Dear Bon Jovi,
It’s been many years since we’ve spoken in depth – at least ten, I’m guessing. It was right around the time of your These Days album, and I have to admit, you weren’t the best interview I’ve ever conducted. It isn’t always easy for a writer to overcome her intrinsic admiration for a band, even at the expense of her professional integrity.
So I feel the need to preface my letter with a brief apology: first, for bumbling through that interview ten years ago, and second, for throwing my professional integrity aside yet again to tell you exactly what I think of your band now.
I’ll spare you the tales of how I grew up with your music; I do know I’m not alone in saying that your music has provided a significant soundtrack to my life. Still, one experience does stand out from all the rest.
This story has made the rounds in multiple columns and articles I’ve written, not so much because it’s particularly unique, but because it shows how I came to be the person I am. Obviously, I don’t need to tell you about the impact that music in general can have on a person; it was just my fortune that music, yours specifically, found and shaped me.
I was12 and sitting in the second row at Alpine Valley Music Theater for my first concert ever (I scored the tickets from a radio station giveaway). You were playing “Living on a Prayer” when a tremendous storm broke out. The reserved seats at the outdoor amphitheater were safe from the rain, but the people in the lawn were at the risk not just of being drenched, but likely struck by lightning. Winds were swirling in insane gusts, the sky was back and rain pummeled the ground. No one moved but you. You stopped, right before the final chorus of what has become the greatest song ever to me, and said, “Rock and roll opens the sky.”
It’s the kind of moment that means the world to an impressionable young person, though in retrospect I understand how some perceive it as contrived. Nevertheless, I decided at that point that I, too, wanted to open the sky.
I suppose I have, in my own way. I may not have been able to do it with music like you (my voice is better left to drunken karaoke and the shower), but I do take a great deal of pride in knowing I’ve made an impact with my writing. The writing is my own, of course, but I credit that experience and your music in part for giving me the wherewithal to make my life what it is.
“That storm seems to follow us around,” you said in our interview. I appreciated your courtesy in humoring me with the response; I’m sure at that point I was probably tearing up at the fact that I was sharing my story with you personally. But even if you didn’t remember the exact concert I described, you certainly caught my meaning: that your music has had an influence not just on me, but millions of other people.
And that’s why I’m writing you this letter. You’ve certainly been better at adapting to the times than any other band of your era, but I’m starting to wonder if in adapting you’ve somehow lost sight of the fundamentals of your music… and of rock and roll.
In saying that, please don’t think I’m trashing your alt-country crossover. I saw that coming years ago when you released the horrible This Left Feels Right album. I’m sure you know what a mistake that album was; I’m just glad you were able to fine tune your corporate kowtowing into a better album now.
And that’s not to say that I don’t like Lost Highway – there are a few songs that resonate with me just as strongly as ones from Slippery or Keep the Faith (your best albums). I do wonder though, why, of all the songs on that album, you felt the need to release what is without a doubt the most painfully boring, monotonous drudgery of the bunch as your first single. Forgive me, but every time I hear “You Want to Make a Memory” I really just want to make a lunge for the mute button.
I’m sure the decision to release that song was in the best interest of your corporation; there are plenty of paying people who don’t know the difference between your good songs and your lame ones. I guess that’s what makes me most sad in all this: I never expected you to become so obvious of a corporation.
No matter how much you deny it, you’re not just a group of guys from New Jersey anymore. You’re a band with extended families and a never ending conga line of executives, managers, promoters and agents who all need to be fed.
Which is fine. I don’t fault you for needing to sustain the livelihood of the band. The trouble is that I need to eat, too. And I can’t do that and drop the $129 plus related processing and parking fees for one ticket to see you play a show in Chicago this winter.
I might be more inclined to trade my grocery budget for a ticket if I thought I’d see the Bon Jovi I love. But that’s more than I’m willing to give to the corporation for music that seems to be moving farther away from the fans and more and more towards an “audience”.
Here’s the deal Jon and company: I realize you can’t help the appearances on Oprah, the American Idol endorsements or the Duracell battery commercials. There is a business to this all that can’t be avoided.
But you’re still a rock and roll band, and rock and roll is not about adding a fiddler to your stage band to round out the holes in your songs, it’s not about overproducing the life out of a song, and it’s definitely not about releasing lackluster first singles just to suck in lovelorn matrons.
Rock is about passion and energy and living on the edge. And when you get back to that, Bon Jovi, when I feel you’ll open the sky again, I’ll gladly pay any price.
I’m sure Tommy and Gina would agree with me.