Dave Hill Talks About the Continuing Appeal of Bon Jovi

Will we ever really understand Bon Jovi? Don’t get me wrong — I totally get the whole cowboy-and-steel-horse thing. That’s just common sense.

Will we ever really understand Bon Jovi? Don’t get me wrong — I totally get the whole cowboy-and-steel-horse thing. That’s just common sense. But all these years later, why does Bon Jovi continue to elude us? And goddammit why can’t I stay mad at them?

I’m old enough to remember a simpler time, when Bon Jovi was the enemy, a hair band that didn’t even have the decency to be from the Sunset Strip. And whoa — what was with those two old dudes in the band. (You’re supposed to put “chops AND looks” in the ad, Jon!) It was music that just chicks and/or dudes trying to get chicks seemed to be into, as best I could tell. I cursed the gods when their latest video would come on MTV for the bazillionth time, a misfortune further aggravated by the fact that I knew there was a perfectly good Ratt or Dokken video they could have been playing instead. And don’t even get me started on that bullshit where all the band members flew around on stage dangling from wires in the “Livin’ on a Prayer” video. You think David Lee Roth ever pulled that crap? No — when he was airborne it was on the strength of his loins and his loins alone, the way the gods of rock intended!

Over time, however, my attitude toward Jovi began to soften. Sure, it still wasn’t anything I necessarily “got” or wanted to have hit my ears at any volume, but at least Bon Jovi had the decency to play out of big amps and have explosions on stage every once in a while, two far-too-often overlooked things I can get behind to this day. And the young Dave Hill couldn’t help but imagine that even though Jon Bon Jovi looked seriously tired on that tour bus of his during the “Dead or Alive” video, he still must have gotten up to a whole lot of fingering on that thing while he was at it and for that he was to be commended. After all, it’s not like he was pulling on those stretch pants every night for his health. In fact, the more I think about it, it’s probably all that fingering that got him so tired in the first place. Give the man a goddamn break, am I right?

The reason I bring all of the above up, of course, is because Bon Jovi has gone and released another album, which of course forces me to once again examine the world of Bon Jovi as well as my place in it. The new album is called What About Now and — it being 2013 and all — it’s not just another album of wall-to-wall Jovi, the stuff I remember from my suburban Cleveland youth, those Jersey-centric yet somehow relevant-to-all anthems best suited for cranking at stoplights with the windows down or in the nearest Burger King parking lot while you were waiting for the girl of your dreams to maybe not show. Instead, it’s a more sophisticated affair, something you might listen to on a leisurely drive home from P.F. Chang’s or perhaps while getting super pumped to go see Keith Urban if, for whatever reason, you can’t find your Keith Urban CDs anywhere. To be fair, it’s still not my thing. In fact, more than anything, new Bon Jovi mostly serves to point out to me that I guess I actually kind of liked old Bon Jovi, the more I think about it.

I don’t mean any of this in a bad way. The truth is it doesn’t matter what I think of Bon Jovi because when it comes to Bon Jovi, I am man enough to admit that as far as being Bon Jovi goes, Bon Jovi still totally rules at that shit. They are hands down the best at being Bon Jovi and it simply cannot be debated. And for that I applaud them: Jon, Richie Sambora, those other guys, all of them. In a world where artists are so quick to adapt their look and sound to whatever is happening around them like so much human tofu (I’m looking at you, Timberlake), Bon Jovi have remained Bon Jovi to the core whether I like it or not. And while sure, their hair and clothes have evolved a bit over time — a bit more Jersey housewife than Jersey badboy these days — they don’t appear to be spending any less time in front of the mirror, and that’s what really matters.

In my exhaustive research for this piece, I read somewhere how Bon Jovi are no longer a “hair band” but instead elder statesmen and I tend to agree. Elder statesmen of what I’m not entirely sure, but elder statesmen just the same. I’m not sure I’ll ever believe Bruce Springsteen was entirely comfortable with the fact that Jon Bon Jovi put his arm around him at that Hurricane Sandy benefit, but the fact that he didn’t punch him immediately after it happened strikes me as progress.

As for the hair bands, they’re still out there. The difference is their carefully coiffed hair is on their faces instead of just their heads. They wear vests and old-timey suspenders, stomp their feet along with the banjo player, write songs about stuff like being low on gas but determined to keep driving really far no matter what anyway, and often have the word “brothers” or “sons” in their name. It’s music that only chicks and/or dudes trying to get chicks seem to be into, as best I can tell. Worst of all, they don’t even have the decency to plug into big amps or have stuff explode on stage at any point during the show. Give me Bon Jovi any day. Not the music, but the men, goddammit — four cowboys riding steel horses and probably still totally fingering chicks all the time no matter how tired they get. That’s the world I wanna live in. Jon, Richie, those other guys, this is me saying thanks. You’ve got moxie and I respect that. Keep up the good work.

Dave Hill is a comedian, writer, musician, and highly boneable public figure. He is the author of the book Tasteful Nudes (St. Martin’s Press, 2012), host of The Goddamn Dave Hill Show on New Jersey’s WFMU-91.1, frequent contributor to This American Life and singer-guitar player for the power-pop band Valley Lodge. His new comedy album Let Me Turn You On is available now, as is his second collection of essays, Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Penguin/Blue Rider Press). Dave also smells incredible and can play sweet guitar solos without even really trying. You can follow him on Twitter here.