that kind for workload takes its toll and burns you out mentally and physically. No one tells you to go to sleep because it’s all about making money and you wake up one morning and you find you’re just a corporate body rather than someone pursuing their dreams. It stopped being pure and we started to question whether it was worth it. Luckily, instead of going down the drugs and excess route, we had friends who we could talk to and we all started seeing psychologists about 12 years ago. We fired our management and then slowly took it back to the beginning when it was fun"
Bon Jovi’s latest musical offering - a five-disc box set of previously unrealised songs and footage of the band – makes a virtue of their unfashionability and, paradoxically, their enduring popularity, bearing as it does the somewhat ironic title; 100000000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong. The boxed set features the four band members – Jon, Richie Sambora, Tico Torres and David Bryan – resplendent in gold suits and cowboy boots, looking unashamedly proud of having sold 100 million albums worldwide in their 20 year history.
Born in Sayreville, New Jersey, the eldest of three boys, Jon always wanted to be a rock star. His father, John Bongiovi was a hairdresser and his mother Carol, a former Bunny Girl turned florist. Both instilled in him the belief that he could do anything he set out to do and, by his teens, he was playing in local bars and clubs. His first song, Runaway, was played by a local radio station and was the platform from which he launched his career with the band. By the mid 1980s Bon Jovi was enjoying phenomenal success which has continued over the past 20 years.
Along the way, Jon has released solo albums, and even embarked on an acting career. Roles in Ally McBeal, Homegrown with Billy Bob Thornton and U-571 with Harvey Kietel have all been well-received and next year, he is due to appear in The Trouble With Frank “playing a guy who funds he own women’s hockey team with credit cards that are not his own. But I tell you something, acting’s a lot harder than music, purely because everyone had preconceptions of me before I start. My name could get me into the room and I was told I would have to be twice as good and work twice as hard in order to get the job”
“But, you know, I find LA, especially Hollywood, a very strange place to be. Everything moves so quickly here. I find it really shallow and boring, which is why I would never live here, I mean, you have to audition you children for kindergarten, for God’s sake” he says, showing his severe disapproval.
So, can Jon see himself, Mick Jagger-like dragging his weary body on stage some 20 years from now. "Well, people criticsize the Stones, but they’re still the best and why shouldn’t’ they, or we, be doing it til we’re 80? As long as we did it on our terms, I don’t see why not. But, I tell you now, you’re never going to see me singing in a Las Vegas casino lounge. I always use to equate being in a band with being a gypsy or cowboy, but now, at our age, it’s more like being a travelling salesman” He laughs. “But being travelling salesmen is not as sexy any more, right?”
Unlike Mr Bon Jovi himself, of course, who, just to let you mothers and daughters know, most definitely is.