Kerrang!- 29.04.2000 

Guns. Fist fights. Heroin, Hollywood. Vodka binges. Money. The Mob. Jon Bon Jovi: do you want to talk about it?

"I never quite understood cocaine. You can't get a hard-on, you grind your teeth and you can't sleep. What the f*** is good about that?!" JBJ is sitting on a sunny verandad, his eyes protected by shades, feet propped up on a white plastic table, the Kerrang! tape recorder lying in his lap.
The last five years have seen the multi-millionaire vocalist veer off the rock highway, recording his second solo album 'Destination Anywhere', taking endless movie roles and fundamentally doing anything that wasn't related with his day job. Bon Jovi released their last album, 'These Days', in 1995. Speculation mounted as to whether Jon or Richie Sambora's solo projects might end Bon Jovi.
Now they're back together, with a new album 'Crush' ready to go. It's classic Jovi fare, with big hooks, bigger guitars and a hint of their mid-80s good-time corker 'Slippery When Wet'.
As if to hammer home the point that Jon is back and rocking, we are in a breathtakingly ostentatious two-bedroom villa at LA's Sunset Marquis hotel. A rock 'n' roll hangout to this day, this place was the scene of foolish behaviour from various stars - most notable Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan, who suffered from a heroin overdose on May 28, 1996 and was rushed to the conveniently local celebrity hospital Cedars-Sinai. Which could explain why, when I order a pair of scissors from room service, the porter say, "As long as you won't hurt yourself with them". Without an ironic chuckle
Surely Bon Jovi don't fit in here. No those squeakly clean New Jersey lads, who cemented the phrase 'Whooah-Oh!' into rock's vocabulary with their 1986 smash single 'Livin' On A Prayer'?
There's much we don't know about Bon Jovi. And by God, we're going to prise some of it out. Whirr the tape back an hour...
"Last night, I was running around in my underpants with a shotgun. Your typical Friday night."
Eight hours ago, JBJ fulfilled his acting commitments to his latest Hollywood production 'Pay It Forward', starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and 'The Sixth Sense"s corpse-clocking youngster Haley Joel Osment. "He's as 12 year old kid who drives around on his bicycle," shrugs Jon. "His parents let him be a boy. If he wants to goof off on the set, no one yells at him. He's just jumps up and down on a couch."
Jon and Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora are riding in a limo that's impressively equipped with Jack Daniel's, vodka and gin en route to the Sunset Marquis, where the villa has been hired for the Kerrang! interview and photo session. The duo have just completed a webcast in which 10 Kerrang! competition winners in London asked them 'real-time' questions.
"That was the greatest thing ever!" enthuses Jon. "All our interviews should be done like that. We'd never have to go anywhere!"
In the villa, watching Jon and Richie pose for the electric eye of K! photographer Ross Halfin, they resemble a married couple. While comfortable with silences, they also share in-jokes and perfectly hearty laughs. At one point, they share glances and gaze around the villa.
"Is this the room?" ponders Jon.
"I think so," smiles Richie. "That was one torrid week," We'll get to that shortly...
Bon Jovu have always been distinctly 'PG'-rated, verging on a 'U'. Does Jon ever fancy doing something ludicrous? A 'Hugh Grant'?
"Anything ludicrous I've done - which could compete with anything who's done anything - was nobody else's business but my own. I didn't need to live it out in Kerrang! or anywhere else."
Can I tempt you with a crap cigar?
"No, thanks."
As he hands over a yellow disposable lighter which normally fires up his Marlboro Lights, that famously lopsided smirk unveils the left-hand side of his exquisitely white dentistry.
"I don't have to be the Gallagher brothers and start a fight. We've done a good job of hiding our skeletons."
So you've never been found on bathroom floor after taking a potentially lethal speedball cocktail?
"Thank you very much! How d'you like that?!"
You don't have a bad reputation for anything.
"It's none of your business. It's the same old mafia attitude I've always had. But I don't wanna have to defend it and say, 'Really, I'm a bad boy!'. F**k you. You don't like it. I don't care!
"I don't mean that personally. You're right, but I'm still here and a lot of guys aren't. I'd rather still be here."
Settling down in one of the bedrooms, RS echoes Jon's sentiments on "keeping problems in-house. It's like 'The Sopranos' - keep it all to the chest and don't show weakness."
What kind of problems do you mean?
"I'm trying to think myself," the guitarist puzzles.
"Nothing groundbreaking. Hotel rooms being f**cked up, or a woman being distraught because they were treated badly. Those kinds of things probably went down."
Despite being married to actress Heather Locklear - the former wife of Tommy Lee, a man with whom Richie remains "totally cool" - Richie has managed to avoid tabloid scandal. Probably because he and Heather haven't left their hardcore home videos lying around their mansion, like Tom and Pam.
"Yeah, that was rough for them, man," Richie sighs. "Obviously someone close to them made a lot of money on that thins."
Do you and Heather keep your videos in a special box?
"There are no videos," he chuckles. "Just use a mirror, man, F**k it!"
According to Sambora, there was never a time when he thought there wouldn't be a new BJ LP.
"Even if some shit was going on, I always thought there would be more," he smiles. "It was just too good, too much fun, too big. How could you quit?"
Yet there have been a few points in the band's career when wobbly cartoon question marks hovered over them. During their 16 month would tour in support of 1980's 'New Jersey' album, for instance, during which they went somewhat mental. Afterwards, Jon and Richie tellingly embarked on solo projects.
"I experienced a lot of burn-out," recalls Jon, out on the verandah. "By the end of the 'New Jersey' tour, it was 'Get me out of here, I don't wanna see anything to do with this for a long time'. We went on five different aeroplanes to five different places."
Jon's destination was his California home, to write the soundtrack for 'Young Guns'. "I ran away from it all," he admits, "assumed the Billy The Kid personality, wrote that record and drank a summer away."
Did you ever do drugs?
You must have dabbled.
"No. Didn't have the mental capacity for drugs."
How do you know, if you never did them?
"I did them so early in my life. I had a couple of bad trips and realised that I couldn't handle it. I was very young. Thirteen."
What's a JBJ acid trip like?
"I just remember running right through a screen door freaking my parents out and thinking the whole world was like..."
With one fist, he mines an undulating heart while humming woozily.
"It didn't go away the next day, and stayed there the whole summer. At that age, when your hormones and whole body structure are changing and you're tripping on drugs, you start wondering about your mental stability. Fortunately, for me, I went, 'Wow man, I can't handle this', So I couldn't smoke a joint after that. I never did anything more than once, and I certainly never did junk."
What about cocaine?
"It f**ks your voice up," he shrugs. "Couldn't sing. Plus I couldn't afford it.
Richie's take on drugs is slightly more hedonistic.
"Hey, if it was around, I'd check it out," he allows. "But I never got into harder stuff, like heroin. It doesn't seem like anybody wins with that stuff, so why get in the ring?
"Drinking was the worst enemy, I had, at one point. It creeps up on the road and suddenly you're drinking a bottle of vodka a day."
Did you and Jon ever come to blows?
Richie frowns, as if trying to recall. "I don't think we ever did. Swear to God! We might have banged a table here and there, or slapped a wall."
No pokes in the eye?
"No," he insists. "None of that shit. I mean, when we were younger, there were maybe some times when we were like...."
He makes the sound of two cats scrapping.
"But it was still all healthy debate," he concludes.
Back on the verandah, Jon echoes these sentiments. "Nobody in the band has ever had a fight. Me and Richie have gotten tighter in the last couple of years than we ever were. We had our periods with the exuberance of youth and the frivolous spend-spend thing. Last time we were here we ended up losing a lawsuit and having a car chase. There was a lot of lunacy in this room.
"We were holed up here, taking a few days off on the 'Slippery...' tour. There were a lot of paparazzi around. When we'd go out, people would follow us, take pictures and all that nonsense. We got into a car chase and someone got a little too close to my space in an airport. She claimed that I assaulted her. It's your word against theirs and the insurance company has to pay 'em off."
The smirk returns.
"So there's one of your rock 'n' roll stories that we just never let anybody else know about."
One reputation which JBJ does have is that of a shrewd, almost ruthless, businessman. Is that the way he sees himself?
"No, but if after 17 years you haven't learned the business, you're a f**cking moron. All I did 10 years ago was take control of my own life."
Do you know any actual gangsters?
"Plenty, sure," he says casually. "I don't get to see the darkest sides of them, but the romantic side of it? Yeah, I've seen it, plenty."
Do you have a romantic view of that whole lifestyle?
"No," he frowns emphatically. "No, no, no. That's why I stay distant from it, but obviously coming from upstate New York and New Jersey there's a lot of that around. You meet them. you know them and you know what it is."
Do you get tired of people treading on eggshells around you?
"We don't keep 'yes' men," he claims. "As you've probably noticed, there ain't no entourage around this band. People in our organisation have been here forever. That's why it's the same band, same management, same wife for 20 years. Newcomers aren't really welcome."
Jon has nine movies under his belt, but none in which he is, quite literally, the leading man. While he's more of a household face than many movie stars, this has no bearing on his Hollywood status.
"That's right," he nods. "In the music business I'm the director, the producer, the star, the writer and the marketeer. In the movie business. I'm the bass player. I do my part and go home!"
Have you made any friends in the film world?
"Yeah, Matthew McConaughey (with whom Jon stars in imminent submarine thriller 'U-571'). I think I'll be friends with him for a long. long time."
How about Bruce Willis and Demi Moore?
"Yeah. I had dinner with Bruce about a week ago, actually. But you don't call these guys and you don't see 'em on Tuesday. If you run into them, you pick up where you left off and you're excited to see each other.
"I've become friendly with the guys in my town now, because I got kids. It sounds a little goofy, being in a rock band and talking about this in Kerrang!, but I meet a lot of guys my age now that have nothing to do with entertainment and couldn't give a f**k about it/ You can go out for a beer and talk about the game."
Do your kids get a hard time at school?
"They're aware of who I am because of school. There's not a platinum record on our house, and it's not as of we ever play the records there."
Who do you call when you're upset?
"I have my same close circle of best friends that I've had forever."
What do you still want that money can't buy you? A full eight seconds pass.
"Health is more important than wealth," he decides. "It's more important than anything. How old are you?"
"Life'll change a lot in 10 years. I used to dare the aeroplane to crash because it would make a great movie, my record sales would boom and I'd leave a great-looking corpse. Now, for the first time, I start thinking about mortality. I'm not afraid to die, but on the other hand I think, 'Man, life is grand. I wanna be here tomorrow'.
"It's about the stupid little things. Sitting on a verandah on a Saturday morning, drinking coffee, is pretty cool now."
JBJ is in a horribly enviable position. Is there anything he's really bad at?
"Anything other than what I do," he says.
Such as?
"I'm not as good a communicator in relationships, as most guys aren't. I can't cook, clean, mow the lawn, fix a car... I ain't much good at anything else."
Luckily you don't have to do most of those things.
"Oh, you know, you do 'em plenty," he signs wearily. "It's not that pampered a life."
Would you describe yourself as shy?
"No. I think I was much more introverted 10 years ago than I am now. When I took up acting I became more of an extrovert."
What would you think if you met yourself at a party?
"A nice enough guy. Give him a glass of wine and he's happy."
Fancy a word association game?
"Yes, doctor."
Say the first word that comes into your head. Fame.
"Good (laughs)."
"The greatest."
"(Pauses) Record company president. I hesitated, because I had to chose between that or 'movie mogul'."
Are you aware of Fred Durst?
"Isn't he the guy in Limp Bizket? I met him briefly."
Did he give you props and respect?
"Oh yeah, yeah. He was very nice."
What did you take about?
"I don't remember. It was in a restaurant, one afternoon."
Did you see the Channel 4 programme 'Stadium Rock', in which a few of your relatives, including your second cousin Tony, slagged you off?
"No. He's made living out of making money from me. Life's too short, man. What can I tell you? If I'm the only claim to fame in the guy's life, it's sad."
How much longer will you be the singer in Bon Jovi?
"I don't know. This band's beyond the point of breaking up, because none of us rely on it any more. We'll carry on as long as we've got something to say. I'm not 38, pretending to be 25. As the journey continues, I'll make the kind of records befitting. So I don't see a reason to stop.