So, here I am,
sitting at a table in the Mandarin Oriental hotel restaurant, in London's Hyde
Park, opposite superstar Jon Bon Jovi. My face staring into the face that has
seen a million faces. And rocked them all.
As we each order a plate of Pad Thai (off menu, naturally) and two Coca-Colas (diet for him, full-fat for me) 1 conduct a discreet but thorough forensic examination searching for signs of surgery, blemish-masking foundation, liver spots, chemical peel residue, flakiness, hair plugs, collagen grouting or cow-fat fills. Nothing.
Jon and I are similar ages but we could also be entirely different species. My sorry barnet is a follicular car accident with the texture of straw. His hair is cut in a £350 Martha Stewart flick and as clean as a Meadows Clinic fortnight. I am ravaged by smog and stress and city-grey about the gills. His face is big-toothed, perky, line-free and shows none of the waxy-bland, character-draining consistency that one associates with Botox'd complexions.
For someone with so much rock on his dashboard clock, he's in remarkable shape and, from my wife's point of view at least, dinky, manly and very easy on the eye. Think pretty but primordial; Neanderthal man with a blow-dry. A handsome, prominently jawed caveman in designer leather.
Rock'n'roll, though exhausting, damaging, unhealthy and emotionally draining, also appears to be enbalming. It's a lifestyle elixir that guys like Bon Jovi mainline for breakfast. It keeps them young, thin and cocky.
Even sitting down and claiming a banging headache, there is swagger in Jon's static deportment. His eyes sparkle with latent mischief and though he is happily married (16 years to his childhood sweetheart, Dorothea Hurley - they have four children) his body language speaks fluent satyromaniac. Jon Bon Jovi has now sold over 100 million albums and reached that endearingly self-deprecating lilac time of his career where He. Just. Doesn't. Give. A. Fuck.
"At this point in my life," he'll tell you, "you either like me or you don't. I don't care because 1 get to do what 1 do. There are a hundred million people out there who like us, and probably a hundred million who don't. Fair enough."
He remains the proud New Jersey boy (Jon is the son of an ex Marine-turned hairdresser dad and a former Bunny Girl ma - does it get any more "Noo Joiysee" than that?) but bombast and conceit is not part of the JBJ MO any more. The benign, tough guy manner remains but it has mellowed and reformed like a been-around-the-block hood, while his dry wit and Goodfellas-ish, sing-songy speaking voice brings to mind Henry Hill talking to his ball-breaking girlfriend. "If only they could make me taller and give me a bigger dick," Jon jokes, as we tuck into our pan-Asian main. "I'm hung like a schoolboy. You could cover it with a thimble and have room to spare."
Don't believe a word of it.
Time has forgiven Bon Jovi the glossy Crafts hairdos, the pantomime costumes, the absurdly hedonistic, grandiose, look-at-us-aren't-we-massive videos and those highly caffeinated, Springsteen-goes-pop anthems like "Livin' On A Prayer", "You Give Love A Bad Name" and "Bad Medicine" that soundtracked the late-Eighties. And we've grown to love the melodious, All-Bran grant of Jon's stool-pigeon-in-a-blender vocals. These days only a musical pedant would deny himself the soaring, blue-collar optimism of a Jovi tune about some characters called Tommy or Tina. Only a party pooper would stop his feet tapping to one of their storming, air-punchers.
Now, with the release of their ninth studio album. Have A Nice Day, Bon Jovi aren't, as the smug Shoreditch classes would have it, hair-metal irony or a smart-arsed "guilty pleasure". They are classic and timeless, honest-to-goodness rock'n'roll Ronseal. Bona fide Hall of Fame stuff. Or, as Jon likes to say, "the youngest of the old guard".
Make no mistake. Jon Bon Jovi is Bon Jovi. After all these years he is still the only member of the band actually signed to the record label (the rest of the group is on a Rolling Stones-style salary arrangement) but at the age of 44, there's more to him than stadium rock, bandannas and songs about steel horses and cowboys.
These days Jon Bon Jovi is a thoughtful, well-informed, articulate and philanthropic cove who lobbies for Democratic politicians, cares for his community, fundraises for orphanages and owns the local football team. Last year he handed over a personal cheque for $1m to Oprah Winfrey to donate to the New Orleans disaster fund.
In America, this sort of thing has won him many fans outside the rock fraternity and sitting here with him, listening to his plain-talking, common-sense, bureaucracy-free brand of people politics and heartfelt altruism, you honestly get the impression he could be American President one day. Or mayor of New York City, at least.
Right now, though, there are more pressing issues to deal with.
GQ: So, how's the head, JBJ?
JBJ: Oh man. Last night I drank until the fucking fish came, and chain-smoked like a chimney. I woke up this morning and looked at the full ashtray and thought, "When am I going to grow up? Why do I do it?" Well, I do it because it relaxes me and I really do really like it. And I am not a sipper. Oh no. I am a drinker. I have to make sure I drink wine not hard booze. Because I drink. you know? I don't sip.
On a scale of one to ten, how vain are you? Do you dress "rock" all the time?
I don't think I consider vanity until I feel 1 am sitting around getting fat. Then I don't feel healthy. So I go to the gym. Age starts to happen, doesn't it? 1 can still wear cap-sleeved T-shirts because my biceps are in good shape. But I'll only wear that stuff on stage these days. I buy suits, mainly Hugo Boss, but they tend to stay in the closet. It's a bitch. I just saw that Franz Ferdinand are wearing those tight satin bomber jackets and 1 thought, "Hey, we had those back in the Eighties." I may start wearing parachute pants and bandannas tied around my thighs again, though. Never say never.
You're 44. Do you have nasal hair issues? And if so, do you pluck or use rotary clippers?
I pull 'em out with my fingers. It hurts so much it brings tears to my eyes.
Back in the day, Bon Jovi were known as a seriously hard-working rock band. How did you get through such a gruelling tour regime? It was exhausting. You could get pretty despondent doing back-to-back nights. I used to blame my old manager for trying to kill us, but now I realise all he was trying to do was promote the band. He was just doing his job. Managers push you hard because they want to make the money. The only bad thing ours did was not telling us to go to sleep. If you're a good manager you say: "You're tired kids, go to bed." So, to keep going, I used to get so pumped up on steroids. You'd drink yourself to sleep every night and carry on by getting shot up, to try and get yourself through the next day. I see tapes of shows from that period and I think, "Woah!" I sound wild and look really odd. All puffy with big old black circles under my eyes. I heard that the guys from the Killers are experiencing that same exhausting schedule now. It all sounds so familiar. When I hear those stories I think I need to have a word with those guys. I want to say to them, "Go home and sleep for six months.
How did your marriage survive through all the madness of touring? You seem to be the consummate Teflon rock star - I've never read any scandal about you...
Have you ever seen The Sopranos? Well, that is the kind of neighbourhood where I grew up. That is exactly what my life was like. You learn that you just don't air your dirty laundry in public. It's like, "fuggetaboudit", you know? It's better to keep my secrets secret.
But was it fun being in a massively successful band back then?
It was... terrific. For a while we cornered the market in unbridled optimism. I was the poster boy for the Eighties but the band were also just like every other kid in the mall. I think of myself as the young guy who was there for the last few years of the really good, old times, the last decade of the truly decadent stuff. I remember having a conversation with a promoter when rock became very asexual and anti-star during that Nirvana/Pearl Jam era, and I said, "Gee, aren't they missing out on all the good stuff?" And he said, "You know what? It's gone... it's really gone." These days we've left the optimism market and we're trading it in for cynicism.
Well, we have a band over here called the Darkness. They would argue that they are trying to bring back all that good time stuff. Do you approve of them?
I hate the Darkness. Fuckin' hate 'em. I don't understand it. I know they are huge here but I really never got it. It's just Spinal Tap, isn't it? It's just a lark. I'm not sure they think so, though. I think they take it seriously. They made a little splash in the US but, man... I don't get it at all.
On the track "Last Man Standing", on the Have A Nice Day album, you seem to be railing against the flimsy, plastic quality of 21st-century pop music. Explain.
It's not me singing there, it's Dylan. I'm singing as Bob Dylan, the Last Man Standing in among all the Britneys and boy bands. For a while I was really worried that that it was all over, that rock was going shut down. It was so sickening to see some of these people - I gotta say her name -like J-Lo, sitting at a piano in a video, with a notebook, thoughtfully writing a lyric. I was so frustrated. I wanted to say to her, "Hey J-Lo, here's my guitar, honey. Sing me a song!" and see what would happen. There's J-Lo having No.l movies and albums and I'm thinking, "What the fuck! Who is going to find the next Bob Dylan?" I wasn't the only one either. A couple of years ago I was on a rope line [red carpet] with Little Steven [of the E Street Band and The Sopranos fame] and he said to me "Rock is dead!" and I said, "Man, it can't be!" Then, out of the blue, someone like Damien Rice comes along and saves the day for me. I like the Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand too. I think we're going to be OK.
So, you're not into dancing then?
Can't fuckin' dance a lick. I move a little. I'm athletic. I like to run around. I'm more Jagger than Britney.
Tell us about working on John Kerry's campaign during the last presidential election.
My job was to keep the people entertained until the politicians got there. No matter how educated I felt I was on issues, 1 didn't get up and speak. I didn't talk about policy. I never slagged off the President from the podium, out of respect for the office. It's pretty obvious I didn't want the man [George W Bush] in there. I am not a fan of the man, I can tell you. Repeatedly I would just play, keep their attention and then move on. What I got out of it was witnessing the polarisation of the country. It really bothered me that there were friends who didn't speak to each other, family members that have fallen out over the election and the war. But you know what? Dissent can be patriotic. That's a bumper sticker in America by the way - but it's true.
Do you think Bon Jovi have garnered the respect they deserve in the rock media?
You know what pisses me off? I was reading this British rock magazine this month and there was a story about Axl Rose and the S13m Guns N' Roses record that was never made. That motherfucker hasn't made a record in 13 years and he gets all that attention. You know what I've done in 13 years? A lot. But they have continued to write about the freak show aspect of him [Rose], Because he's a recluse. That makes him interesting, right?
Do you understand the expression "guilty pleasure"? And are you happy with people applying the term to Bon Jovi's music?
Yeah, I know what it means: I like it, but I'm not supposed to like it. I hate that. Why can't you just say you like our music or you don't? Why does it have to be a "guilty pleasure?" Do I care? Well, I care in the way that you want everyone to like you, but then if they don't, so what? People like Kurt Cobain and that generation of songwriters, all those guys from the mid-Nineties, they were the ones that weren't supposed to care. But then you read that poor Kurt read every review. And really took what the critics said to heart. I truly don't read them.
If you had to compare New Jersey with a part of the UK, where would you choose?
[Without missing a beat] Wandsworth. I kid you not. New Jersey is New York's equivalent of Wandsworth. I lived there for a few months when I was shooting a movie in London [The Leading Man] ten years ago. It's in the shadow of London. In the shadow of Manhattan you have New Jersey. It's far enough away but close enough to get to. It has all the culture and all of the suburbs within arm's reach. New Jersey is the brunt of people's jokes.
You handed over a cheque for $ 1 im to Oprah. Nice to be able to make such a grand gesture...
I was pissed off when Kanye West came out and said Bush hates black people. I wanted to put a line in the sand and try to erase the race issue in New Orleans because it's actually a class issue. That land was given over to black people after 1,000 years of slavery and it stayed in their families for generations. Most people there are living below the poverty line. And they had nowhere else to go. They didn't have any cars to get into, you know? What 1 was doing when I gave that money was saying, here is a white rock band giving a black woman a million dollars and saying, "Do with it what you will." I knew I could trust her [Oprah] to make sure that the money wasn't going to be lost to administration.
How do you feel about Tony Blair? He's seen as a bit of a Bush puppet over here.
I'm not familiar enough with him to comment, but yeah, that's pretty much what they think of him over in the US too. Wasn't he really good buddies with Clinton? So how come he jumped ship like that?
How did you get to be the owner of the AFL American football team, Philadelphia Soul?
Three years ago I was drunk on a late-night flight with some friends saying: "Yeah, let's buy a team!" I imagined it would be great fun, you know, me sitting in an office with a big cigar. The next morning 1 woke up with a hangover and got a call from the guy on the plane who had already made inquiries. We thought the asking price was $400,000, it turned out to be nearer $16m. But I remained interested because I saw something in pro sport that is biting people in the ass over here too. It's all too expensive. You can't get a ticket. You can't take your family of four there without spending a month's salary. When I was a kid, if your dad wanted to be a good dad, he'd take you to a ball game once in a while. And you'd have a great little memory. Not any more. We don't get to make the really big money. This is AFL [Arena Football League], With us it's the guys on the way up or the guys on the way down. It's not the gods of the NFL. It's the guys still holding on to the dream who are half a second too slow or just that bit too short. Or the guys who fucked up or hurt themselves and want to get back in to it. I think it's actually a better story, It's affordable, it's on network television. I love being the face of the team.
Is it true a fan offered $100,000 just to shake your hand at a game the other day?
That's right. But I said to him, "I'll shake your hand but please spend the money buying tickets for kids instead so we can get them to games."
CQ sticks out a hand and shakes JBJ's hand. "Pal," he grins. "You just saved yourself $100,000."