When Jon Bon Jovi decided in March of last year to call his next 2020 record, he couldn’t know what he was preparing for.
“Honestly to God, I didn’t do it,” laughs the singer. “When I proposed the title, it was an ironic take on an election year.
“Honestly, that was supposed to be a cute bumper sticker and maybe sell some T-shirts!” ”
The album was always meant to be a snapshot of modern America. The first batch of songs, announced in August 2019, dealt with topics such as Gun Control (Lower The Flag), PTSD in the Army (Unbroken), and Poisoning of Political Speech (Blood In The Water) .
It was due out in May of this year. Then the pandemic struck.
Group keyboardist David Bryan and percussionist Everett Bradley have caught Covid-19. “They were really sick,” Bon Jovi says. “It was all around us. ”
Tour dates were canceled and the album was put on ice. During her quarantine, the star turned to working in her New Jersey community kitchen and distributing items to local food banks.
“I was back washing the dishes, like I was when we opened 10 years ago,” he says. “There was just a huge spike in demand. “
In March, his wife Dorothea posted a photo of the stars’ scouring pans on Instagram, captioning: “If you can’t do what you do, do what you can.” The line inspired a new song, recorded the next day, intended as a hymn to unity during times of trouble.
Another new song arrived in May as the star watched media coverage of the death of George Floyd after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“George Floyd called his mother,” recalls the 58-year-old. “A grown man calling his mother while he was on the ground with one knee on his neck. My eyes filled with tears.
“So I do what I do, and I grabbed my guitar and locked myself in and wrote the song. ”
The American Reckoning Choir – ” Stay alive, stay alive, use your voice and you’ll remember me“- is written in the” voice of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and all those who came before them “, explains the star.
“He uses their voice to protest peacefully to get the message that Black Lives Matter. ”
While Bon Jovi has always had a social conscience, 2020 is his most politically charged record to date. If this risks alienating parts of their fanbase, the singer is baffled.
“I am nothing more than a witness to history,” he says. “I still have hardcore fans who are going to moan about this album and say, ‘They haven’t been good since the 80s.’
“Well guess what? If you want us to rewrite You Give Love A Bad Name, that’s not going to happen.
“My hair is turning gray. I’m cool with it. I am just who I am. And if you want to come take the tour, amen.
The rock star spoke to BBC News in February, before his album was postponed, and we caught up with him again on a Zoom call from New York this week to discuss issues raised by the album, together with Prince Harry, the recent presidential debate. and his group of secret covers.
You called this “topical album” rather than political. What is the difference?
Well, I’m not taking sides. Even in the thorniest topics like gun violence in America, which has plagued me, I don’t take sides because there are those who are really on the defensive on this subject. And when you don’t take sides, I think it opens up the conversation.
Given your policy, I presume you are a proponent of gun control.
So how would you open the conversation?
You start by saying, “OK, put yourself in the shoes of this family member who has lost someone. What do you think about this? And then let them defend their position, you know?
My tongue-in-cheek response would be, “Do you want to buy a gun? Great – but the balls cost $ 5,000 each. ”
But these are all conversations you need to have because, unfortunately, money controls lobbyists and lobbyists control politicians.
You worked in the food kitchen during the pandemic. Do we have the impression that the virus negatively affects the poor and disadvantaged?
It’s not just the poor, it’s everyone who has a job. It was your blue collar family that had a job on March 1, and on March 15 there was no more paycheck. So on April 1, they knocked on the kitchen door saying, “Hello, we could have a meal.”
You said you made this album as a statement in an election year. Have you watched this week’s presidential debate?
I certainly did. A lot of people in this country did it and were upset about it because it was a screaming match and very little was won. These are very divisive times in America, but the beautiful thing about our elections is that every four years we have the chance to start over.
There is a thread of hope woven into the lyrics of the album – do you still feel it?
I do. You have to. My son Jake, who graduated from high school this year, and all these kids who graduated from college this year, they were born on September 11 and they are coming of age in a pandemic. And why I have hope is that I think this generation is tough. I think they are worldly. I think they will be the innovators and the creators and those who [past] skin color and sexual preference and political party.
The song Unbroken is about PTSD in the military. Because both of your parents were in the Marines, was their experience fueled by words?
No, because it wasn’t war [when] they both volunteered. So I really had nothing to write about. – but I was pretty well informed, and had a few conversations with those who had served.
So, are there any lines in the song that are directly influenced by these conversations?
When I sing “I would do it all again”, it’s members of the service.
You recorded a version of this song for Prince Harry’s Invictus Games Foundation. Will you ask him to sing along with you when you play him live?
Well, we’ll see about it! Once upon a time his brother jumped on an acoustic performance of Living On A Prayer with me – and young Prince William is quite the singer, believe it or not.
Can he make the key change in this song?
I don’t think any of us can make the key change anymore! I was a much younger man then. And you know, every time that key change comes up, I think, “What were you thinking about? But, you know, I was 25, young and stupid.
How does the tour work now? You seem to be playing fewer shows more often, rather than having a 200 date world tour.
Right. It’s a little more civilized for me. When the exuberance of youth wins you over, you can do over 200 shows in a year. And looking back, of course, that’s how you build a career. But as I got older, I decided you could still do those hundred shows, but it doesn’t have to be in one [single] year. And it seems to work, because we toured Europe and South America in 2019 – but I was able to write a record too.
There was also a Bon Jovi cruise last year. Will it be a regular thing?
It was only once, believe me. In fact, and that’s what happens when you’re blessed with that kind of success, I said, “Pull the boat up to the dock, I’ll go up. You walk away, I’ll play. Then you bring the boat back to the dock. ”
The guy said, “You know what it costs? I said, “It’s not my problem. Stop, parallel park, buddy, because I’m going down. And that’s exactly what happened.
When you were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2018, you performed with former guitarist Richie Sambora for the first time in five years. How was it?
Wonderful. It was really great. I mean, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t want him to be there. But he had issues he just couldn’t cope with, right? So I would have liked him to be in the band, I would have liked him to be with me on these records, I would like him to be sane and sober.
We did not argue. He did not show up [for a show in Canada in 2013]. There were 20,000 people in the arena and he just couldn’t do it. So I wasn’t going to stop our career for that, nor Tico [Torres, drummer] or Dave. Life had to go on but you know, it was cool to see him for one night. I haven’t spoken to him since.
Is it true that apart from Bon Jovi, you play in a cover band?
Oh yeah, the kings of the suburbs! This is a bunch of guys who play the bar circuit in Jersey that I throw on private planes and take to exotic places and their lives change for the weekend. But I have horns and a violinist and background singers and it gives me the joy of being in a bar band again and not having to say, “OK folks, here is Living On A Prayer again.” . ”
How many times do you think you’ve played Living On A Prayer?
Thousands. Several thousands. And I’m lucky to have co-wrote this song, it’s one of the miracles of my life. I know, when I die, it’ll be, “He co-wrote Living On A Prayer. ”
I know what people get out of it so I love to do it. But it’s also great to be able to write new songs and not just go on a nostalgia tour because, I have to tell you, in truth, I would be leaving. I would leave a beautiful corpse. No one liked fat Elvis!
Bon Jovi’s new album, Bon Jovi: 2020, is out now.
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