Jon Bon Jovi: he may come across as music's ultimate
"everyman," but there's nothing ordinary about Jon Bon Jovi's journey.(THE
As the Superman tattoo emblazoned across his left shoulder would indicate, Jon Bon Jovi appears to know no bounds. Not only has he been part of one of America's most successful, longest running bands, owning an arena football team, and even fashioning a parallel career in the movies (he can currently be seen in the thriller Cry Wolf), his band, Bon Jovi, just released their 10th album, Have a Nice Day (island). But the performer hardly thinks of himself as a superhero--if you ask him, he's just a regular guy from the Garden State, albeit in leather pants. Here he talks about doing it all with fellow multitalented maverick Jay-Z.
JAY-Z: So, Jon, what's going on?
JON BON JOVI: Oh, man, what isn't going on? As my wife says, it's time to feed the animal again. [laughs] The wheels are starting to spin.
JZ: It feels like you're rewing up, like you have to prepare yourself--
JBJ: Well, it's not so much the touring aspect of it yet; it's the album. >From the videos to proofing the artwork to the singles being out on the radio--you're sort of holding your breath and waiting to see what the reception is. Taking this album on the road is such a big deal, and everything has to fuel that.
JZ: What's your recording process like?
JBJ: Typically we'll demo 10 songs at a time, but they're very detailed demos. For instance, there were 38 unreleased songs on our box set that sound like finished master tracks but are just demos--that's just the way we do it. And then we go in and narrow it down to 10 or 12 songs. This was a very different record, though. With the help of technology, we put the drums and bass on the record last, so the songs were written without a band, and we didn't demo them at all. It's different for us, but that's what John Shanks [co-producer] brought to the project, and I think the outcome was well worth it.
JZ: That's cool. So give me your top five rock 'n' roll moments.
JBJ: Wow! [laughs] When Slippery When Wet (1986) went to number one, I realized our lives were going to be changed forever. Then probably the Academy Awards presentation when I was doing the solo stuff with Blaze of Glory (1990), as well as playing Giants Stadium for the first time--at that point in my career a lot of people didn't think I'd ever be able to play stadiums again, and in all we've done it five times. I'd also say being granted license to play Hyde Park, like the Rolling Stones did, on the last tour. And probably also seeing "It's My Life" from the Crush (2000) album find a whole new generation of fans.
JZ: And how about the top five overall, not having to do with you personally?
JBJ: My first would be Elvis taking all those musical influences and making them his own and starting rock 'n' roll. Then I'd say Frank [Sinatra]'s formation of the Rat Pack--it's really what the core of being in a band is all about. Also, the Stones and their longevity, and seeing the E Street Band in '78 and breaking out in a sweat realizing that that was what I needed to do for the rest of my life.... I don't know, is that only four?
JZ: [laughs] Yeah. But that's enough--those are great. You said something about people thinking you would never have the chance to play Giants Stadium twice. It made me think that it's when an artist comes up against adversity and comes through it that he is really defined. It's what makes a story interesting, like yours or Mariah [Carey]'s.
JBJ: I agree. I think all real careers ebb and flow. There are extremes way beyond mine or Mariah's. Consider someone like Sinatra, who when he won the Academy Award [in 1953 for From Here to Eternity] didn't have a record deal, didn't have a movie deal, and had to rely on his wife Ava Gardner to get him an audition. Here was a guy who was at the bottom after having been on top for a long time; that's when you dig down and become a true artist that can stand the test of time. Now my book has yet to be written, but I've had enough ebbs and flows in the last 20 years to appreciate the good and not worry about the bad.
JZ: So, what are you listening to now?
JBJ: I'm wide open to what's going on in rock right now--I remember somebody saying a year ago that rock music was dead, but I think things have really turned around with acts like the Killers and Jet and Damien Rice. I think there's another generation that's coming along to keep the genre moving. Two years ago I would have questioned if the music industry would support another Tom Waits or Bob Dylan, but when you hear a guy like Damien Rice, I think the answer is yeah.
JZ: All of us in the hip-hop world envy you guys because rock bands have the opportunity to tour extensively and develop their acts, whereas we have to go through radio, hopefully get a hit, and then we get the opportunity to tour. But I guess because we don't have so much instrumentation on the stage it's not as important for us.
JBJ: Yeah. Though it makes rap music more reliant on the record-making process than the show itself. And then obviously, you can't go out there and play three songs everyone knows and expect to fill up an arena unless you're one of the more established rap artists with a catalogue of music. But I've seen rap grow in the touring world immensely. I saw Eminem in Germany play a 50,000-person stadium without a drum kit or a guitar, and he managed to connect with every single person in that arena, from the front row to the seats all the way in the back. When the lyrics are that powerful, the connection is made. This is a new era with a new way of taking what Elvis started with his black and white influences.
JZ: Tell me about one of the songs that changed the whole album for you.
JBJ: Our structure is such that when I narrow things down to the 12 songs on the album, that's it. In fact, I spent last night with L.A. [Reid, Chairman, Island Def Jam Music Group] and Steve Bartels [President, Island Records] discussing the third video and the day and time and place I intend to shoot it, because if I don't do it on a particular date, there's no other time. After that I'm out on the road, and we could be any where--Europe, Asia, South America. It's like I said earlier: The wheels are spinning because there's no looking back.
JZ: By the way, your video [for "Have a Nice Day"] is really crazy--you see those smiley faces everywhere. I really think it's going to start something.
JBJ: I hope so. I think that whole thing is going to be pretty cool.
JZ: When was the first time you realized you were really famous?
JBJ: You know what, that's a tricky question for me, because when I was still in high school in the late '70s and early '80s, playing in Jersey bars and opening for these famous guys, I thought that was fame. And then when we got a record deal I thought that was fame. And then when we had success with Slippery When Wet, I thought, Oh no, this is what fame is. So it just gets bigger and bigger, then you're playing stadiums and making movies, and then you're a guest at the White House. So at this point, I don't even consider myself famous.
JZ: That's a very humble thing to say, because you're definitely very famous. [laughs]
JBJ: It's weird because I don't relate to it. Yesterday I was talking to a guy from Nike who came to see me because I own a football team [the Philadelphia Soul, part of the Arena Football League], and I was exploring doing a little deal with them to get my team some uniforms and compression gear and what have you, and he just says, "I don't get it. You don't have 99 people I have to go through to have this conversation?" And I just said, "Nope. The yes or no is right here." Meanwhile, he's telling me he's got to hire babysitters for the players to make sure they wear the product on the street, so he's got this whole team of executives whose job it is to make sure so-and-so wears the swoosh. I just never understood doing it that way. I'll take the blame or the credit, but this is where the buck stops.
JZ: Oh, now we're switching into sports. I like that segue.
JBJ: [laughs] How are you enjoying being a part of the Nets ownership group?
JZ: It's beyond my dreams. Where I grew up, we dreamt about being basketball players, and that's a huge one because maybe the top 10 percent make it to the NBA--everyone's vying for that same thing.
JBJ: Yeah, I'm living that with the football team because it's part of the AFL. They're either on their way up to the NFL or on their way down from the NFL, or size prohibited them from playing in the NFL at all, and this is another outlet for them to try to make their dream come true. And for me, too.
JZ: That story right there would make a great movie. It's got so much heart and everything that it belongs on the big screen.
JBJ: I agree. I would pitch that to anybody who would listen and develop something around it because I truly believe in the dream--what these kids are all holding onto and what they stand for. And I feel responsible for them because of that. So when any of the guys come up to me and go, "Guess what? I got a shot to go to camp with the Patriots," I say, "Here's your contract. Go!" That's the greatest gift I can give them. I've currently got three guys: two are in camp with the Patriots, and one went to the Chargers. I lost some great players there, but I hope they make the team--that's one of the real joys I get from this.
Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter is currently the president and CEO of Def Jam Records. In addition, he has several other businesses, including the Roe-A-Wear clothing line and his 40/40 clubs.