Monday, December 26, 2011

Wanted Dead or Alive

Monday: I'm finishing a late business lunch at the Arcade when I get a jolting text from an old friend: Jon Bon Jovi is dead. Eyes welling, head rushed with blood, I calmly excuse myself and dart for the men's room. Internet is down on my phone, so I take a few deep breaths, straighten my tie, and put my sadness on a two-hour hold. Driving home, I call MJVox, I mean Mom, and she quickly informs me it was just a Twitter hoax. I feel silly and slightly angry, as I've only been affected by a handful of celebrity deaths-- Bobby Phills, Michael Hutchience and the 1993 boating accident that killed two Indians relievers-- but even those, surprisingly enough, didn't leave me nearly as physically shaken as that false text. Clearly, I must re-evaluate John Bongiovi's status in my life. After I put the kids to bed, I play "Runaway" on repeat, and the beat is amazingly fresh. Bon Jovi week is on.

Tuesday: By mid-morning, I'm knee-deep in the Jovi catalog. Granted, they haven't been relevant in over a decade but, all of the sudden, Slippery When Wet is pouring out of my car window and re-asserting itself as one of rock's seminal albums. I remember getting it for my twelfth birthday, with no clue that the cover art was a shout-out to a Vancouver strip club. All I knew was that "your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye" sounded Shakespearean to my sixth-grade ears. Blasting it a quarter-century later, I have no real issues with my original adolescent assessment of "You Give Love a Bad Name." This shit rocks. Does the Crazy Horse still open at noon?

Wednesday: Dripping with anxiety after oversleeping, barely getting the Goose to school on time, and having words with the Crossing Guard Nazi, I reach for the New Jersey album to relieve my mental stress. Early on during "Lay Your Hands On Me," Jon reminds me "if you wanna free your body, you gotta free your mind." That simple, really. I return home, relaxed, and Mrs. ExVox is stoically watching The Today Show report on Bon Jovi's fake death. I ask her if she remembers when we saw Jovi at the Gund in 2001? She nods, but there will be no illumination of my comment this morning. No sarcasm, either. At this point in the day, Mrs. ExVox has been properly and dutifully numbed by her bad medicines of choice-- coffee and cigs. In fact, she never hears me mention we need a Bon Jovi ornament on our Christmas tree.

Editor's note: In "Livin' on a Prayer," John epically sings "when she cries in the night, Tommy whispers baby it's okay, someday." In one of the greatest misheard lyrics of all time, Mrs. ExVox mistakenly thought Jon says "When she cries in the night time at Christmas baby it's ok. someday."

Thursday: I'm reminded that Bon Jovi is not in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Even more insulting, they weren't even on the ballot this year. The critic in me reasons that, despite rocking a million faces worldwide and single-handedly inventing the MTV Unplugged series, their music is not influential. But the fan in me recalls hearing "Bed of Roses" for the first time, as a senior in high school, and being floored over the band's progression from hair metal playboys to introspective E-Streeters. Four years later, after being swallowed whole by the 90s, they'd release These Days, easily their strongest collection of songs and a sparkling testament to Jon's underrated abilities as a lyricist and soul singer. At worst, Bon Jovi's best music is surely a fun/fist-pumping, nostalgic yet necessary romp through a simpler, less-ironic era. And, Rock Hall or not, we now live in a graceless age.

Friday: Movie night. I watch the last staple in Edward Burns' mid-90s pseudo-trilogy, No Looking Back, an absorbing, working-class drama co-starring the impossibly good-looking Jon Bon Jovi. Jon, almost instantly and effortlessly, gravitates to the heart of what's at stake in every scene. His screen presence is as undeniable as his unabashedly earnest vocals. He's come a long way since falling off a horse as an extra in 1990's Young Guns II, but critics inevitably ripped his performance in NLB with the same disdain they reserve for his records. I guess this is the crux: Jon Bon Jovi never hides anything. We tend to want our artists to be complex and mysterious, but Joves has always worn his transparent heart, along with all of his adoring fans, on his naked, New Jersey sleeve. Tommy and Gina are grandparents by now. They no longer have to live for the fight, but their story will be survived long after Jon Bon Jovi is officially gone.