I Love Rock & Role

What is it with these rock stars that they think they can act? Two better examples of this phenomenon are newcomer Jon Bon Jovi and acting veteran Sting both of whom appear on your screens this very month. Mark Salisbury meets the former....

Some people are just plain greedy. Take Jon Bon Jovi for example. Not content with being the mega-rich, mega-selling lead singer with one of the world’s most successful rock bands, adored by women and mobbed by fans across the globe, Jon Bon Jovi now wants to act. It is, let’s be honest, on the surface, a not entirely attractive proposition: rock stars on the whole have not exactly been on a par with Robert De Niro when it comes to emoting for the camera. For every David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, there have been any number of blokes like David Essex in Silver Dream Racer. Yet in this age of pop cultural-bestriding multi-media superstars, major success in just one field is frankly not enough.

Which brings us back to Bon Jovi (the man, as opposed to the group) who, sat in a swanky and secluded London hotel mere hours before stepping out on stage for the second of three sell-out dates at Wembley back in June of last year, still sweating from his midday workout, eyes hidden behind dark glasses, is explaining his decision to put his credibility on the line with his first proper acting ‘gig’, Moonlight And Valentino.

It all began back in 1990, when the acting bug snuck up and bit the shaggy-haired rock god on the arse while he was hanging around the set of the brat pack western Young Guns II for which he supplied the soundtrack, including the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar nominated song Blaze of Glory.

“I went to the set with Emilio (Estevez) and stayed with him for a couple of days in a house that he had rented out there. I just watched him and Kiefer (Sutherland) and all those guys. I was intrigued by it but not enough to quit my day job.”

He did, however, have a small cameo in the movie.

“There’s a scene where they’re emerging from this underground jail. We were locked up in this pit, a bunch of extras jump out and I’m one of those guys. There’s me getting shot and falling back into the hole. I was sitting on this set for four or five days and they finally said, as a joke, ‘Okay. It’ll be fun.‘ And as I did it, they made fun of me. They sang, ”Shot through the heart....“ as the blood thing spurts. One take, 3 am.”

After his brief brush with thespianism, Bon Jovi (the man, not the group) went back to his world of mega-selling albums and sell-out tours. But the pull of acting was eventually to prove irresistible and he signed on with a New York acting coach by the name of Harold Guskin, a man who can lay claim to having taught Kevin Klein, Sally Field and Michelle Pfeiffer.

“I never told the band,” he confesses. “I never told anybody. It was three years before I considered doing anything. Then I finally told a couple of people at the record company. I got an acting agent. We just said, ”Let’s do the Keep the Faith album and tour and then we’ll just start considering reading things.“ Then, after the tour was over it took me a year of meeting people and stuff before I got into the first role.”

That first role was as the housepainter who brings a smile, in more ways than one, to the face of Elizabeth Perkins after her husband is killed in a road accident. He also becomes a fixation for Perkins’ bosom buddy Whoopie Goldberg, stepmother Kathleen Turner and sister Gwyneth Paltrow. As performances go, Bon Jovi (the man ... etc) is understated, sensitive and really rather good. Was he aware that rock stars do not necessarily make great actors?

“Of course. See I never took it for granted that because I was a singer in a rock band I could act. But I wouldn’t give a microphone to even Robert De Niro because there’s no way he could do Wembley Stadium. But the theory behind it was always that I wanted to be an actor in a film, not a rock star in a movie.”

Has that been the problem with other rockers-turned-actors in the past?

“Not necessarily. I think Bowie can be a great actor. Off the top of my head, I think that Sting can be a great actor. But I have no desire to be a cameo in Wayne’s World. I was very serious about what I was pursuing.”

I thought you were very good for that particular reason. It didn’t seem like, “Oh, here’s Jon Bon Jovi in a movie...”

For a moment, he’s puzzled. “You saw the film?” he asks.

Yes.

“Oh...” he smiles, mulling it over. “It’s an okay film,” he says finally.

It’s a chick flick.

“That’s fine. It’s a hip movie, not a hick movie. That’s the way I look at it. But those actresses were awesome. And as far as I’m concerned, David Anspaugh (the director) is Francis Ford Coppola because he took a shot on me.”

How different is it performing in front of a film crew to 100,000 fans?

“It’s not that different. It’s still being on. Remember I sat for three or four years with Harold in a room, never with another actress or anything, ever, and the rehearsal...” he laughs, “we got up to the rehearsal and everybody put the script down and went, ‘Take us to the Stones!‘ And I’m like, ‘Hey, I came up here to rehearse!‘ But they all wanted to go, so we went.”

I suggest it was the perfect role for him to begin with because he’s pretty much the only man in the movie, he plays a sex symbol with a nice arse (I’m quoting the women in the film here) and he gets to snog the leading lady.

“It was tough being me that week,” he laughs. “I did the Cindy Crawford video and that scene in the same week. Very nice.”

But, being such a huge star, why did he feel the need to embark on what could be a potentially embarrassing career move?

“The challenge first of all. The freedom that it leads to. I mean this band is wonderful but I was never in this for the money, for gain. I was in this because I loved making records and writing songs. Now, thank God, it’s gotten this big and it’s a lot of fun but that wasn’t ever why. I didn’t do it to pull women. But now I need to do this for the artistic freedom.

The year that Blaze Of Glory was up for the Oscar for Best Song, Jon Bon Jovi went to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

”I loved every second of it. I’ve been wanting to do music for movies to go back there ever since.“

Indeed, trivia fans take note, he actually wrote the hit single Always for Romeo Is Bleeding...

”Great script but the film was f**king awful,“ he grimaces. ”But I love Gary Oldman, just adore him and I read the script and I heard the title and thought, I have to write this. So I wrote the song, saw the film and thought, ‘No’.“

Since our chat Bon Jovi (the man) has appeared alongside Thandie Newton in John Duigan’s The Leading Man. Bon Jovi (the group) meanwhile, will be playing an open-air stadium near you early next month. Rest easy music fans, your hero still loves rock ‘n’ roll.

”I’m not gonna quit my day job,“ avers the shaggy one, ”but I would love, in a perfect world, to juggle them...“

(Empire, July 1996)


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The Himbo Strikes Back

Smug, over sexed and nauseatingly handsome, Jon Bon Jovi is leaning against a wall of a New York studio. His petite but perfectly worked-out physique is immaculately set off by a tight black T-shirt and crotch-hugging jeans. With his bouffant hair and skin so perfect it could be plastic, he looks like a rock ‘n’ roll version of Barbie’s boyfriend Ken. All the girls who have come to meet him are squirming too.

”Ugh,“ I’m thinking, ”I’ve flown a thousand miles to spend an hour with that?

Maybe you have to be female to see the point of Jon Bon Jovi. Yet there is clearly more to him than a cute bum and a pretty face. Not only is he one of the world’s most successful rock stars - he’s shifting more than 60 million albums of blow-dried pap, which places his band in the same league as U2 and REM - but he is shaping up to become a decent actor too. Following a cameo role in Moonlight And Valentino, his latest role is playing the lead in John Duigan’s comedy about London theatre land, The Leading Man. Against all the odds, he’s actually rather good.

He seems genuinely pleased to be told as much. However many records he may have sold in a 17 year career, he is still a stranger to critical acclaim. Once asked whether his acting might earn him the respect his music didn’t, he dryly replied, ”It could happen, and birds might fly out of my butt.“

Having contributed to the slew of reviews condemning Bon Jovi’s oeuvre as brainless rock for bimbos, I find it somewhat chastening to meet him in the flesh. Partly it is because he is such an easy going guy. Partly because, though you would imagine he was far too rich and grand to be bothered by critical brickbats, he admits they still cut deep. ”You write a song first of all because you like it, but also because you want everyone else to like it,“ he says. ”It hurts when you read an article and it says ‘This blows!‘ Sure it hurts. Because you really thought it was the best work you could do.“

It’s even more poignant when you realise that the music he most admires is a million miles from his own. Bon Jovi may have modelled his brash style on the New Jersey singer Southside Johnny Lyons, but his idols come from the moodier, more contemplative, and better respected end of the spectrum. Singer/songwriters like Paul Simon, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen; ”The sort of people who have never written choruses like, “Wo-oh, we’re halfway there. Wo-oh, we’re living on a prayer.”

“Sometimes,” he says, “I look at one of their songs and go, ‘That’s brilliant. I wish I wrote it’.”

And you wonder whether, deep down, he thinks badly of himself for having written ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ and not ‘Bird On A Wire’. Bon Jovi insists otherwise, “If you wrote songs that you’re proud of and that you believe were the best songs you could write, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

It all began in the middle class suburbs of New Jersey where he was born John Bongiovi to a family of third-generation Italian immigrants. Dad was a hairdresser, mum a former model, which perhaps explains Bon Jovi’s tonsorial and sartorial foibles. “It was a quaint small town to grow up in but there weren’t a lot of avenues up there,” he recalls. Either you joined the navy or the local paint factory like most of his friends or you went to college. Sometimes he regrets the college option. “There are many nights I sit up and feel like a moron because I don’t speak French or Italian,” he says, but he was put off the idea of further education by what he had seen while playing gigs at student parties. “To me, college was guys puking on their shoes and moving into Animal House. I thought that would be pretty boring after a couple of weeks.”

And anyway, having been inspired by Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny, his heart was set on rock ‘n’ roll. “I wanted a gig. I wanted to play.” Mainly though, he once admitted, he wanted to get laid - a hobby he acquired at the age of 13 after being seduced by an older woman. He was not disappointed

By the mid-80s, a poodle-haired Bon Jovi and his band - guitarist Richie Sambora, drummer Tico Torres, keyboard played David Bryan and bassist Alec John Such - were living an adolescent’s wet dream. Their first albums, Bon Jovi and 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit had transformed them into the most successful and lusted-after group of the mid 80s. Slippery When Wet was named after a two-woman shower act in one of the strip bars frequented by the band when they weren’t bedding groupies. It sold more than 15 million copies.

Quite who bought all these records is a bit of a mystery, for a love of Bon Jovi’s music is something few people openly admit to. ‘Hard rock hack work of the most banal sort’ opines the Rolling Stone Rock Album Guide. As far as his early albums are concerned, Bon Jovi would not disagree.

“When I got a record deal, I was 20. Now I’m 35. I couldn’t look and dress like that or write those songs any more, even if you paid me. Not that I’m apologising for it, because they were all enormous hits and they gave me the life I have. The Fahrenheit album makes me cringe, but it was as good as I could be in 1984. I didn’t know how to be any better.”

By the end of the eighties, Bon Jovi was growing disillusioned with the world of big hair, sequinned jackets and spandex leggings. In 1990, he hung up his tight trousers, took to the road and spent most of the next two years cruising around America on a motorcycle and pondering his comeback.

Few would have believed he would succeed. Bubble gum metal was supposedly dead, supplanted by the angst-ridden sound of Seattle grunge bands like Nirvana. But it was Bon Jovi who would prove to have the most staying power. Though none of the subsequent albums have outsold Slippery, he remains one of the few musicians in the world capable of filling a 70,000 seat stadium three nights in a row as he did on the last British tour. “Maybe it’s so unfashionable, it’s fashionable,” he says of his swollen power balladry and anthemic rock. “I don’t have a lot of angst in my stuff. There’s too much misery in the world already. I feel people go to a movie or listen to a record or go to a Bon Jovi show to make them feel good because, man, the rest of the world blows.”

Unless of course you’re Jon Bon Jovi for whom life, to quote the title of one of his hits, remains a bed of roses. He has apartments in New Jersey and New York and another home in California. And for 8 years now, he has been happily married to high school sweetheart, karate champion Dorothea Hurley, by whom he has two children - Stephanie, four and Jesse James Louis, two. Bon Jovi is cheerfully frank when asked how he remains faithful in the face of so many advances from female fans. “Masturbation,” he replies. “I’m not a saint, the temptations are high and in your face. I’m not saying that I’ve never been unfaithful. I have. But the idea of messing up a relationship that’s been so good for so many years for some cheap-grade sex really isn’t worth it.”

Even so, surely the one thing his wife can’t give him is the dangerous thrill of sex with a stranger? “Wait a minute! There’s wigs and sex toys,” he laughs. “Yeah, you’re right. But I tell you, this may sound syrupy but I ain’t complaining. You look at my wife and you think she’s a beautiful woman. She’s cool. She’s the kind of woman you’d want to hang around with.”

His family went with him to England during his stint filming The Leading Man. Their life there sounds a model of respectability. Bon Jovi confesses to having spent more time ‘with friends, in a dinner kind of situation’ than he did hanging out at gigs. “I remember driving by rave clubs at 6 in the morning and seeing all those people coming out and going, ”I’ve had a good night’s sleep and they’re all sweaty and eating junk food.“

There was a strong British influence on his new album Destination Anywhere (Mercury). One song, Midnight In Chelsea, was co-written and produced by Dave Stewart while the majority of the record was produced by Steve Lironi whose credits include the UK’s Happy Mondays.

It sounds a strange combination - the grungy Manchester sound meets clean-living New Jersey rock. Bon Jovi works out every day, prefers fine wine to hard liquor and has never had much time for drugs. Or at least not since he was 13. ”Me and two buddies stole enough money to buy some pot. I just had a terrible experience, I ran through a door and ended up in hospital for a whole summer. I said, ‘Wooh! Can’t handle drugs.‘ Fortunately at such a young age, it taught me a lesson.“

Though music will always remain Bon Jovi’s primary career, he is taking acting lessons very seriously. For six years he has been having tuition from renowned drama coach Harold Guskin. Such are his ambitions that he won’t rule out the possibility that one day he might do Shakespeare. ”I won’t say I won’t because ten years ago I would have told you I’d never do a movie. I’ve been offered Broadway plays, I’ve turned them down but that doesn’t mean I’ll never do one.“

Jon Bon Jovi as Hamlet? Scoff if you will. The man would expect no less, having spent almost two decades as one of rock’s biggest jokes. Of course, it’s easy to mock him. The problem is, however much you may despise his music or his hair, you can’t help warming to the vulnerability that lurks beneath that rock star super confidence.

You can hear it when he compares himself to Phil Simms, a football player with the New York Giants. ”No-one likes Phil Simms,“ he says, ”and it was only when he left the team that people appreciated him. He wasn’t the best quarterback but, man, the guy had heart and there’s something cool about that.“

His own epitaph, he suggests, will be rather similar.

”So he wasn’t Paul McCartney or Paul Simon or Tom Waits. But hey, he was pretty good at what he did.“

(Elle, August 1997)


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