Tommy used to work on the docks, Gina worked the diner all day, and Eric was once as big a Bon Jovi fan as you’ll ever meet.
Moving past my regrettable self-reference in the third person, those are, indeed, harrowing words for a music reporter to reveal publicly, cringeworthy and eminently mockable as they may be, but there they are.
At the risk of incurring yet further scorn, I will double down: I regret nothing.
The first album I ever owned was Bon Jovi’s “New Jersey,” a now-gloriously dated cassette tape that was the prized centerpiece of a birthday haul all the way back in 1988.
Yes, I still have it.
In fact, I have most of what Bon Jovi’s released over the decades, being as close to a “completionist” as finances and effort ever allowed, though I’m sure the diehards out there would scoff at my utter lack of Japanese imports featuring B-side rarities. I guess, if I’m being honest, I’m an incomplete completist.
Whatever. Let’s get to the news du jour and to the point.
Bon Jovi, torchbearer of that ’80s subgenre variously (and sometimes ignominiously) known as hair metal, pop metal, and — ugh — butt rock, has been elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
This is either a tremendous honor or further unequivocal confirmation of the institution’s irrelevance, depending on your perspective.
For the sake of forgoing further digressions, for now we’ll eschew all arguments that the Hall of Fame’s very existence — the very premise of determining which music is “best,” for that matter — is an antithetical affront to the rebellion originally inherent in the very fibers of rock ’n’ roll.
Let’s instead, for now, agree that the Rock Hall is a thing, even a valid thing, and shift the debate to the more pertinent question: Does Bon Jovi deserve to be there?
For the sake of comparison, the band’s fellow Class of 2018 inductees are The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Not the most progressive bunch, I think we can all agree. So, perhaps, in that respect, Bon Jovi fits right in.
And yet …
Despite more than 120 million albums sold, despite Bon Jovi still ranking among the top-grossing touring bands annually, despite the murderers’ row of radio hits that you know you sing along to, there is that segment of the music-loving populace who will forever be loath to concede that even the most benignly milquetoast praise of the band is valid.
My wife, who is one of these people, forwarded me an article the other day in which founder and frontman Jon Bon Jovi declared he would be amenable to performing at the induction ceremony with longtime guitarist and songwriting partner Richie Sambora, who departed the band suddenly and unexpectedly in 2013, and who has not yet returned and perhaps never will.
Along with the link came a bit of commentary from her: “Mutual destruction. That’s the only option.” She later clarified: “I’d settle for a hair-drenching bloodbath. … Actually, let’s not say ‘hair-drenching bloodbath.’ Maybe just have them beat the s--- out of each other. I don’t want to sound like a psychopath!”
Why such venom for a hair metal/pop metal/ butt rock band?
You know what? It doesn’t matter.
Here’s the thing — I believe Bon Jovi belongs. You may chalk this Pollyanna-ish opinion up to unbridled fanboyism, if you wish. But — and here’s where I heretically invoke that infamous third-person reference one last time — please remember I started this whole ill-fated exercise off by stating: “Eric was once as big a Bon Jovi fan as you’ll ever meet.”
Yes, I still buy every new album when it comes out, but this is partly attributable to my proclivity for nostalgia and partly attributable to my aforementioned completism.
Being perfectly candid, their last exceptional effort was 1995’s “These Days,” and, beyond that, I haven’t particularly enjoyed much the band has done since 2005’s “Have a Nice Day.” Furthermore, I kinda agree with the critics that the now-well-worn formula of verse/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/solo/chorus/chorus — all featuring increasingly eye-rolling schmaltz and insipid platitudes (“Where memories live and the dream don’t fail/This house is not for sale” … Really?!) — is doing Bon Jovi no favors.
And yet …
“Slippery When Wet” is a classic. “New Jersey” was a stellar follow-up. “Keep the Faith” changed the creative tone but continued the run of success. And “These Days” remains one of the most heinously, egregiously underappreciated albums of all time — an opinion I got to share personally with longtime Bon Jovi bassist Hugh McDonald this past June (and which he smilingly agreed with).
But I know, I know — Bon Jovi is formulaic, uninventive cheese.
It’s also fun. (God forbid rock ’n’ roll ever have that stigma attached to it.)
Come induction day, April 14, me, Tommy and Gina will be wearing our acid-washed jeans and having a party, with old Bon Jovi tracks on repeat ad nauseam.
Sorry, cynics — your invitation must’ve gotten lost in the mail.