The rock god who can dive a submarine
Jon Bon Jovi is back with his band after a
five-year break, solo success, acting lessons and a role in his first
JON BON JOVI is not in a good mood. That much is apparent from the reluctant way he drags himself into the hotel suite, glancing about as if seeking some avenue of escape before shaking my hand with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man greeting his executioner. He looks aghast when the record company representative announces that I have the star's undivided attention for the next hour. "An hour?" Bon Jovi grumbles. "What
the hell! You writing a book, boy?"
'In the Eighties,' says Jon Bon Jovi, 'we did four albums and there was a 240-show tour booked before each one was even done. That kind of success will kill you' To be fair to him, he has reason to be miserable. Having just flown in from Tokyo the night before, he was up at the crack of dawn for an appearance on The Big Breakfast, followed by a day of tightly scheduled interviews. "I feel like I'm on Pluto right now," he mutters. And it doesn't help that his last encounter was with a tabloid journalist. "All he wanted to know was how many 16-year-old girls I've ****** and do I take heroin? Why don't you just put the gun in my mouth and pull the trigger!"
His head sags wearily and he is struggling to keep his eyelids open, but other than that Bon Jovi looks remarkably good for a man of 38 who is suffering from jetlag. Actually, he looks remarkably good for a man,
period. There is something almost unreal about the confluence of strong features that make up the celebrated Bon Jovi visage. If anything, he is better looking in the flesh than in photographs. The air of glamorous illusion is maintained by the black T-shirt and tight blue jeans emphasising his muscular physique, and hair so perfectly coiffed that he could have just emerged from the salon.
Well, he is a rock god, after all. The group that bears his stage name (formed by the young John Bongiovi in New Jersey in the early Eighties) is the most successful American band of the past 20 years. Combining hard-rock style with a catchy pop sensibility, the band's six studio albums have notched up sales in excess of 80 million.
Now, after a five-year hiatus, singer Jon Bon Jovi,
guitarist Richie Sambora, drummer Tico Torres, keyboard player David Bryan and
bassist Huey McDonald (who replaced Alec John Such in 1994) have reconvened for
a new album, Crush, and a world tour that brings them to the stadiums of Britain
in August. The album (released by Mercury last week) went straight to number
"Yeah, it's nice to be back, but I don't feel like I've been away," Bon Jovi grumpily concedes. "People seem to think you release a record and then go to sleep for five years." In fact, JBJ (as we shall henceforth refer to
him) released a surprisingly restrained and critically well-received solo album, Destination Anywhere, in 1997 and has established a parallel career as an actor, demonstrating genuine talent in low-key films such as Moonlight and Valentino (1995), The Leading Man (1996) and No Looking Back (1998). He can currently be seen in the submarine thriller U-571, his first blockbuster hit.
The band's outside interests (Sambora and Bryan have both released solo albums, while Torres has gained attention for his oil paintings) have actually helped them stay together for so long, he says. "In the Eighties,
we did four albums and there would be a 240-show tour booked before the album was even done. So you worked night and day and then ran to the airport with the ink still wet on the album cover. That kind of success will kill you. We realised it was a mistake to be too reliant on the band. We had to get out and diversify just to survive. And then when you do get back together you actually have something new to bring to the party. Ultimately, when you are not reliant on it, the band is there to give you pleasure."
It was JBJ's first solo musical venture, composing songs for the soundtrack of the Emilio Estevez western Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory (1990), that led to his fascination with acting. "I'll tell you the honest truth," he says. "I'd just come off a tour and I was visiting a film set for the first time. I saw Emilio riding horses and shooting guns - all these fun things. So when I decided to go to acting lessons I thought the worst-case scenario was that I would learn some cool things that could become hobbies."
When I ask what hobbies he has picked up along the way, however, he breaks into a huge, sheepish grin. "I can dive a submarine. Paint a house. I tend bar pretty good!"
JBJ perks up when questions engage his interest and, intriguingly, given that he is here with his rock-star jeans on, this is most apparent when the topic of discussion is movies. "I go to film sets by myself," he reveals. "There's no publicist around, no entourage. I carry my suitcase off the plane, show up for work. It's been a nice way to meet myself. My whole adult life was spent in the public eye. The first time I really spent alone was in the trailer on The Leading Man for four months. No phone, no fax, no band, nobody. It was pretty cool. I wanted to take the trailer home."
He suggests that the collaborative nature of film-making has helped him develop a sense of humility, which he claims has rubbed off on the band. "It doesn't let them or anyone else in the organisation think, 'The record is out: let the seas part and the sun shine!' It's just a record, man. Some people are going to love it, some people are going to hate it. No big deal."
Except that, with the band's sales expectations, their new release is being treated as a very big deal indeed, which, as JBJ concedes, is reflected in the level of promotional work. "With a film, you work your ass off for a
few days, do a press junket, a couple of talk shows and that's the end of it. The movie has peaked in two or three weeks and you're over. I'm going to spend the next year basically going door to door selling my record. The story gets old. 'Where have you been for five years?' I've been answering this question for a week and I'm disgusted with myself already. The music business is 10 times harder than the acting business."
But here he is again. "I try to get out - they pull me back in," he laughs, paraphrasing Al Pacino in The Godfather Part III. Perhaps he is just a sucker for punishment?
"I'll tell you," he says, "in the music business, I am in essence the director, the producer and the star. In the movie business, I'm just the bass player. You do your part, lay down the bassline and go home. And that's nice too. But everybody really wants to be the star."