Daily Camera (Boulder)
Bon Jovi digs deep with new album
Jon Bon Jovi and the band he has proudly led since 1983 achieved perhaps their biggest blaze of glory as 2018 inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But the New Jersey-bred singer, songwriter and guitarist isn’t about to rest on his laurels, especially not when the nation is beset with constant social and political unrest, widespread economic woes and the lifechanging COVID-19 pandemic, which has struck two of his band mates and his 18-year-old son, Jacob.
That is why the Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning troubadour rolled up his sleeves, literally and figuratively, and set out to lend a helping hand.
“Hopefully, you do something to make the lives of others a little better,” said Bon Jovi, who backs up his words with both dollars and elbow grease.
On April 20, as the pandemic intensified, rather than postpone his band’s 2020 concert trek — as many other music acts have done with their tours — he canceled it.
“I was very aware, in light of what was coming down, that people were in need of disposable income for groceries, or paying the rent, or credit card bills,” Bon Jovi said. “With no foreseeable tour in the future, I thought it best to refund everyone’s tickets.”
On May 13 — two days before the originally planned release date of his band’s heartfelt new album, “2020” — he and his wife of 31 years, Dorothea, launched the JBJ Soul Kitchen Food Bank to service food pantries and hunger-relief organizations on the East End of Long Island, New York.
The food bank is the latest chapter in the couple’s 14-year-old Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a nonprofit that operates community restaurants in three New Jersey cities. It has also helped fund more than 700 units of affordable housing in 11 states and the District of Columbia.
This spring, Bon Jovi spent time washing dishes at the JBJ Soul Kitchen restaurant in Red Bank, N.J. His wife posted a photo on Instagram of him wearing an apron and scrubbing away at a sink, with the words: “If you can’t do what you do ... do what you can!”
‘Part of being an adult’
His volunteer kitchen tenure inspired “Do What You Can.” It is one of two stirring new songs he wrote this year and recorded with his socially distanced band in June for “2020,” whose release date was pushed back from May to last Friday. “Do What You Can” is surely the first song by any rock superstar to be inspired by their experience washing dishes, during a pandemic, at a restaurant that operates on a “pay what you can” basis.
“This is just a part of my own journey,” he said, speaking by phone recently while driving from New York to New Jersey.
“During the course of that journey, my wife and I became much more aware of the world around us. So, when we started the foundation some 14 or 15 years ago, the foundation found its focus in homeless and hunger issues. We’ve continued on that path with the kitchens and food bank. But that’s just part of being an adult — and part of the difference between being 21 and 58.”
Bon Jovi was 21 in 1983, the year he and his band signed their album deal with Mercury Records. The group’s debut album came out in early 1984. Thanks to its hit single, “Runaway,” and heavy MTV airplay for the song’s video, fame and fortune soon beckoned. Charitable foundations and helping those in need were not among Bon Jovi’s primary goals at that time.
“You have a pretty much singleminded focus when you start in a rock band,” he said. “And that’s to make music, get better at your craft and play for people. Social obligation wasn’t first and foremost on my list then. I was very conscious of things, but — where I grew up and at the time that I grew up — there wasn’t a lot of conflict.
“It was just a lot of hard-working, blue-collar people and a middle-class upbringing for me and the guys in the band, and that helped to shape us. As you travel and see the world and its injustices, and as you get older and live and learn, one would hope you grow. In that growth, hopefully you do something to make the lives of others a little better.”
The world and its injustices are recurring themes on “2020.” It is Bon Jovi’s follow-up to 2016’s “This House Is Not for Sale,” the band’s first album without guitarist Richie Sambora, who abruptly quit in 2013.
Named, in part, to acknowledge this tumultuous election year, “2020” is the 15th studio album of the band’s career. By far the group’s most serious-minded work to date — or what its leader calls a “statement record” — the album finds him unabashedly wearing his heart on his sleeve. If “2020’s” lofty goals sometimes feel slightly beyond his reach, his creative stretching is impressive. And the album’s best songs new songs offer a winning combination of grit, heart and craftmanship.
Topical, socially conscious songs”i think the title is all-encompassing,” Bon Jovi said of “2020.”
“It’s what you want it to be, a date in your calendar, an election, or a clear vision. Like any other piece of art, it should be in the eye of the beholder.”
From any vantage point, “2020” features the most topical and socially conscious songs Bon Jovi’s leader has written. The sobering subjects he addresses reflect the current fractured state of the nation, although he stresses that “2020” is not a political album.
“With this record, as a songwriter, it gave me purpose,” Bon Jovi said. “So, I wrote a topical record with some observations about what I’ve witnessed over the last year.”