Jon Bon Jovi Talks Band's New Album, '2020'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And finally today, over the last 35 years, our next guest and his band have become known for inspirational rock anthems that have filled arenas around the world.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVIN' ON A PRAYER")
BON JOVI: (Singing) Oh, we're halfway there. Oh, livin' (ph) on a prayer...
MARTIN: But there's a lot about 2020 that feels - well, different. And Jon Bon Jovi and his band are meeting the moment with their latest album, titled, aptly, "2020."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIMITLESS")
BON JOVI: (Singing) Oh, a night like this, one prayer, one wish, step out over the edge. It's worth the risk. Life is limitless, limitless...
MARTIN: That is "Limitless" from the new album that tackles many of the issues we've been facing, from racial injustice and mass shootings to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And Jon Bon Jovi is with us now to tell us more.
Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
JON BON JOVI: (Laughter) I'm very happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Well, congratulations on the new album. I know that "2020" was supposed to have a May release, and you were meant to be touring through the spring and summer, but it seems like you used your time well.
BON JOVI: Yeah. Truthfully, we had set out to make this record in March of 2019 and went to Nashville with what I thought was the album but in retrospect was really just the first batch of songs. So because of the pandemic and our being shut down, I had the opportunity to write what became the current single, "Do What You Can," and "American Reckoning," continued the writing on some of the songs that I thought were finished and reintroduced this to the band and said, I think now we have something that's very unique. And "2020" - here it is.
MARTIN: You know, I think many people know, but just in case everybody doesn't know, you have a whole other life as a - I'm sure - it's a fancy word, but it fits - a philanthropist. I mean, you run a community restaurant. You've been very involved with food insecurity for years now. This is, like, not a new thing for you. And does that - and I'm only scratching the surface of all the things that you're involved in, but did that influence the work? Did that influence the music?
BON JOVI: Well, let me give you a cute story. When COVID hit, and we went down to our flagship Soul Kitchen restaurant, I was behind the sink washing dishes when Dorothea, my wife, unbeknownst to me snapped a photograph. She wanted to post it and asked me for the caption.
What I think she was asking for was the time of the day and the day of the week that we would be open to that in-need population. But I just said, if you can't do what you do, you do what you can. The next day, when I woke up, I thought, well, there's a Bon Jovi's chorus for you. So I sat down to write the song, you know?
BON JOVI: So out of terrible, you know, things came a great song of inclusion. And the idea was that if you really, truly want to make a difference, it can be as simple as washing a dish - or, you know, maybe writing a song. But it depends on what it is that moves you. And know that nothing is too small to start a ripple effect.
MARTIN: We'll play a little bit of that now - "Do What You Can." And you and I will both try not to cry. How about that?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO WHAT YOU CAN")
BON JOVI: (Singing) Honest men and honest women, working for an honest wage. I got a hundred point one fever, and we still got bills to pay. When you can't do what you do, you do what you can. This ain't (ph) a prayer - it's just a thought I'm wanting to send.
MARTIN: I mean, and the video itself, I mean, is - did you cry when you watched it? I - was must have been cutting onions in the kitchen because it was...
BON JOVI: Thank you, Michel. I felt proud of it, you know. And having lived through a couple of other milestones and tragedy in and around the New York area, whether it was Sept. 11 or Superstorm Sandy now, the COVID crisis, when we made that video here, I was in Times Square shooting a scene. And I was all alone with just the, obviously, the film crew, not with the band, not with any people, you know. And there it was out of this moment. I had to try to find some optimism. And trying to find that optimism, that's when we as Americans come together. That's when we get tough, when adversity is in our, you know, in our face, we turn it around and try to come together.
MARTIN: You know, this is your 15th album as a band. Does it feel different to you? I mean, a lot of people who are writing about it are talking about how it, you know, it feels more sort of political. I don't think that you feel that way about it. But does it feel different to you?
BON JOVI: Sure. At this juncture, these were the songs that I chose to write. And they aren't, in fact, political, but they are topical. And if for nothing else, I wanted to cause a conversation on very difficult subjects. And whether it was gun control or soldiers with PTSD or the COVID crisis or George Floyd's death, all of this was brought up throughout the course of the record. It's a much different record than "Slippery When Wet" in 1986, but it should be, it should be. You know, I shouldn't be trying to pretend to be the boy that I was. I think it would be a waste.
MARTIN: Speaking of sparking a conversation, I just want to play a bit from "American Reckoning." And in it, you do allude to the death of George Floyd and the protests across the country in the wake of his death and others. I'll just play a little bit of that now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN RECKONING")
BON JOVI: (Singing) God damn those eight long minutes lying face down in cuffs on the ground. Bystanders pleaded for mercy as one cop shoves a kid in the crowd. When did a judge and a jury become a badge and a knee on these streets?
MARTIN: You know, it's like so many of the songs in this album. It's so lovely to listen to, you know, as a musical experience. It's so lovely. And - but the message is a hard one. I mean, it's - for some people, it's going to be a harsh meal. And I'm just wondering if you're hearing from people who perhaps aren't interested in hearing this from you. I mean, in the end chorus, for example, you encourage your audience to stay alive, shine a light, use your voice and remember me.
BON JOVI: Yes. It was the call to action. Isn't that what BLM is all about? It's use your voice and shine a light on this so that we can move on in our American reckoning. Not an easy song for me to write. If I didn't understand white privilege before, I certainly understood it now. I was very careful writing each and every line to make sure it was either factual or personal. And I said very hard - harsh lyrics because they were truthful. And so I hope that "American Reckoning" did the movement justice and the memories of all of those lives lost justice because I'm proud of the song.
MARTIN: You just said something I wanted to pick up on where you said that if you didn't understand white privilege before, you certainly do now. Is there something that opened that door for you?
BON JOVI: I was aware of it because of the 15 years in the foundation, whether we'd built houses in Newark or Camden or Philadelphia or Georgia or California, whether we've fed people for 10-plus years in the restaurants, there have been people of all walks of life. And so I got that. I also have known that my position now - I fit as - I could be the poster boy for white privilege, a white, older affluent male who happens to also be a celebrity. Believe me. I love the police. I love our firemen. And I love all the emergency workers who have gone and run into the buildings.
But I did understand that, factually speaking, if I'm going to get pulled over by the police, chances are I'm going to be, like, entering the entourage to get into the motorcade that's going to the stadium. You know, it's like, it really doesn't happen all that often, and when it does, I'm pretty blessed. So I've never had to have the talk, you know. And so I wrote that. I wrote that. I've never had to have the talk, but unfortunately many fathers do.
MARTIN: How do you feel now that you kind of got it all down? Not all of it, but you got a lot down. How do you feel?
BON JOVI: I'm very proud of it. Like I'd said, I worked very hard on the album. And I'm not concerned with it doesn't get on radio station X because, you know, of whatever selfish reason. I'm sorry. I can't do that. That shouldn't be how art is judged, you know. It's what did you say and was it truthful?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOWER THE FLAG")
BON JOVI: (Singing) Word just came up from upstate Joe. Lower the flag again.
MARTIN: That's Jon Bon Jovi. The new album, his 15th with the band, is out now. Jon Bon Jovi, thanks so much for talking to us. I hope one day we get to see in person.
BON JOVI: Yeah. And thank you for taking the time. And thanks to your listeners. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.