THE photograph shows a familiar figure stooped over a sink, dressed down in baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans.
Fully absorbed in the task in hand, he’s applying elbow grease to a stainless steel bowl in a restaurant kitchen.
Closer inspection reveals the silver hair and chiselled profile of Jon Bon Jovi — known these days as the “Hall Of Fame Dishwasher”.
It’s not often you find a rock god employed in such a menial task but this is 2020, the year everything changed.
The image, taken on March 20th by Bon Jovi’s wife Dorothea just as the Covid-19 pandemic began to take hold, reveals the singer working at the JBJ Soul Kitchen in his home state of New Jersey.
Posted on Instagram, the caption reads: “If you can’t do what you do . . . do what you can!”
The Livin’ On A Prayer singer’s off-the-cuff call for help at his charity restaurant for the underprivileged provided him with inspiration for new song Do What You Can.
It appears on the revamped Bon Jovi album 2020, originally planned for spring but delayed, like so many others, by lockdown.
‘I’VE GROWN UP AND EVOLVED’
It’s a punchy, passionate protest record that covers Black Lives Matter, PTSD, fake news and mass shootings and might surprise listeners used to feel-good anthems presented by men who seem to care too much about their hair.
“I’ve grown up and evolved,” he says of his socially aware lyrics. “I wouldn’t have written about this in the mid-Eighties because my focus at 21 to 25 was to be a successful singer in a rock and roll band. As 30 comes, then 40 and 50, life starts to change.”
I met 58-year-old Jon back in February at SFTW’s London HQ overlooking the Thames and found him in, er, jovial spirits. His handsome, well-preserved face flashed disarming smiles to reveal those immaculate white teeth.
Calling from his home in Manhattan, he adopts a more serious tone: “If I was attempting to write a topical record and call it 2020, I had to include a Covid song and, in light of George Floyd’s death, I had to write about that as well.”
But we needed to talk again about the impact of this challenging year on the music he makes with his enduring rock band, these days minus guitarist Richie Sambora.
First he mentions Do What You Can and why he was seen washing dishes in the red glass-fronted building in New Jersey, which aims to provide “nutritious food in a restaurant atmosphere” to people in need.
“The model of the Soul Kitchen is having volunteers and we needed some,” he says. “Without volunteers, there wouldn’t be a dishwasher, so I went back in, doing what I did when we set up the first restaurant. I was there right at the very beginning of the pandemic, unaware of my picture being taken.
“Then when Dorothea asked me for a caption, she probably expected me to quote the number of hours required of volunteers, but my response was instinctive. I just said, ‘If you can’t do what you do, do what you can.’
“The next day I realised, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s a Jon Bon Jovi chorus!’ I grabbed my guitar and wrote the song.”
Jon says the resulting anthem reflects what we’re all going through around the world.
“It’s not me fictionalising and it’s not me taking liberties as a writer. This is literal.
“It is just one of those songs that’s bigger than the moment I wrote it. It’s bigger than me.”
Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame with Bon Jovi in 2018, Jon acknowledges the need to keep both feet firmly on the ground right now and draws positives from the human response to the pandemic.
“Of course we have to acknowledge and respect those who have been deathly ill and those who have lost loved ones or their livelihoods,” he says.
“But I got an email from a guy today who says he’s just had 200 meals with his family . . . and they still like him!
‘LOT OF GOOD HAS COME OUT OF THE HUGE RESET’
“Normally, those 200 meals wouldn’t happen in five years for this travelling salesman. So I do think a lot of good has come out of the huge reset the world has had to experience. Hopefully we’ll get through it and there’ll be a vaccine. We can chalk it up to experience and move on.”
I ask how Covid-19 has directly affected Jon and his family. “Oh for sure, it did affect us dramatically,” he replies. “We were in the epicentre here in New York.
“My son Jake had a mild form and we were blessed with that. At first, we didn’t know how to react as it was very early on and we didn’t know the severity.
“Dorothea and I had to deal with how to isolate him. We also know three people who have died as a result of it.”
On a wider note, he adds: “I don’t think America and some Americans have done enough.
“I’m sorry to say there was no scheduled mandate. It was left up to each state and then each municipality within the States.
“It became politicised to wear a mask when it could have been something so easy.
“Generations have come before us that have spared their political affiliations for the better of the nation.
“It makes me think back to World War Two, when Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt saved the world and moms and dads worked on the production line to fight fascism.
“And you’re telling me that my countrymen couldn’t wear a piece of paper over their nose? I’m sorry but it’s selfish in a day and age when we could have been selfless.”
This brings us to another burning topic, the repercussions of George Floyd’s killing, and another new Bon Jovi song, American Reckoning.
It’s a stirring, impassioned performance borne not only out of that recent shocking event but hundreds of years of oppression.
Jon says: “I couldn’t believe that this was in close-up, on film, with the audio, as a big, strong man cried out for his mom with his dying breaths.
“If that didn’t move you as a human, I question who you are and where is your soul?
“I was crushed watching that and it took me back to my notebook. I was very careful with the song, to make sure that I got it right, and I wanted to say something from my heart.
“But I had to be very aware of what I was singing because I realised that I’m probably the poster boy of white privilege.
“I’m old, I’m white, I’m wealthy and I’m a celebrity, so the chances of a run-in with the police are slim, you know what I mean?
“I’ve never had to have ‘the talk’ with my children. It has never crossed my mind.
“At least now these things are being discussed in the open, honestly, and with more volume than ever before. I can only pray that we can get beyond the colour of a person’s skin.” As we fast approach the US presidential election, staunch Democrat Jon gives a fascinating insight into his country’s political landscape, including dealings with friends in high places.
‘GEORGE FLOYD’S KILLING CRUSHED ME’
He says: “I did an interview in the UK four years ago and, if you read that now, I was spot on when I said, ‘If Trump wins the presidency, it’s the end of America as we know it’.
“Yet the night before election day, I was on the airplane with President Obama and Hillary Clinton after we did the last rally and I was literally discussing which song I was going to sing at the inauguration.
“When we left the plane, they said, ‘We’re good, we’re good, go to bed, it’s fine, see you tomorrow’.
“And of course the next day, the world was different. I’m not blaming those who voted for Donald Trump, their voices have been heard.
“This time we cannot take anything for granted. If the American people clearly and squarely choose Trump again, then that’s on them, and that’s what America is.”
So is he a fan of Democrat hopeful Joe Biden? “Yeah, he comes across the way you see him on television,” says Jon.
“There was a headline after his speech saying he went from being Uncle Joe to father of a country. That’s exactly how I see him.
“He’s always been a very amiable man, took the train from Delaware to DC, always known as ‘working-class Joe’ and somebody you have to respect because of everything he’s been through in life. He seems like a good man.” There’s another devoted Democrat rock icon who comes from New Jersey who, like Jon, has Italian blood — Bruce Springsteen.
“Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen were our Beatles because they were playing 30 miles from where I grew up.
“I cut my teeth (as a rock singer) in the bars. When the drinking age was 18, you could start playing in a bar at 16.
“Needless to say I was very impressionable when Bruce jumped onstage with me when I was still in high school.
“Now we can sit together as friends and I still admire him so greatly.
“He came to my house at Christmas time and just the two of us sat together. I closed the door and I played him this record (2020).”
The album does find room for a more personal song, Story Of Love. “I’m writing about my family and I hope you think it’s about your family too,” says Jon.
“I couldn’t have written a song like that at 24. But when you think about mortality, your own kids and your parents getting older, there’s a time and a place for it. I’m there now.”
Perhaps unusually for a rock star, Jon married his childhood sweetheart Dorothea in 1989 and they’re still together, proud parents of three sons.
But he points out: “Bruce and Bono have been married as long as I have and they have really well-balanced kids and a home life — and they’re bigger than me!”
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As our second chat of 2020 comes to a close, I’m left thinking there’s an awful lot more to Jon Bon Jovi than Livin’ On A Prayer and his striking good looks.
However, he still cherishes the old Bon Jovi hits that made him like You Give Love A Bad Name, Always and It’s My Life.
“To be part of the patchwork of pop and to have touched so many people is unbelievable,” he admits.
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