20+ Reasons You Should Watch the Bon Jovi Documentary (Even If You Aren't A Fan)

There are four parts to this JBJ documentary. I did not think I would make it through the whole thing and yet, here we are. 

20+ Reasons You Should Watch the Bon Jovi Documentary (Even If You Aren't A Fan)
The Fast Lane, January 9, 1980.

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I’ll be honest: I decided to watch the Bon Jovi documentary because I wanted something to watch while I ate dinner one night last week. I was tired and could not watch anything related to true crime and so I thought “Okay I’ll watch it for like 20 minutes” only to end up texting a friend 45 minutes into it.

No one is going to be surprised when I state that I do not like Bon Jovi, I have never liked Bon Jovi, that it was the antithesis to everything I cared about musically. Like, you can keep your poodle rock and put it over there. Even though we are many decades past Slippery When Wet he still recently wrote a song called “Have A Nice Day” and I fucking hate it SO MUCH. Nowadays of course I can acknowledge that the man wrote some enormous hits and people love his music and, you know, good for everyone involved. I just do not want and have never wanted any part of it.

However, with all that said: I watched this entire documentary and I wanted to explain why, because it’s a very good documentary and I was absolutely riveted at times. There are four parts to this JBJ documentary and it is about five hours long. I did not think I would make it through the whole thing and yet, here we are. 

At no point during my initial viewing did I stop and look up any data on this thing or how it came together or who the producers and filmmakers were. I tried to approach this cold. I’ll go do it now because there are a bunch of things that I personally would like to know, but it’s not relevant to any of the reasons why I think you should watch it. 

  1. It begins when the band is camped out at Continental Airlines Arena / Brendan Byrne rehearsing for the upcoming 2022 tour. I have spent some time in that place and JBJ jokes about just playing there for a week or so (but I am glad for his fans that he did not). Brendan Byrne was the first arena built specifically with concert acoustics in mind and Bruce was the first act that played it. It’s obsolete because it doesn’t have luxury boxes and it’s a pain in the ass to get to and there’s the arena in Newark now (which, to be fair, is also a pain in the ass to get to, but in a different way). I did not, however, expect to have FEELINGS about seeing CAA again.
  2. Did you know that Everett Bradley, who got added to the E Street Band briefly in 2012, was a member of Bon Jovi’s band? I did not, but it mostly explains why I found him so incredibly annoying as a member of the ESB. He was a last minute addition to the touring band and I don’t think he even got introduced at the first few shows and he bothered the fuck out of me because he was just too much. Like, dude, you are up there to add texture, you are not a featured player. But now I understand why he was annoying to me, because he was an important part of JBJ’s band (according to Jon in this movie) and here he was being demoted and he was just doing what he did except that it’s not the same scenario at all. JBJ added him because he needed help with vocals and that might be why Bruce thought he needed him, but that was the tour where he had Soozie and Curtis King / Michelle Moore/ Cindy Mizelle already. He did not need anyone else. I do not feel the same way about Anthony Almonte who currently fills that spot on the E Street stage, but I have also seen all of two shows with him. 
  3. Finally, Southside Johnny gets his due. If you don’t know the history, it’s challenging to look at Bon Jovi and think, “That guy just wants to be Southside” but he did! He does! You see Southside, sitting at the bar at the Pony talking about Jon!

Seriously, watch JBJ in this clip asserting Jukes history!

  1. Bruce! Yes! Springsteen shows up and talks, mostly in the first ep but also towards the end of the last one. He is his usual polite and complimentary self but there is genuine warmth there towards what he sees as another kid from the state that was a punch line making it big. There is audio and photo evidence of the time that JBJ was singing “The Promised Land” onstage at the Fast Lane and Bruce showed up and got onstage with them, which is a very Springsteen thing to do, and also, just, heartwarming as fuck.
  2. There is a decent amount of archival Jersey Shore / Asbury Park footage and not just the same things we’ve all seen a million times because all of this happened before we all had cameras in our pockets. I am very glad to see the Fast Lane (RIP) get the respect it was long overdue. If nothing else, just watch the first episode to see all of this stuff. You don’t have to watch more than that if you have no interest in the rest of the story. (This comment is directed specifically at people who are members of the COB.)
  3. Regional accents are dying out and yet these are a bunch of guys who could not be from anywhere but New Jersey. Honestly, as a proud daughter of the great state of New Jersey it was music to my ears. 
  4. There is a SECRET BASS PLAYER! When Alec John Such (RIP) had to be kicked out of the band because of substance abuse it wasn’t that big of a deal because the dude hadn’t been playing on the records! So they just brought the secret bass player in and made him part of the band.
  5. The moment at the end of the first episode – which I spent going “where is Richie Sambora and how are they going to handle this, exactly” – even though I confess I did not have a detailed understanding of what “this” meant – and then they cut to Richie Sambora sitting in a recording studio and Richie says, “So what are we doing? Are we lying, are we telling the truth, or what?” and I was HOOKED. Pearl Jam did an entire documentary where they managed to completely elide their first four drummers and the whole mishegoss around what fans used to refer to as “the drummer situation” and here these guys are just letting it all hang out. But, I mean, also, New Jersey
  6. It is fascinating that neither Springsteen nor Bon Jovi took drugs, but for different reasons. Bruce was worried about the potential impact it could have on his brain given his family history of mental illness, while Jon had some bad experiences in his youth. But they both are similar that they didn’t want anything to get in the way of their work / success / music.
  7. There’s a shot of JBJ during a segment about how the band got stuck in Mexico because student protests against the government took over the stadium they were supposed to play in for the last two shows of the tour and he’s wearing a Little Steven shirt. He is not fronting! It is real.
  8. I forgot that they went to Russia to do a big heavy metal concert but the thing that I absolutely did not know is that the concert in Russia was part of a plea deal his manager took for major drug charges, some CIA psy-op to…I dunno, thwart communism by showing The Youth what democracy looked like? I’m guessing here.  
  9. Doc McGhee is in this thing and he talks a lot, but he is apparently doing that lately and given that he also managed KISS and Motley Crue, has seen some shit. But I like that JBJ fired him not because of the drugs or having to do a make-up concert to help him stay out of jail, but because he didn’t take his acting career (another thing I forgot about) seriously enough.
  10. JBJ’s solution to firing his manager was to start his own management company with people who already worked for him, including his brother. I kind of love this.
  11. After the incident in Mexico, where the band almost killed themselves/each other because they were holed up in the hotel for days on end after touring nonstop for years, the band took a break. The media promptly began publishing BON JOVI HAVE BROKEN UP / HATE EACH OTHER stories and JBJ’s solution to this was to have everyone go to a tropical island where he brought in a corporate therapist to help the band talk through their issues. I mean, it’s genius, but no one is going to do that, or admit to it publicly, and it makes the whole rift between Richie and Jon even more confusing, but humans are not robots and these are a bunch of guys from New Jersey. 
  12. When JBJ cut his hair there were weeks of media coverage.
“I still don’t like his music but he is a solid guy” is something I wrote at the end of my third page of notes (there were five but I also sat down and unintentionally started writing this piece under the guise of consolidating my thoughts when I’d gotten to the end of the third episode). 
  1. Grunge vs. Bon Jovi: I did not realize this was ever a thing, but I was also living abroad at the time. It is legit hilarious that the media thought there was a story in poodle rockers vs Nirvana, when both sides were basically shrugging at each other.
  2. Bon Jovi played the last shows at old Wembley Stadium.
  3. “Lead singers make a commitment to the story” is a quote from Hugh McDonald (the secret bass player who became the actual bass player) talking about the Wembley shows and I just liked the quote because it is applicable to many lead singers.
  4.  He takes NJ Transit and Amtrak! Dude rides the rails with his little briefcase. 
  5. The first show they ever played without Richie Sambora was at Jazz Fest in 2011. They played the fucking Acura Stage (now the Festival Stage) under the Professor Longhair statue and it was packed. Phil X, who ended up taking Sambora’s place, talks about how JBJ didn’t say anything for the entire show until he dedicated a song to Richie, so it was him watching 50,000 people be “aggressively confused” because he was, clearly, not the dude.

What the actual fuck was this band doing at Jazz Fest of all places? I mean I can say that about a lot of bands that play the Festival Stage but this has to be near the top of the list.

To my dismay, my friend Alison Fensterstock (who covered Jazz Fest for like two decades writing for the Times-Picayune) did not cover Bon Jovi’s set that year but she did write about the woman who lives near the fairgrounds and had a Bon Jovi shrine.

So why is Jon Bon Jovi doing this? The inciting incident that triggers a year of filmmaking and going through the archives and getting all summational (to quote Mr. Springsteen) is due to a combination of COVID and aging, he was losing his voice and he could only perform at “80% of 100%” (that’s a quote). He tried voice lessons, lasers, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, and then decides to go for surgery. After surgery, he can’t sing for three months and then when he does start singing again, it’s rough, and there are some very disheartening scenes in the studio where he’s not singing well. Ultimately the surgery does help, but it’s touch and go for a while. 

So it makes sense that he spends the whole movie talking about his legacy and how important it is to him, that he’s 60. But as the series gets to the last episode, I suddenly realized that he is doing it because he did not, or did not want, to spend seven years writing his autobiography and then spend another few years turning it into a one-man show. I don’t know that his people would have come to Broadway (or paid those prices) but Jon Bon Jovi could’ve done a one-man show in Vegas and people would have showed up. I just don’t think that’s his particular calling. He is charismatic and he connects to an audience but not in the same way. 

It is not an insult to imply that this effort was at least partially inspired by Bruce’s journey, especially after learning towards the end of the final episode that he and the Boss are pals and they go for long drives together – “no phones” – so they can talk. Bruce wrote about his struggles with depression and therapy, JBJ is taking the audience through his struggles with losing his voice due to age and COVID (I love him for just saying that COVID was one of the reasons he lost his voice). The big difference between the two efforts is that it’s not just Jon talking in the movie, and every person who is still alive shows up and talks. 

The segment towards the end of the fourth episode where it goes between Jon and Richie telling the same story from their individual perspectives about why Richie left the band is fascinating and heartbreaking and the fact that a person who does not care at all about Bon Jovi or his music is pretty invested in seeing this story reach its conclusion means, I think, that everyone involved made the right decisions about how to document and present this history. 

Interviewer: “When did you realize this (Sambora leaving the band) was permanent?”
JBJ: “I still haven’t.”

Holy shit, man.  

In case you were wondering if one of my takeaways from watching this documentary was that I decided to go listen to some Bon Jovi or if I had a new appreciation for his music or something along those lines:

I wanted to make sure it was understood how emphatic my "no" is

Given that their whole deal happened when I was in my 20s and deeply immersed into popular music and there was AM and FM radio means that I am very, very familiar with the man’s music. There is no chance that I missed something or if I looked at it differently it would suddenly click. In fact, if anything, it confirms that I was right the first time in terms of it just not being my thing at all in any way, which is also a good thing to know, I guess. He is a hard worker! He is very good at the thing that he does. He is, by all accounts, a very nice guy, and the dudes in his band also seem pretty solid. He does good things. He has good politics. I just do not like his music! That is okay. 

I have seen Jon Bon Jovi three times: once at the 2003 Springsteen Christmas shows where far too many people in that audience were a little too excited about JBJ being there, in my opinion.

I cannot believe Bruce had to sing “Like Frankie said, ‘I did it my way.’” Note that he only does it once.

Then I somehow managed to see them twice in 2012. Do you remember Klout? It was a programmatic service that looked at your social media engagement numbers and gave you free stuff as a result of it. The only thing I ever got from them were free wristbands to a festival called Bamboozle that in 2012 was held on the boardwalk in Asbury Park. It was the only show Gaslight Anthem were playing in the US that year and Bon Jovi was headlining and it was free. It was also very cold and windy once the sun went down, and so I think I made it through two-thirds of the set (I think I said something like ‘let’s leave when they get to the robot horse’) before heading to get NJ Transit back to the city. And, of course, they were one of the headliners at 12-12-12. But at no point did I walk out of either experience going, “Huh. Might have been wrong/might want to go back to the catalog/anything similar.”

Given all of that, the fact that I watched this entire series with great interest means that the filmmakers did a good job, and I think there’s enough here of general interest to music fans that make it worth your time to watch.


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