– Words By David Huff / Photos by James Villa –
Jon Bon Jovi is truly one conflicted man. He desperately wants to be seen as his generation’s “Bruce Springsteen”, but sadly, it will never happen. Not today, tomorrow or any time ever. And there’s a simple reason for that. He doesn’t write his own songs.
I don’t care how many times Bon Jovi tells a crowd he’s going to perform a three-hour show for them (ala Bruce), one glaring fact will never go away. Despite the abundance of blood, sweat and tears he pours into a show, there is nothing permanent about this band. The absence of his songwriting cohort, guitarist Richie Sambora, has literally turned the singer into a one-man show. The only remaining parts of the machine that ruled the latter part of the ‘80s has been reduced to childhood friend David Bryan on keyboards and Tico Torres on drums. The rest of the stage was populated by hired guns.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Jon Bon Jovi as a person. One of the most down-to-earth people I ever had a chance to speak with. During his dramatic rise to the top in the late ‘80s, he spent considerable time doing interviews with me when he didn’t have to. He could kill you with kindness to the point that even if you disagreed with him, you almost felt bad doing so. But times change, and sadly, so have the priorities that fueled this band to the top.
This show, like his last one six months ago, was a mix of old and new, with songs from his current album What About Now, dominating the set list. The prerequisite hits were all performed this evening and indeed, you could tell Jon Bon Jovi was spilling every ounce of energy had out on the stage. The arena was about 80 percent full, which was remarkable itself. Same stage set up, same lovable Jon talking to the crowd. It was an expensive sing-a-long for those in attendance, but I’m sure none of them cared. They were there to see Jon and be part of the experience. After the 24-song set list ended with “Blood on Blood”, they were just as spent as their hero was on stage.
I’ll admit I’m a bit cynical. Jon Bon Jovi’s always idolized Springsteen and has tried to emulate him ever going back to the New Jersey tour back in 1988. The thing Jon never understood was this. There’s one glaring omission from his resume that cannot be overlooked. He does not write his own songs. Richie Sambora was his writing partner on literally everything the group released. And on the band’s two iconic recordings, Slippery When Wet and New Jersey, several of the hit singles on those albums were created with the additional help of “Living La Vida Loca” songwriter Desmond Child. You pick up any Springsteen album, and the liner notes will say this, ““All songs written and composed by Bruce Springsteen.” That’s why there will only ever be one ‘Boss’.
Here’s another problem I have. Today, Bon Jovi is all about, well, Bon Jovi. Yes, he can do cute things like walk a fan down the aisle at her Las Vegas wedding like he did just before his Dallas date. The thing is, today the band has become about one man, and one man only, and that’s the real rub here. What in the hell happened to the relationship between Jon and Richie? How is it they couldn’t repair whatever damaged part there is to the relationship that helped sell over 120 million albums worldwide? Without the guitarist to share the spotlight, Bon Jovi has morphed into a corporate machine.
I seriously have a problem with an artist coming through the same town twice in a six month stretch. And when you’re charging the type of money for seats Bon Jovi did – twice I might add – no wonder you’re calling your tour Because We Can. Talk about the ultimate hubris of an artist. Then again, when you open up a “pay what you can” restaurant serving gourmet quality food in your home town, you need revenue from somewhere to keep the eating establishment open.
I just can’t help but think that the scourge of all liberal thinking, (which Bon Jovi proudly wears on his sleeve) the dreaded word ‘capitalism’, is the engine that’s driving the Because We Can tour these days. This fall run was all about solidifying Jon Bon Jovi as a solo artist. Forget the group concept, that’s forever gone. Without Jon’s counterpart in the band, the focus will be squarely on the singer. I don’t care what side musician plays Richie’s part in future tours, the Bon Jovi I know is a thing of the past. For this scribe, it’s a sad transformation that took place for what was once a great band of brothers.
So long amigos! I’m glad I knew you back when it really mattered.