The Times- August 14 2000
These days Jon Bon Jovi would rather be an
actor than a musician - but don't tell his army of loyal fans that. David
Sinclair meets a weary superstar
Is King Jon tired of his rock'n'roll crown?
Eyes screwed up as if squinting into the sun, chin jutting forward a little too firmly, speech patterns terse and defensive, Jon Bon Jovi has the air of a man who has been roughed up too many times by the British press. The 38-year-old rock star from New Jersey is sitting in a hotel room in Helsinki. Next to him, guitarist Richie Sambora, 41, affects a more genial demeanour. But neither of them seems particularly relaxed or cheerful.
It is lunchtime on the day of the second show of the European leg of Bon Jovi's world tour to promote the group's current album, Crush.
Later Bon Jovi and Sambora, together with keyboard player David Bryan, 38, drummer Tico Torres, 44, and semi-detached bassist Hugh McDonald (replacing the departed founder member Alec Jon Such), will rock the Finnish capital's Hartwall Arena to its foundations (capacity 13,000 - "just a little warm-up gig", according to their road manager) in a consummate display of upbeat, rock'n'roll showmanship. But right now Jon is struggling to summon the energy even to pretend that he is interested in embarking on yet another interview about the highs and lows of life on the road with Bon Jovi.
How did they enjoy playing at Party In The Park in Hyde Park the other day along with Posh Spice, Kylie and all the other miming pop stars?
"It was pissing with rain," Bon Jovi says. "We didn't meet or talk to anyone."
Is it still as much fun to get out and tour as it used to be?
"It's more of a sacrifice now. You leave your family behind. But when you have a record that you're proud of and it's working on a global level you want to get out there and do it again."
Were you stung by the negative reviews of the album?
"Have we ever been the critics' darlings? I don't read any of it.The greatest revenge is still being here. We're the ones playing Wembley for two nights. Tell those 150,000 people that they don't like it."
It's a fair point, and frankly, the sour tone of the reviews this time round has been in stark contrast to the sheer freshness and vitality of Crush, which sailed straight to No 1 in the British chart regardless. As is often the case with performers at this stratospheric level, it was the band rather than the album which got reviewed. But while Bon Jovi may be an unfashionable proposition, the album itself is a tour de force of spring-heeled, melodic heavy rock, stuffed with killer choruses and boasting in the opening track, It's My Life, an anthem to rank among the best in the group's entire history.
The album has already sold 3.8 million copies outside America, confirming Bon Jovi's enduring appeal in every key market in the world (Israel and Greece are the only two countries in the free world where they have not played live). And Jon and Richie are quick to challenge any suggestion that Crush has not performed equally well in America too, where it reached No 9 in the chart and has so far sold 760,000 copies in its first seven weeks of release.
In truth, of course, this is a long way short of the units they routinely used to shift in their glory days of the 1980s (and even old-stagers BB King & Eric Clapton can boast sales of 1 million copies of their album, Riding With The King, which was released the same week as Crush). But it is now 18 years since the band got together, and while the quality of their music remains as good as, if not better than ever, their lifestyles and aspirations have altered considerably. Both men are married with children, Bon Jovi to his childhood sweetheart, Dorothea Hurley, Sambora to the actress Heather Locklear (best known for her role as uber-bitch Amanda in the American TV soap, Melrose Place). Both have put out solo albums in recent years, and presumably with so many other demands on their time, over and above the running of Bon Jovi, conflicts must arise. Have the two of them ever fallen out?
"There's really no reason to," Bon Jovi says, sighing wearily. "I know you'd love to write something along those lines. We've had some struggles as a band coming to terms with success, and we've had the struggles of trying to stay successful. But it's not brain surgery, what we do. There's not anything magical about it. It's pretty much common sense."
Unlike the more abrasive creative partnerships at the heart of comparable long-running groups such as Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones, there has never come a point where Bon Jovi and Sambora have found themselves jostling for pole position.
"Jon's the leader of the band and I'm the right-hand man and that's cool," Sambora says. "Is there any doubt about it?" Presumably not, given that the name of the group is, after all, Bon Jovi.
Jon brightens perceptibly when the subject of his parallel acting career comes up, and you sense that here at last is a subject he doesn't feel has been chewed to death years ago. Since winning an award for his first movie role in Moonlight And Valentino in 1995, he has made half a dozen pictures, the most recent being U-571, the controversial war film starring Matthew McConaughey, in which Bon Jovi played the part of a naval officer. The passion with which he speaks about mastering the demands of being an actor is sharply at odds with his rather listless account of life on the road as a rock'n'roll star.
"I enjoy going on a film set for various reasons, but mostly because in that world I'm starting out again. That brings a certain humility, and after all the experiences I've had, to be able to start all over again is an incredible gift."
Are you going to be a big movie star?
"Yes, I will," he says with absolute conviction. "Because I will kick down every f***ing door between here and there until one of them caves in - the same way it was in the record business. It's not about conquering the world and it's not about the money. It's the thrill of the chase."
Doesn't playing the role of a rock star call for a certain amount of acting ability?
"That's simply not the case," Bon Jovi says, firmly. "Whatever happens on that stage, whether I fall down on my ass or sing a great high note, that's me. That's why I don't come in here with a big costume and make-up attitude. What you get is what it is. I don't go on stage bigger than life.
"I go on stage the same scared guy who sits in this room, or the same cocky guy - depends how you want to see it. That's the appeal. We're an Everyman's band. I never felt the need to do heroin and if that's not rock'n'roll, oh well. I never felt the need to be that excessive, and if that makes me not as cool as Axel or something, well great."
Far from over-indulging, the Bon Jovi touring experience is these days about iron discipline and careful husbanding of resources. Jon has given up smoking, and the group's entourage includes a full-time personal fitness trainer and a chiropracter. All four members of the band look in prime condition as they troop into the arena for their soundcheck later in the afternoon, but Bon Jovi's body language remains grumpy and out of sorts.
It is a different story come the start of the show. Faced with a solid wall of teenaged girls pressed against the barriers in front of the stage, while an equally vociferous crowd of fans from their parents' generation line the stands at the side of the arena, Jon Bon Jovi, now dressed in tight leather trousers, is transformed into a rock'n'roll dynamo and humping, pumping sex god rolled into one. As the band power through hits such as Livin' On A Prayer, You Give Love A Bad Name and a sensational version of It's My Life, the singer makes all the right moves while somehow seeming to make eye contact with every person in the hall.
The "thrill of the chase" may be a thing of the past, but the show is neither a tired ritual nor a nostalgia-fest, and over the course of the next two and a half hours the band perform a mixture of old and new songs with an exuberance and generosity of spirit that would do credit to a group half their age. By the time they get to a resounding finale of Wanted Dead Or Alive, dedicated to "all the cowboys out there", there is no doubt that it remains well beyond the power of a few carping critics to interfere with the hugely affectionate bond between group and audience.
"When I look out there tonight," Jon tells me beforehand, "there will be a girl in the front row with a banner saying 'I've seen 99 Bon Jovi shows'. She changes it every night. Our next gig, in Stockholm, will be her 100th show."
Let's hope the boss can maintain his own level of interest for the next 100 shows.