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September 18, 2005

AOL Exclusive Interview

Bon Jovi is a long way from New Jersey, both the state that birthed the band bearing its lead singer Jon Bon Jovi's last name as well as the 1988 album that produced head-banging anthems like "Bad Medicine."

For one, the group's leader Jon Bon Jovi is a rock frontman who has survived a 40th birthday with his street cred intact, even as his international and national visibility has increased tenfold since the explosive success of Bon Jovi's 2000 effort Crush, which has become the arena-rock group's hottest release of all time. And it's only going to get hotter: Not only is Bon Jovi's newest effort Have a Nice Day imminent, but its irrepressible lead singer has nabbed the lead role in National Lampoon's upcoming cinematic romp, The Trouble with Frank, as well as a supporting role in the recently released horror film Cry Wolf.

But you can forgive Jon Bon Jovi's lack of enthusiasm for numbers and receipts for the moment, concerned as he is with the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, international poverty and the increasing divisions in a country that has for so long used his songs as exemplars of the American can-do spirit. In fact, what many Bon Jovi critics and fans alike might not know is the Jersey native has a bleeding heart of gold, and has opened it equally to people in need everywhere.

"During Live 8, I was doing press about the plight of people in Africa," Bon Jovi explains, "but I was noting that there was a real dividing line in Philadelphia, New Jersey and in our own backyards. It's evident, when you see something like Katrina, that there is a dividing line between the classes, and that the poor are getting poorer. So any opportunity that we have as a band to lend our name, support, money, time and efforts to help the community, we're there on the front lines. Because people can use our help."

Indeed, Bon Jovi was more than ready and willing to help ex-Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and his philanthropic rock colossus known as Live Aid the first time it exploded into national consciousness, but the band was still too green. It was an omission the multitalented lead singer made sure didn't happen the second time around.

"Being part of Live 8 was wonderful on a number of levels," Jon Bon Jovi confesses. "We weren't at Live Aid in 1985, and we were very envious. But this was during the course of our second album and at the beginning of our careers, so we watched in awe as Bob Geldof made history."

It was a portentous moment, as Bon Jovi and Geldof would become close over the years since. It was a friendship that came to a satisfying fruition with the band's own longed-for Live 8 performance.

"I befriended Bob 10 years ago in London," the vocalist explains. "In fact, we brought him onstage during a concert at Wembley Stadium to do "I Don't Like Mondays" on the tenth anniversary of Live Aid. So when he was putting Live 8 together, I said that I was definitely going to be the first guy signed on to Philadelphia."


"I wanted to perform there for such a fulfilling cause," he adds, "but also because I have a wonderful tie to the city as co-owner of the arena football team Philadelphia Soul. Our community initiatives are second to none."

Jon Bon Jovi's pride in his altruistic mission is evident, but it's a characteristic that has buttressed the appeal of his band ever since the positive anthems of 1986's Slippery When Wet like "Livin' On a Prayer" seized the American public -- and the charts -- with a quickness. Because the one common denominator in all that Bon Jovi -- the band and the man -- is all will be can be whittled down to one powerful word: optimism.

"I think that certainly is the hallmark of what the band is about," Bon Jovi affirms, "and that underlying theme of optimism throughout our records is something that has been missing from music. We strove very hard to break through that, and Have a Nice Day is part of that evolution."

What also is part of the band's evolution is their recent collaboration with GRAMMY-winning producer John Shanks, who's helmed music projects for everyone from Alanis Morissette to Melissa Etheridge and scores for films like Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason, Ladder 49, Herbie: Fully Loaded and more. According to Bon Jovi, Shanks' spontaneity was just what the doctor ordered for Have a Nice Day.

"Part of the excitement of making this record was working with John," Bon Jovi explains. "His approach is a bit different than ours. We're very meticulous, and never go into a studio without a song completely written. But with John, if we had a song written, he'd say, 'Go in now!' There was no scrutinizing vocals, guitar play, nothing. It was great to fly by the seat of our pants, and John brought exhilaration to the project."

Richie Sambora, Bon Jovi's infamous guitarist, agrees.

"It was an interesting way to make a record, and it sounds fresh because of the excitement over what we were doing. Other bands go in with a plan, melody or title and build around that, but we make sure the song is there first. It has to have a beginning, middle and end, just like a story or a movie."

While both Sambora and Bon Jovi agree that their personal excitement resulting from the construction and completion of Have a Nice Day were watershed moments for the band, the proof, as always, lies with the people. And Sambora understands well enough that once the effort reaches the population-at-large, it ceases to become Bon Jovi's baby.

"The songs are ours until the record is made," he explains. "And then they're out and belong to everyone else. Although they're our records, the songs are for the people and our fans. The songs become the fabric of people's lives, almost like a musical scrapbook, so to speak. Which is a privilege."

With the release of Have a Nice Day, Bon Jovi the band will have stashed nine original studio albums beneath their belts, most of which have become sonic staples for both pop culture and the charts. All of which begs the question: With over 20 years in the game, what has the band learned about itself?

"We have more poise," Sambora answers. "We know what we can do. We know how to write good songs, and we know how to turn a stadium upside down."

Scott Thill is the editor of Morphizm.com (http://www.morphizm.com). He has written on media, politics and music for Salon, Popmatters, All Music Guide, Rotten Tomatoes, AOL, XLR8R and other publications.

09/16/05 12:28 EDT

Posted by riesambo at September 18, 2005 05:45 PM