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'I can only give the best': Jon Bon Jovi on vocal surgery and the road to recovery


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. I hope you've been enjoying this July Fourth. For the holiday, we're featuring my interview with Jon Bon Jovi. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the band Bon Jovi's first album. Since then, the band has sold more than 130 million albums. After decades of singing anthemic songs like "Livin' On A Prayer," "You Give Love A Bad Name" and "Wanted Dead Or Alive" in sold-out stadiums around the world, Jon Bon Jovi started having vocal problems that got worse over time. He tried every kind of therapy, and when none of them was effective enough to make a significant difference, he did what he wanted to avoid - he had surgery. Although it didn't restore his voice to what it used to be, the surgery made it possible for him to sing again.

Now Jon Bon Jovi is the subject of a documentary series called "Thank You, Goodnight" that's streaming on Hulu. It alternates between a retrospective of his life and career and his reckoning with his vocal problems over the past few years. In celebration of the anniversary of the band's first album, a new Bon Jovi album called "Forever" was released last month. This year, in conjunction with the Grammys, Bon Jovi was named the MusiCares Person of the Year. The tribute concert included a performance by his New Jersey friend, Bruce Springsteen, who Bon Jovi has known since he was a teenager. When I spoke with Jon Bon Jovi in April, we started with the best-known track from the band's first album called "Bon Jovi." The song is "Runaway."


JON BON JOVI: (Singing) On the street where you live, girls talk about their social lives. They're made of lipstick, plastic and paint, a touch of sable in their eyes. All your life, all your life, all you've asked, when's your daddy going to talk to you? But you were living in another world, trying to get your message through. No one heard a single word you said. They should have seen it in your eyes what was going around your head. Oh, she's a little runaway. Daddy's girl learned fast all those things she couldn't say. Ooh, she's a little runaway.


GROSS: That's "Runaway" from Bon Jovi's first album, recorded 40 years ago. Jon Bon Jovi, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

BON JOVI: Thank you.

GROSS: Congratulations on the anniversary and the documentary and the new album and the successful surgery.

BON JOVI: It's great to be here, and it's great to talk to you again. I looked forward to this interview.

GROSS: Oh, me too.

BON JOVI: Thank you.

GROSS: So let's go back 40 years ago, when the song we just heard was released. What were you hoping for when you released your first album and what did you expect from your future?

BON JOVI: Boy. The future was bright, but nobody had any idea where it would lead us. I think that all you could ever have prayed for was that somebody would give you an opportunity. And for me, that opportunity came when I went to see a DJ in 1983 and was fortunate enough that that new radio station did not have a receptionist. When I tapped on the window of the broadcast booth, the DJ made the sign of shush by putting his finger across his lips, and the program director came out. He said, what can I help you with? And I told him I'd love him to hear some music. They asked me to wait until after the shift. He came out, he heard that song "Runaway" and he said, you know, that's a hit song. And I said, I know. And then they proceeded to tell me about a homegrown talent album that they wanted to support, and that song could be on that record. Little did I know that that was going to lead to a major record deal that I still have today, some 40 years later.

GROSS: So 40 years ago, when you were starting your recording career, who did you think you would be in your 60s? Did you think you'd still be performing? Did you think you'd ever be in your 60s? 'Cause when you're 20s, you don't think - you know, 60s seems like leaps and leaps away.

BON JOVI: You know, back in those days, I think as far ahead as I'd ever dreamt was the year 2000 because it was that magical science fiction number. Where are we as a race going to be in 2000? At that time, I was meant to be 38 years old. I thought, am I going to still have a record deal? Will I have a family? But I never dreamt about 2024 and a 40th anniversary. Who could have?

GROSS: Were you listening to any performers who are the age you are now?

BON JOVI: Sure, but they were my parents' favorites - Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Gene Autry...

GROSS: God, I love Gene Autry.

BON JOVI: So did I. Somebody just asked what was the first records I recall, and it was Gene Autry, because that's what my mom would play.

GROSS: I mean, I love Sinatra, too. Yeah.

BON JOVI: But - so they weren't going to have been my choices, but they were my parents' choices, but if you had considered, 40 years ago, where would rock and roll be, you know, for men and women who were 60 and on, there weren't anybody to refer to, and now you can look, and the Rolling Stones are 80-plus, and the E Street Band are 70-plus, and U2 and Bon Jovi are 60-plus and very active.

GROSS: So you're kind of at a turning point in your career because of your voice issues. How do you feel about your voice now and your ability to sing?

BON JOVI: You know, what the public are going to see, as of this interview and the docuseries, was shot one and two years ago, and I did have some major issues - things that weren't visible to me, because any singer knows about something called nodules. And they look like a little pimple on the vocal cord, and they can easily cut those off and you recover from it. Mine was a little different, where one of my cords was actually atrophying, and they had to put in an implant, a Gore-Tex implant, outside of the cords to rebuild them, and so the process has been slower than I'd hoped for, but the progress and the process are really doing very well. I'm currently able to sing. For me now, the bar is, can I do 2 1/2 hours a night, four nights a week?

GROSS: How did your vocal cord - how did one of the folds atrophy? 'Cause I think of atrophy happening because you're not using something, whereas for you, if anything, you were overusing it.

BON JOVI: I think that is the bottom line, is that I was overusing it. Even though I'm trained and I have studied the craft for these 40 years, eventually, you know, the body gives out. It's not dissimilar than being an athlete, and I equate it to Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or Tom Brady, and when they'd had those major setbacks, they wondered, would they come back? And it took a lot, and it took medical professionals to figure out the right way to bring you back. Patience is not a virtue I am well known for.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BON JOVI: So (laughter) I lack in the patience department, but every day I'm at it, you know? Every day is some kind of therapy to try to get back to that 2 1/2 hours a night.

GROSS: How did you find the surgeon, Dr. Robert Sataloff, who you finally had the surgery with? 'Cause I know you were so afraid of having surgery, understandably.

BON JOVI: You know, there are doctors out there that botch these things, or there are doctors that claim that they can fix everything, and those are the ones I ran away from. A friend of mine who was born and raised in Philadelphia had sought out Dr. Robert Sataloff, and he had written a bunch of books on the topic, and when I met him and I had explained to him that I had done everything I could holistically; I had met with other doctors and sought out their advice; and then he said to me, you know, I am a singer as well, and I thought, oh, isn't that nice?

GROSS: (Laughter).

BON JOVI: He said, I became (laughter) - he says, but I became a doctor, because I couldn't really find a doctor that understood the intricacies that a singer feels and can express to somebody that's in this field. Anyhow, he promised me nothing, and I loved that about him, and when I had exhausted every possibility I had exhausted every possibility, he said, now we're ready to talk about this surgery. And he says, if you work hard, I will make you better than you are currently, but it's going to take a lot of hard work. And I loved the doctor, and I loved the process. Well, I didn't love the process, but I love the way the process is going, you know? It's slower than I'd hope for, but my cords are looking very nice in photographs.

GROSS: What's the work that you have to do?

BON JOVI: It began very slowly with just speech therapies. And then it's vocal therapy that starts as - any singer would understand vocal warmups. But eventually, it's gotten back into retraining the cords because of the compensation that I had to do. When you compensate for as long as I had to as a result of this cord deteriorating - and I couldn't understand how or why - I've now had to untangle that mess. And that's sort of the process I'm in now.

GROSS: It's like if you're limping and your favor one leg?

BON JOVI: Correct. Exactly that.

GROSS: Yeah. What was the conversation you had in your own head about whether to retire from music or keep at it and try to keep finding solutions?

BON JOVI: I jokingly have said I would never become the fat Elvis. And I don't mean that with any disrespect. But I love what I do, and the audience deserve the best of me. And I can only give the best. I'm not willing to be out there walking through the motions or changing the keys of the song. I'm just not interested. Now, with that said, Ter, in truth, I can always write another record. I'm not worried about my ability to write another song. If I can't hit B's and C's, which at 62 years old is sort of fair, I could have walked away. I just haven't had to come to that conclusion because, as I said, the process and the progress are steady.

GROSS: Well, can't you just write songs that suit your voice now?

BON JOVI: This new record.

GROSS: Yeah, OK.



BON JOVI: You know, but when you're 25, you're writing "Livin' On A Prayer" and there's key changes that are high C's (laughter).

GROSS: Yeah. Right. Yeah. So speaking of the new album, we can play a track from it. It's already been released. This is called "Legendary." Here it comes.


BON JOVI: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh. Who are you and who am I to think that we could ever fly? It don't pay to even try. Work, get paid and just get by. Sons of sons, bricks on bricks - what's broken, you don't try to fix. Around here, there ain't no whys and ifs. You don't pick up what you can't lift. I raise my hands up to the sky. Don't need more to tell me I'm alive. Got what I want 'cause I got what I need. Got a fistful of friends that'll stand up for me. Right where I am is where I want to be. Friday night comes around like a song. "Sweet Caroline," and we all sing along. Got my brown-eyed girl, and she believes in me. Legendary.

GROSS: That's "Legendary" from Bon Jovi's new album, "Forever," which was released last month. We'll hear more of my interview with Jon Bon Jovi after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jon Bon Jovi. A four-part documentary series called "Thank you, Goodnight" that's about him and the band is streaming on Hulu. And a new Bon Jovi album called "Forever" was released last month. We spoke in April before the album was released.


GROSS: I want to play another track from the new album. And you've said it's OK to play this even though it's not released yet, so I suppose this is a bit of a scoop.

BON JOVI: You have my permission.

GROSS: Thank you. I'm really grateful for that. I really like this song.

BON JOVI: Yes, the whole nation's heard it. Thank you.

GROSS: And I think it's just a departure for you because it's called "Kiss The Bride," and it's from the perspective of a father whose child is getting married. And so it's different - so different from the more, you know, anthemic and youthful anthems that people associate you with. So can you talk about writing this both from the perspective of the lyrics, but also from the perspective of the vocal range since you've not fully recovered from the vocal problems you were having?

BON JOVI: Well, once upon a time I wrote a song on an album called "Crush." There was a song called "I Got The Girl," and it talks about a 5-year-old princess, and it was my daughter. And my daughter Stephanie is now engaged to be married. And she is 30 going on 31, and so different perspective. When you grow up in public as I have, hopefully, your viewpoints change. You have more to write about. You grow up and you're telling your own story, you're sharing it with the listener.

In this case, my baby girl is all grown up, and she's about to walk down the aisle. So I'm telling this story and in the proper vocal range for the story. So I cried when we wrote it. I cried when I sang it in the studio. I have yet to play it for my daughter.

GROSS: Oh, no, really?

BON JOVI: She has not heard this song. She may be the only one left on the planet that hasn't heard it because I've been talking about it a lot. She has not heard the song yet.

GROSS: Do you plan on singing this at your daughter's wedding?

BON JOVI: The intentions are good.


GROSS: It's her choice, I guess.

BON JOVI: Whether or not Daddy can do it without crying is another thing. But, you know, I have three children who are all engaged to be married. And it's a crazy time in our house. Two of my sons and, of course, my daughter, who is our eldest. So it's a crazy time in the house right now.

GROSS: Well, it'll give you three opportunities to sing it (laughter).


GROSS: All right, so let's hear it. This is "Kiss The Bride" from Bon Jovi's forthcoming album, which is called "Forever." It will be released in June.


BON JOVI: (Singing) As I walk her down the aisle, wish it were 1,000 miles. My beautiful baby, so beautiful. These tears falling from my eyes, they're taking me by surprise. My beautiful baby, the beautiful bride. It's time for me to step aside, lift your veil and let you fly. Let the preacher say love's favorite line, you may kiss the bride.

GROSS: That was "Kiss The Bride" from Bon Jovi's forthcoming album that will be released in June. The song is called "Kiss The Bride" and the album is called "Forever." I think that this will be sung at a lot of weddings in the future. You know, this will be the song for the parents, kind of like "Sunrise, Sunset."


GROSS: You know what I mean? The song for the parents to tear up (laughter).


GROSS: What kind of balance have you wanted to have in your life between wanting to, like, stay youthful and hold onto all the things you were able to do when you were in your 20s and started, you know, having a real career and, you know, being in the moment and in the body and mind of the person who you are now in your early 60s?

BON JOVI: Well, I think that my goal always was to evolve and not to ever have pretended to be 25 when I was even 35, you know? And when I was 25, I accepted, acknowledged and participated in all the mannerisms of a 25-year-old kid figuring it out. But if I had come and tried to be on FRESH AIR at 62 pretending to be 25, I think this interview would've been over by now.


GROSS: I'd be the judge of that but you're probably right.


BON JOVI: I have a feeling that's the case. But, you know, I think part of having a career as I've been blessed enough to have is that our audience grew with us. Now, whether you got on or off the path with us at any given time is completely understandable because, you know, life goes on. And maybe you're not even listening to rock 'n' roll music the way you once did. But others have gotten on that ride, you know, at different junctures. And so whether it was 2000 with "It's My Life" or 2005 when we were the first rock band to ever win a No. 1 country song - you know, or what will happen now with this docuseries in 2024 is a new generation is going to hear this music for the first time. It's just inevitable because it's a part of what the machine are going to do.

And that's all well and good. But the new age and era in which we live allows for music to be discovered in a new way, and therefore, it's not even in a time capsule. It's just in there forever. Music, you press a button and it's playing in your ears. You don't see the visuals, you don't associate it with anything, you just hear a song. And if the song is good, it's going to resonate with the next generation.

GROSS: The visuals - you mentioned in the documentary that you hated rock videos.

BON JOVI: (Laughter).

GROSS: And I was kind of glad to hear that because what always bothered me is that it was somebody's interpretation of the song, or not even - just somebody's idea of, like, great surreal images. And it kind of was so distracting from what the song was saying.

BON JOVI: Yep. You know, it's hard enough to learn your craft and then to learn how to write a song. Then when they thrust upon you the opportunity to make these videos and/or album covers, I can't tell you that it came to me easily. And especially on those first couple records when you knew nothing about nothing, when they force fed you a director or an album artist, you just said yes because at least I just said yes. And it wasn't until the third album, the fourth album and now my 18th album that you take control of these things.

GROSS: Is there something you particularly regret being pushed to do?

BON JOVI: Oh, the '80s.


BON JOVI: But my life, as I told you, is so blessed, Terry, that, you know, those baby pictures of me and those clothes are public. And that's my penance? I'll accept it.


GROSS: We'll hear more of my interview with Jon Bon Jovi after a short break. A four-part documentary series about his life and career called "Thank you, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story" is streaming on Hulu. And a new album called "Forever" came out last month. We'll be right back after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


BON JOVI: (Singing) Tommy used to work on the docks. Union's been on strike, he's down on his luck. It's tough, so tough. Gina works the diner all day, working for her man, she brings home her pay for love, for love. She says, we've got to hold on to what we've got. It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Jon Bon Jovi. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the band Bon Jovi's first album. They've since sold over 130 million albums and played to sold-out stadiums around the world. A new four-part documentary about Jon Bon Jovi's life and career called "Thank You, Good Night: The Bon Jovi Story" is streaming on Hulu. It's part-retrospective and part about his recent vocal problems that led him to have surgery in 2022, which enabled him to sing again. A new Bon Jovi album, called "Forever," was released last month.


GROSS: So it was your third album that got really popular, and it had your most famous anthems on it, and it totally changed your life and the life of everyone in the band. One of the anthems on that album is "You Give Love A Bad Name," which has the line, shot in the heart, and you're to blame. You give love a bad name. On your first album that was released 40 years ago, you have a song called "Shot In The Heart" (ph). That's a completely different song, but it has that shot in the heart line. And I keep wondering, like, how did you decide to recycle the line? And my theory is that shot in the heart is such a good line that you thought, not that many people know that song. I have to put it in a song that really works. So...

BON JOVI: You pretty much - pretty accurate there.

GROSS: So tell me more.

BON JOVI: Shot through the heart - yeah, shot through the heart. Yes, yes. Yeah, I think that's pretty accurate there. Yeah, to be honest, you know, the title "You Give Love A Bad Name" just sounded like a smash hit. And so I said that line. Having said it once before, I guess, is proof that I came up with the line. But yeah, yeah, yeah - guilty as charged. I wasn't as prolific as I became, but early on, that was a line in a song on a little-known album that we used again.

GROSS: So I'm gonna play a little bit of both songs...


GROSS: ...Just to compare them back to back. So we'll hear "Shot In The Heart" from Bon Jovi's first album 40 years ago and then "You Give Love A Bad Name" from the third album.


BON JOVI: (Singing) Didn't somebody somewhere say you're going to take a fall? I gave you everything. Now here's the curtain call. And I'm shot through the heart as I lay there alone in the dark. Through the heart - it's all part of the part of the game that we call love.


BON JOVI: (Singing) Oh, there's nowhere to run. No one can save me. The damage is done. Shot through the heart, and you're to blame. You give love a bad name, bad name. I play my part, and you play your game. You give love a bad name, bad name. You give love a bad name.

GROSS: Two songs by Bon Jovi that have the line shot in the heart.


GROSS: Jon, what did you learn about songwriting in between that first version of a song with the line shot in the heart and the second version, which was a huge hit?

BON JOVI: Yes, it was. Well, like with anything else, one would hope that you get better with time and experience. It was the third album that everything changed. And like everything else, you know, you started to figure it out. You know, you started to think about what other songs were on the charts, what you did with an audience and why a song worked live or why it didn't work live. And playing in a bar in New Jersey was one way to cut your teeth. But getting out there and playing to audiences don't even speak your language - you had to find other means to win over the hearts and minds of the audiences. So now that when I hear somebody say, I learned how to speak English singing your songs, you better learn how to do it better. And that's really what's come with it.

GROSS: You started performing in bars in Asbury Park, where you heard Springsteen in his really early days and Southside Johnny. Can you compare who you were when you were performing at bars in Asbury Park versus when you started performing in stadiums?

BON JOVI: Oh, boy.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BON JOVI: You know, Southside and Bruce and then, of course, all the members of the E Street band and the Jukes were at least 12-ish years older. So they were not only role models, but they were friendly to the young kids. They were the influence, and they were telling you about their influence. So that was an integral thing, too - is they introduced me to not only their music but the music that they listened to, which was then helpful for me to understand what the process was and why you wrote songs and how you wrote songs.

But that was -although it was a huge part of my upbringing, then I was also influenced by what was contemporary rock 'n' roll - you know, Queen and Led Zeppelin and Bad Company and Elton John and all the things that were on the radio in the latter '70s. But those things just seemed bigger than life. They were just posters on your wall, whereas Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen, although they were making albums and were my childhood heroes, were 25 miles south of my house. So on any given night in those bars, you're going to see one of those 17 men hanging around in the bar. And it was sort of like being that close to Santa Claus because - you know, something fictional that you could - you made real. You could go and touch them. You could talk to them. You could watch them.

GROSS: Springsteen, when he performs, doesn't wear, like, costumes. You know, it's usually, like, you know, jeans and a T-shirt. So...

BON JOVI: That is his costume.

GROSS: Oh, is that how you think of it?

BON JOVI: (Laughter).

GROSS: That's his logo? Yeah.

BON JOVI: That's like saying Jimmy Buffett wearing shorts and flip-flops. That was Jimmy.

GROSS: Right.

BON JOVI: You know, but anyhow, go ahead.

GROSS: Yeah. So when you were performing in bars, you probably just wore, you know, jeans and a T-shirt.

BON JOVI: T-shirts and jeans. Sure, sure.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah. So I'd like you to compare - can I use the word persona? When you were performing in bars, compare that to who you were on stage when you started performing in stadiums and if you thought of yourself as having a persona on stage once you started doing stadium concerts.

BON JOVI: Well, having grown up in public, you are going to do things and try things and see what kind of shoes fit. And blue jeans and T-shirts were what we were meant to be. But in honesty, in 1984, '85, '86, when you're being told by the, quote-unquote, "record company" and the managers and the agents and the headliners that you were supporting, this will help you be more successful, in honesty, we were probably trying on shoes that didn't fit. And we were lumped in with a certain group of bands that - I never bought their records, and I wasn't necessarily fans of, but we were cutting our teeth on that international stage.

GROSS: My guest is Jon Bon Jovi. A new Bon Jovi album called "Forever" came out last month. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jon Bon Jovi. There's a four-part documentary series called "Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story" that's streaming on Hulu. It's part retrospective about Jon's career and the band's career, and it's about the more recent years when Jon Bon Jovi was having some vocal problems and ended up having vocal surgery, which left him in much better shape and able to record a new album, called "Forever," which was released last month.

There's a story I want you to tell that you tell in the documentary series, and it's - you're playing in Russia.

BON JOVI: The Soviet Union at the time, but yes.

GROSS: Yeah. And no one there knows Bon Jovi.


GROSS: No one in the audience. So you felt like - oh, and you didn't want to be upstaged by the other band that they did know, that - I think you were opening for them?

BON JOVI: Well, here's the story.

GROSS: Yeah.

BON JOVI: Our first manager had gotten himself in some trouble. And as a part of his plea, he had asked the courts if he were to put on a show in what was then the Soviet Union. And he took a bunch of bands over...

GROSS: Was this, like, as an ambassador from the United States or something?

BON JOVI: Well, if you want a drug dealer to be your ambassador.

GROSS: Yeah, I know. But...

BON JOVI: We went. And it was a bunch of the bands of the era, and we knew everybody. And we were at the height of the "New Jersey" record, which was the follow-up to "Slippery When Wet." So we were going to close the show. And - realizing once we got there that the Soviet Union did not have Tower Records.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BON JOVI: So therefore, they didn't have "Livin' On A Prayer" and "You Give Love A Bad Name" or "Runaway" on the radio. And so you're playing and winning hearts the way you did when you were a completely unknown kid on the stage in New Jersey.

And we followed a German band by the name of the Scorpions, who we had once opened for in 1984, and they were a relentless live band, phenomenal live band. And to tell you the honest to goodness truth, they won the hearts of that crowd that day and then we came on and followed them. And I started speaking English and telling the stories of the songs and performing. And we were falling flat. OK, fine, we got our butts kicked. The next night, now that I had had a feel for what it was and all of the experience and all of the influence in my career, I said, I see the trick. I got it.

So I took a Russian soldier backstage, took his uniform from him, traded him some blue jeans and some - the Harley Davidson T-shirts, to be honest, and I got his uniform. And I said to the band, start this first song. Just keep playing the intro over and over again. I'm going to enter from the back of the entire stadium, and I was dressed as a Russian soldier. In that documentary, you see the film where I throw the coat. I take off the gloves. I eventually take off the long coat and hat, jump up on the stage and perform the song. We won. Second night, Bon Jovi was, you know, playing the Soviet Union.

Thirty years later, I went back, and I played that same stadium - 2019. And I was telling the story to a member of the press, now the free press in Russia. And I began the story, and he said, can I finish the story for you? And I said, wow, you know this story? He said, I was there. And he said, it became folklore here. It's, you know, how you won the hearts of the Russian kids.

GROSS: That's a great story. I love it. There were some musical movements that almost seemed like counter movements to the costumes and the special effects of big stadium concerts. And I'm thinking of the post-punk bands, the riot grrrls, Nirvana and grunge. What was your reaction to that? And was there an impact on Bon Jovi, on the band?

BON JOVI: My reaction to it was that it was good. Not only was the grunge movement good but much needed. What happens that I've witnessed, that I've lived through this business long enough to see, is when something becomes popular, record companies run off and sign 10 things that are like that popular band. So there were 10 other Nirvanas signed, the same way there was 10 other Bon Jovis and Guns N' Roses signed. It - to the point where the great ones survive and the rest of them fall by the wayside after a record or two. So grunge comes along and whoops the yuck bands of the big-hair anthemic rock band - much needed, well deserved. And I just thought, we just keep on our path. Things had changed for me - both turning 30, being married, having a kid, cutting off the long hair, seeing what was going on in the world, whether it was the Wall coming down, or the Rodney King beatings in Los Angeles.

These were all starting to influence my writing, and I was becoming a different man. And we just stood the course and "Keep The Faith" came out of that. It was the first year of self management. It was after the success of "Young Guns," which I had just been nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe and had another No. 1 record. So I had a lot of confidence, and we, the band, had a vision about what the '90s could be, and it worked.

GROSS: My guest is Jon Bon Jovi. A new Bon Jovi album called "Forever" was released last month. We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jon Bon Jovi. A four-part documentary series called "Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story" is streaming on Hulu. And a new Bon Jovi album called "Forever" was released last month.


GROSS: You mentioned cutting your hair. Was that a turning point for you, the decision to do that? 'Cause you were so identified with the hair.

BON JOVI: What amazed and amused me was that CNN wrote about it. You know, that was silly to me. I mean, there's more important things to be writing news stories about. But I've seen it time and again with Harry Styles or Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake. You know, it's all - these things just go round and round. All I cared about and what mattered was writing the next song and making sure it wasn't a repetition of something that we had done five years prior. So now you start writing more socially conscious songs like "Keep The Faith," and I could still write a big ballad like "Bed Of Roses," and those songs carried that record. And we not only survived, but we thrived. Well, grunge was happening in a big way, but "Keep The Faith" was still many millions of albums.

GROSS: I'm going to accept this as a great music cue. So let's hear "Keep The Faith" (laughter).

BON JOVI: (Singing) Mother, mother, tell your children that their time has just begun. I have suffered for my anger. There are wars that can't be won. Father, father, please believe me. I am laying down my guns. I am broken like an arrow. Forgive me - forgive your wayward son. Everybody needs somebody to love - mother, father. Everybody needs somebody to hate - please don't leave me. Everybody's bleeding 'cause the times are tough. Well, it's hard to be strong when there's no one to dream on. Faith - you know you're going to live through the rain. Lord, you've got to keep the faith. Faith...

GROSS: That's "Keep The Faith" from the band Bon Jovi, and Jon Bon Jovi is my guest.

Let's talk a little bit about your political activism. You campaigned for Al Gore. You were at his house the night of...

GROSS: Yeah. ...The 2000 election, the contested election. What was that night like? That was one of the most dramatic elections in American history.

BON JOVI: This was the night he conceded.

GROSS: Oh, this was - oh...

BON JOVI: This was his...

GROSS: This was, like, after Bush v. Gore ended.

BON JOVI: Yeah, this is - yeah.

GROSS: Oh, yeah. OK, I get it.

BON JOVI: This is him saying, no, no.

GROSS: That he'd - right, right, right.

BON JOVI: And there was a scheduled press corps Christmas party scheduled that he wanted to keep for the members of the press. And I was asked to be there while we were, in fact, all here for a concert, a Christmas concert at the White House for the Special Olympics, the albums that were fundraising for the Special Olympics, which I had participated in several of. So having campaigned so much for Vice President Gore, I was invited up to the house, and it wasn't a very lively party when he arrived that night. And I had suggested that all this incredible musical talent was in town. Perhaps if I called them, they'd come over.

And next thing you know, it was Stevie Wonder and Tom Petty and all kinds, and we had a hell of a night playing. And Vice President Gore and Mrs. Gore were up there banging on the bongos and letting it all out, you know, because...

GROSS: Literally banging on the bongos?

BON JOVI: Oh, hell, yeah. I was up there playing and singing, and - you know, and by that point, having a beer because, you know, we had all just had to go through that night.

GROSS: So you think that lifted his spirits - that concert?

BON JOVI: I think that helped us all get through the night.

GROSS: You also do work involving the homeless and feeding people who don't have food. How did that become your issue?

BON JOVI: Well, as you, in fact, are in Philadelphia - I've had close roots there for a long, long time, dating back to the very beginning of my career. But in 2003, I was the co-owner of an arena football team in Philadelphia, and it was called the Philadelphia Soul. Again, that same kid who knocked on that DJ's window said, how do I ingratiate myself when you have the Eagles, Flyers, Sixers, Phillies? And I thought we have to be more philanthropic than anyone. And one thing led to another and at first, we were playing Robin Hood, but one day, I was looking out of the window of the hotel, and I saw a homeless man sleeping on a grate. And I called that same friend who found my surgeon, who was born and raised in Philly, and I said, find me somebody who understands the homeless issue and how we could participate somehow, some way. Little did I know that Sister Mary Scullion and Project HOME were in Philadelphia. For those who don't know Sister Mary, consider her to be the Michael Jordan of the homeless issue.

GROSS: (Laughter) I'll second that.

BON JOVI: OK. She is the greatest. And my friend went down, and he says, my name is Obie O'Brien, and I work for Jon Bon Jovi. And she says, yeah, great. I'm Sister Mary Scullion, and I work for God. And so...


BON JOVI: ...A relationship was born. And when we met, I think she thought that maybe this soul could afford to rehab one row home. And I wasn't being a wise guy. But when I met her, I said, Sister Mary, what would it cost to redo this block? And I knew that she was, you know, taken by that. But I said, it's not that I'm showing off. I'm asking this question because I think if we bring a block, we could bring a neighborhood. If we bring a neighborhood, now we could start influencing a city.

BON JOVI: So we hit it off, and she's taught me everything I've known for these last 20-plus years. Then in 2008 when the economic downturn happened, it was my wife, Dorothea, who came up with the concept of the Soul Kitchens, which - there's no prices on our menu. It's farm-to-table food, no institutional kind of government-funded food pantry or food bank stuff. We - soup kitchens. It's not what we do. We created an empowerment kind of a restaurant where if you or I go, you can see change happen by leaving a suggested donation. But if you can't, you volunteer. And that's what helps us make ends meet. We now have four of these restaurants. And we're - you know, we created something that really just didn't exist.

And we've been feeding those people who we've housed for 12 or 13 of these 20-plus years. And I'm very proud of what Dorothea created, and we - like we said, we subsequently have four of them.

GROSS: I'd like to end with some music. I'd like you to choose a song of yours that you think describes where you are now, like, that really relates to how you're feeling about life or yourself or the world now.

BON JOVI: I know that there are quite a few in my catalog that would be fitting. There's a song called "These Days" off of the 1995 album called "These Days." And I think that might sort of say where I'm at today - just today. These days, the stars seem out of reach, and these days there ain't a ladder on the streets. And it goes on to tell a story about, you know, but they're still up there. It's just going to take a little work to get up and touch them again.

GROSS: Jon, it's been really great to talk with you. Thank you so much. And just congratulations on all that you've done.

BON JOVI: I appreciate that very much. And I really was looking forward to today. And it's great to speak with you again. And to thank all the NPR listeners and supporters for taking the time out of their day.


BON JOVI: (Singing) She came looking for some shelter with a suitcase full of dreams, to a motel room on the boulevard. I guess she's trying to be James Dean. She's seen all the disciples and all the wannabes. No one wants to be themselves these days. Still there's nothing to hold on to but these days. These days, the stars seem out of reach. These days, there ain't a ladder on the streets. These days are fast. Nothing lasts in this graceless age. There ain't nobody left but us these days.

GROSS: My interview with Jon Bon Jovi was recorded in April. The documentary series Thank you, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story" is streaming on Hulu. The new Bon Jovi album is called "Forever."

If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interview with Emily Nussbaum about working conditions for reality TV show cast members with a focus on "Love Is Blind" or Ian Karmel, former co-head writer for "The Late Late Show With James Corden" and author of the new memoir, T-Shirt Swim Club: Stories From Being Fat In A World Of Thin People," check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews. And to find out what's happening behind the scenes of our show and get our producers' recommendations for what to watch, read and listen to, subscribe to our free newsletter at whyy.org/freshair.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Therese Madden, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Our co-host is Tonya Mosley. I'm Terry Gross.


BON JOVI: (Singing) I know Rome's still burning. Though the times have changed, this world keeps turning round and round and round and round these days. These days, the stars seem out reach. These days... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.