Jon Bon Jovi, One of the True 'Stand-Up Guys,' Opens Up As Never Before (Exclusive Video)
Not many musicians have stood before audiences of tens -- sometimes hundreds -- of thousands of people and heard words that they had written recited back to them by heart. Not many have inspired hundreds of cover bands, drunken karaoke exhibitions, and the undying affection of an entire state (amongst many others). And not many have had the same wife, same band, and same record deal, or sustained their popularity, relevance, and output, for 30-plus years.
Suffice it to say, Jon Bon Jovi is not like many other musicians.
Recently, I had the opportunity to pick Bon Jovi's brain over dinner following the Chicago International Film Festival world premiere screening of Stand-Up Guys -- the first film for which he has composed original songs in 22 years -- and then again the following morning during an exclusive 35-minute on-camera interview.
The 50-year-old -- who, as you can see in the footage of our conversation (above), looks about 20 years younger than his age -- says that he has never been at a happier place in his life or career. That might explain why he was willing to talk, at such length and in such depth, about his past, present, and future. Of course, he was most excited to discuss "Running" and "Old Habits," the two songs that he contributed, free-of-charge, to Fisher Stevens' low-budget indie, onto which Oscar winners Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin signed after he had already agreed to pen the tunes.
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THE EARLY YEARS
When people think of Bon Jovi, they tend to also think of New Jersey. The Sayreville native hasn't even lived in the Garden State for the last few years -- he's now a New Yorker -- but he says that he totally gets it: New Jersey is less a place than a state of mind, and one that he continues to share with its residents. He explains that growing up in Jersey, in the shadow of New York -- "close enough to the center of the universe, but far enough away where nobody was really watching" -- tends to leave a bit of a chip on one's shoulder. "You don't know if you can get in the ring or not."
For young Bon Jovi, getting in the ring always meant only one thing: a career in music. "There was no second choice," he says. Growing up in the late 1970s, he listened to all kinds -- Mo-town, soul music, R&B (the roots of which come from Jersey Shore), and, of course, rock 'n roll. And, as he took his first steps into making it -- learning to play the guitar and piano at 13, and subsequently forming his own cover band and then joining another guy's band -- it was clear where his strengths lay. "I was always the singer," he smiles. "I just gravitated toward it. I loved it more than it loved me, but eventually I learned the craft."
A pivotal moment came when Bon Jovi realized that there was no real future in performing other bands' songs. He started writing original tunes, got a day job as a gopher in a recording studio, and would stay late many nights to record demos. He always wanted to be a part of a band, though, not a solo act, so he would assemble various guys to perform at little showcases with him, or serve as the opening act for bigger bands, or just entertain friends at backyard barbeques. When high school came to an end, most of Bon Jovi's classmates didn't head off to college, but instead joined the service or went to work in factories. He decided to stick with music.
THE BIG BREAK