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Bon Jovi on the Band’s New Doc, If They’ll Ever Tour Again & Driving Around New Jersey With Bruce Springsteen

Out tomorrow (April 26) on Hulu and on Disney+ in Canada, Thank You, Goodnight unpacks the band's 40 year history and confronts an uncertain future.

Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi

Clay McBride

Bon Jovi rocket-launched to fame in the era when rock stars still toured the world in jumbo jets with the band’s name painted on the side. Four decades after the group’s inception, most people can name at least one Bon Jovi song, with the band clocking 10 Hot 100 Top 10 hits — including four No. 1s — during its still-ongoing run. With its culture-permeating anthems, the fame, the money, the analogous excesses they generated and the comedically big hair, the band helped forge the archetype for ’80s (and ’90s and early ’00s) rock megafame.

Talking to Billboard over Zoom from a white-walled room somewhere in New Jersey, you get the sense that there’s at least one part of this heyday Jon Bon Jovi wishes he could return to.


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“When I can do two-and-a-half hours a night, four nights a week and not think about it — the way that I did for the first 30 years of our career — then I’ll say, ‘Sure, I’d love the opportunity,'” says the group’s frontman, still a dreamboat at 62.

The opportunity in question in touring. On the precipice of releasing its 16th studio album, Forever, Bon Jovi isn’t sure they’ll hit the road behind the album, out June 7. The wildcard element is JBJ’s voice, the same one that implored us to live for the fight when that’s all that we’ve got on “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and melted a billion hearts on “Bed of Roses” — and which has been under heavy repair since the vocal difficulties Bon Jovi has experienced for years necessitated a major vocal cord surgery in the summer of 2022. The procedure left him unsure if he’d ever be able to sing about going down in a blaze of glory, or living while he’s alive, or anything at all, ever again.

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This issue isn’t what the band’s new documentary, Thank You, Goodnight was intended to be about. The stakes, however, became quickly apparent to director Gotham Chopra when he started filming a few years back.

“The more time I spent with Jon, I was like, ‘So wait, what’s going on with your voice?'” Chopra says over Zoom. “Jon said he’d been struggling with it for a couple of years, and didn’t know what was going to happen — because the shows we were filming might be the end of the line — but that that wasn’t for the documentary.”

“I was like, ‘Oh no,” Chopra continues. “That’s for the documentary. It’s really important. Everything you’ve built across 40 years hangs in the balance.”

This narrative thus became the through line of the four-part documentary, premiering tomorrow (April 26) on Hulu. Helmed by Chopra, whose previous work includes the 2021 Tom Brady docuseries Man in the Arena, the Bon Jovi project was one, Chopra says, “where nothing was off limits.” It unpacks the Bon Jovi story from its earliest days in Bon Jovi’s native Sayreville, New Jersey to the arena-rock juggernaut of the Slippery When Wet era to the band’s lineup changes — to Jon Bon Jovi scanning his neck with specialized lasers in an attempt to shore up his voice. Interview subjects include the band (Jon Bon Jovi, keyboardist David Brian, drummer Tico Torres and newer members Hugh McDonald, Phil X and Everett Bradley), along with former manager Doc McGhee, songwriter Desmond Child, good pal Bruce Springsteen and Richie Sambora, the guitar-wielding yin to Jon Bon Jovi’s yang, who left the group in 2013.

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“Obviously early on, I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get Richie Sambora. We can’t do this without Richie’,” Chopra recalls, “Jon was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you gotta get Richie Sambora. You can’t do this without him.'”

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With Sambora’s departure serving as one of the documentary’s central tensions, Chopra — who interviewed each person involved in the film separately — eventually even captured an onscreen apology from the guitarist.

“In the film he says, ‘I don’t regret doing it. I regret the way I did do it; I apologize to the guys for that,'” recalls Chopra. “I think the guys and Jon were pretty affected by that… All of these things become an act of therapy in some ways.”

So too was it an exercise in vulnerability — with Bon Jovi allowing Chopra to film his voice issues even in their toughest moments. In one scene, he gets off stage after a show thinking he sounded pretty good and is then informed otherwise by his wife.

“What he was going through wasn’t easy,” says Chopra. “There were times on that tour when he was struggling, and he was in his dressing room, and he’d be like, ‘get the f–k out of my room’ and I’d get the f–k out of his room — then gradually find my way back in after five or 10 minutes.”

This level of intimacy, along with frank, often funny and frequently poignant interviews (in the last episode Bon Jovi gets choked up about his love of songwriting) and a barrage of archival footage, combines to offer a film that even hardcore Bon Jovi fans will likely learn something from. Here, Jon Bon Jovi and Torres discuss the documentary, as well as the future of the band.

Jon, the film’s director Gotham Chopra mentioned that there were times where he was filming and you didn’t necessarily want him in the room. How vulnerable was the documentary experience?

Jon: We had to trust him as the director in order to get what we wanted, which was the truth. One thing we all agreed upon, on day one, was we didn’t want a vanity piece. [We wanted] to tell the honest-to-God ups and downs of life behind the curtain. Nobody anticipated the health issues with me, and so that was the wild card in this. But I trusted him.

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Tico: Gotham is a very spiritual person, and after a while you forget he’s there. But his questions are very spiritual in nature, and somehow he opens you up to be honest with yourself. You don’t find that in regular interviews.

Jon, so much of documentary focuses on this narrative about your voice. What was it like during this uncertain time, to also be bearing it to the camera?

Jon: Like I said, right after [Gotham] came on board, and I said, “I trust you to capture this,” there was no decision — because there couldn’t be anything other than, “You have to capture everything.”

The surgery was nearly two years ago, and obviously you’ve recorded an album since undergoing it. How are you feeling now?

Jon: There is still uncertainty about the outcome 22 months after the surgery, although I’m optimistic. And for the record, I can say — because now I’m speaking to press and need to clarify — I’m very capable of singing again. It’s just that the bar for us is two-and-a-half hours a night, four nights a week. I have to get to that level again before we’ll tour. So being vulnerable I was never afraid of. Sharing it now with the public, it’s out of my control, because that’s what we all signed up for. And like T said, Gotham has a kind of spiritual approach to things, so it was never combative. I trusted him.

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Tico: It was difficult for the band. To see one of your brothers suffering and going through something, and he’s the hardest working guy there is. Every day he works hard to get back. Right after the operation, speaking to him, once he could speak, he sounded way lower [in register] than me. And we’re a band, so we worry about each other. I think the fact that the documentary was capturing that as well is important. Because we’re in it together. We’re gonna back him up no matter what.

Gotham took the approach of interviewing everyone separately. What was it like to finally see Richie’s footage?

Jon: I don’t know. It was… He was honest. And you could see that he had things to deal with. And I hope it clarifies for the viewer that there was never a fight, and it was never about any issues of money or anything like that. He literally was having substance issues, anxiety issues, single dad issues, and just chose then not to come back. As he says in the film, how he did it, he apologizes for now. But you’ve got a band on a stage; you’ve got 120 roadies that are counting on income; you have millions of people who bought tickets. You gotta go to work, you know? These are big-boy decisions, and big boys have to go to work.

What was it like getting an apology from him?

Jon:I don’t need an apology… I don’t need an apology. It’s not about that.

Tico: Remember, you’re a band. We grew up together. And like I said before, when somebody’s hurting, you care about him… Alec as well, our beloved bass player, when he left, it’s a void. And you know he passed away just a couple of years ago. It’s family. It does affect you. As a whole, it affects us. There’s a comeback from that. I think the writing process and the recording process as a band helps you get that out, because it’s emotion.

Jon, in the doc you say that in the Slippery When Wet era, the band had found another rung of the ladder to climb, and obviously there was much more to go after that. Given everything you’ve done, do you see more rungs for Bon Jovi? Where is there left to go?

Jon: It’s not about numbers at all. I would love the opportunity to be whole, so that when we would go out on that stage, we could do those 18 albums and pick any song I want throughout that catalog on a nightly basis, the way I used to be able to do. That’s where I have left to go. When we’ve done those kind of shows… when we opened the O2 Arena in London and we did 12 or 15 nights, and we did 90 different songs over the course of the nights — that’s the bar that I need to get back to.

What are your current daily practices for getting yourself back to that place?

Jon: Hoping, wishing. Wishing, hoping. Praying. There’s a lot of vocal therapy, at least four times a week. There are considerations about whether it’s mineral or dietary and exercise stuff, but it really comes back to vocal therapy to just try to strengthen something that, you’ve got to remember, is only as big as your thumbnail. [He holds up his thumb to the camera.] The vocal cord is only that big. It’s really up to God at this point.

There’s some great unheard music in the documentary — I’m specifically thinking of a song called “Cadillac Man” that you wrote for the 1990 Robin Williams movie of the same name. Is there a chance that any of this archival music gets released?

Jon: Yes. One thing that we have always known, and our deep fan base knows as well, is that we always write 30 songs to get 10. And so there’s always been a backlog of material that’s been unreleased. There’s no shortage of it. So I think that we stumbled on 30 or 40 songs that no one’s heard, and they’ll all come out, yeah.

So we get new music from the Slippery When Wet heyday era Bon Jovi?

Jon: Slippery When Wet, New Jersey, Keep the Faith. All the records.

Is there a timeline for that?

Jon: No. No one’s actually even addressed it with me yet. The archiving was still going on simultaneously to the mastering and the album cover and the video and all that kind of stuff… But we know what we’ve got. It’ll happen during the course of the release of the album.

That’s incredibly exciting.

Jon: Yeah, there’s some really good songs that I can’t believe didn’t make those records.

Jon, there’s this great moment in the documentary when you share about going for long car rides with Bruce Springsteen, and you both leaving your phones at home and just driving around New Jersey and talking. What can you tell us about the last drive?

Jon: I’ve been blessed to have had [Bruce] and [fellow New Jersey musical influence] Southside [Johnny] be good friends to me throughout, and even before there was a band. But [Bruce] and I will take these drives now — and he was so incredibly supportive during [the voice issues] and throughout the process of healing, where I couldn’t even talk, you know? We would take these 100-mile drives, just the two of us in the car, no radio, nobody. We’d just drive and talk about things that truthfully, you know, how many guys can I talk to about that level of stuff? And how many guys can he talk to about that level of stuff?

Yeah, not too many.

So yeah, we often do it, and it’s some of my most treasured memories. People have seen us along the way. The first five, six, seven times, nobody would have known. But then this time we went for an ice cream cone, or this time we went for a drink, or this time we were stopped at a light. So the sightings of Sasquatch have happened. [Laughs.]

I was also struck by the part of the doc where you were all talking about what your success could afford you in terms of spending one-upmanship. Like, “You bought me a car? I’m going to buy you two cars” or “We need 16 pinball machines on this tour.” Is there one extravagance from those days that sticks out to you?

Jon: There was silliness. There were absolutely cars and art and toys — because you could, and we took full advantage of it.

Through documentary you all got to review 40 years of your own personal style. Was there one look from each of yourselves that made you think, “Oh my God, I looked amazing”?

Jon: No, I take the opposite. My baby pictures were public, yours were not. We still have to suffer some of those looks. It could have been worse, but you know, some of those baby pictures were tough to look at.

Tico: I mean, if you take the clothes away, we definitely were better looking and younger. But the clothing was much to be desired. Even the haircuts were a little like, “I wish we didn’t do that.”

Some of that style has come back around though.

Jon: Oh, yes. You sit around now your kids and you go, “Those torn jeans? Let me tell you where all this stuff comes from that you’re doing.” When I see parachute pants and Capezios come back though, I’m running for the hills. [Laughs.]

Jon, there are a few moments in the documentary when you talk about finding joy and how that was hard to do while you were really struggling with your voice. Where are you both finding joy these days?

Tico:I think we’re living the joy now. Jon’s been through a lot, and of course everybody goes through that pain with him. The joy is the revival. Doing a record together is cleansing. Jon’s lyrics — and I’m not a lyricist; I don’t listen to lyrics — but this is one of the few records where I listen to every one of them, because they just grabbed me. There was a lot of joy in making this record. I think we’re enjoying it. Jon, what do you think?

Jon: Well, we are. I’ll give you a great example: when we’re at these rehearsals and we’re just marking the progress that I’m making on a monthly basis. There’s no miracles, but when I look around the room and not once does the band sit there and go, “I don’t want to be here.” Or “I don’t want to play that song again.” That to me is love on a whole other level.

We know we’re not going out on the road tomorrow. We know we’re not being paid to sit in this rehearsal space. But the guys are like, “Of course I’ll be there. Let’s go. Let’s do it again.” Or if I crash and burn, they go, “Okay, I traveled all this way and we played an hour before I’ve gotta cool it.” Nobody has cursed me for it. They’re like, “We’re with you.” That’s the love of family and band and brotherhood that no presents, no cars, no art, no silly kids’ stuff could ever, ever replace.

This article was originally published by Billboard U.S.

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