On the road with Big Jon

They don't snarl or growl. What kind of heavy metal band is Bon Jovi?

A cloyingly hot day in London and Bon Jovi are in town to pick up a few gongs. The function room of the Cumberland Hotel is festooned with burning trash cans, crashed cars and flickering lights. Jon Bon Jovi strolls around the post-apocalyptic hell that is the Kerrang! Heavy Metal Awards, with a honey-coloured Jovi baby balanced on his leather-clad hip. The peroxided, lycra-clad audience, death-white pancake make-up melting in the heat, look on in disbelief. These are the Heavy Metal awards, after all. They shake their heads. "If it were Steven Tyler, he would have eaten the child. And then eaten the rich. And then eaten the poor."

Bon Jovi were always so easy to understand, such a perfect big-haired spandex metaphor for all the worst excesses of the Eighties. They were the ultimate poodle- haired glam-metal rock band. Except that Jon came from New Jersey and cited Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen as influences. Somewhere along the line, he got a less flamboyant haircut, stopped wearing make-up and the hits became stripped- down ballads ("Blaze of Glory", "This Aint a Love Song"). Last year's greatest hit album, Cross Road, sold over 12 million copies, and Bon Jovi crossed the line from metal-boy fan base to FM-staple baby-making music. The metal community regards them as traitors, and the press sneer at Bon Jovi's stance as Band of the People.

As if to drive home the gap between popularity and credibility, Bon Jovi spent their one day off last week "busking" in Glasgow, Cardiff and London's South Bank, each gig four hours apart. The Sun, slighted at not having an exclusive, tipped off the police that the band's outdoor gig was illegal, and the Glasgow show had to be relocated to a record store. In a clammy chainstore, Jon and guitarist Richey Sambora plucked those strings as if they were actually enjoying themselves. Sambora's wife, Melrose Place star Heather Locklear, grinned in the corner like a beautiful blonde pixie,as Pam Rosenberg, the band's ultra-glam press officer, mouthed every word. Then Bon Jovi and their glossy haired entourage got back on their private plane and flew to Cardiff.

I was put in a limousine with a weary Jon, as we journeyed from the airport to the Cardiff bandstand. Jon is one of those people who, no matter how short his haircut, will always have BIG hair. You have to wonder if it just falls like that, or if it has to be coiffed. That's the conundrum about Jon: everything about him could be very cheap or very expensive. Was the black bobbled V-neck he was wearing costly bobble effect, or bobbled from years of wear?

Glasgow and Cardiff are two of the most economically and emotionally depressed cities in the United Kingdom. Glasgow has one of the highest rateas of HIV in Europe and a flourishing Temazepam problem. The bandstand Bon Jovi played in Cardiff is usually occupied by the Jesus Army shouting through megaphones. There is a constant smell of beer brewing in the centre of town. Whatever beer smells like as a finished product, the stench of it brewing is foul.

As we head back to the airport, Jon talks about how much he loved Kerouac, Ginsberg and Bukowski as a teenager, how he knew he had to escape. He is a pop star who understands boredom, who came from a soul-destroying industrial town like most people do, who knew he was destined for a career in auto parts, but dreamed of something better. Who knew that however much he won, part of him was already lost to the New Jersey smog and backstreet bars.

"I once talked about it to Joe Elliot, of Def Leppard, who grew up in Sheffield. We both agreed that just growing up in those towns

gives you a sadness that never leaves. Music isn't politics. That's why the President doesn't break into song at the end of a speech. Music truly saved my life in 1976, but, to be honest, all I hope my songs do is make someone not honk their horn at the car next door."

Either a line like "you live for the fight when it's all that you'v' got" makes you squirm or, in the simplest terms, tells the story of your life. For the 12 million who bought the record, listening to Cross Road is like watching the opening titles to Fame: Yes, I do wanna live forever. Restructure your fantasies by the track listing on the Greatest Hits: I wanna give love a bad name, keep the faith and go down in a blaze of glory. The Cardiff office workers watching the busking spectacle from their tower blocks knew every word.

Jon is mistrustful of any band who seems too cool. "There was a piece written about Oasis in Rolling Stone, who, of course, loved them. They played a concert where they told the audience `you don't deserve us' and started flicking V-signs at the crowd. In Asbury Park, New Jersey, they don't understand that means f**k you."

"I think Courtney Love made a brilliant record, I love it. And the shock factor thing is cute, but... I saw it the first time. I think Green Day write nice pop songs, but the Sid sneer, the English accent and you're from Northern California? I wanna grow up and be Green Day? Naaah."

But the last album, Keep the Faith, did seem to have been influenced by the sounds exploding at the time. Madchester, perhaps? The title track sounds like classic Stone Roses, what with the drum loop intro. Jon shakes his head.

"No drum loops. Tico did it. But, yeah, it was a different sound for us. I couldn't write "You Give Love a Bad Name" for 20 years. It'd kill me."

Now 33, Jon has just completed his movie debut, Moonlight and Valentino with Whoopi Goldberg. Which industry is more shallow?

"Well, I loved making the movie. But, in films, regardless of your success, you always have to kiss someone else's ass to get another movie. To me, politics is the worst kind of f**king showbusiness. I saw Bob Dole [Republican Senator for Indiana] on a talk show, saying basically that whatever Bill Clinton says, even if it's `I can cure cancer,' he's gonna oppose it. Now that's f**ked up. Whatever happened to the common good of the people?"

Then Bon Jovi clamber back on to their plane and fly to London. At the South Bank, teenage boys play air guitar while trying to cling to tree branches, thirtysomething secretaries wriggle in delight and a four-year- old girl sits by the side of the stage with her dad. Jon Bon Jovi may never get the critical respect that Springsteen inspires, but to the 9,000- strong crowd, they equal the same thing. Because all anyone really wants is a working-class hero with bone structure.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Life and Style
life
News
‘The Graduate’, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, was directed by Nichols in his purple period
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager