With this in mind, I would like to welcome you to my first "Bon Jovi Surgery". Here, I hope to untangle some of the skeins of complex meaning built into the poetry of John Bon Jovi, and maybe help others to understand why they inspire the feelings they do. Essentally, I seek to let a little comprehension in to illuminate the strange, primal feelings of religious awe that your minds currently register at the sound of "Living on a Prayer", say.
To begin, I'd like to look at the opening verses of "Bed of Roses". You may think you understand the meaning behind this poem - that John Bon Jovi likes a lady, and is upset about it. This is just a sign of the brilliant, interweaving complexity of Bon Jovi. You can love the poem at that level, and many have, but let's go... inside.
Sitting here wasted and wounded
at this old piano
As we know, John Bon Jovi is the rockingest guitar player in the world. So why is he sitting at a piano? Well, one obvious interpretation is that the piano is the weapon of choice of the serious artist - Elton John, Gary Barlow, Keane... these have all used pianos to express their melancholy and realness. So, Bon Jovi is subtly telling us both that he is sad, and that he is a serious artist. But is there another, deeper meaning? Read on...
Trying hard to capture
the moment this morning I don't know
'Cause a bottle of vodka
is still lodged in my head
The casual reader might think that this means that somebody - possibly that treacherous swine Richie Sambora - has hit John in the head with a vodka bottle with such force that it is now embedded in his skull. This is, of course, one "available reading" of the "text". However, it can also be taken to mean that he drank a bottle of vodka last night, and is still a little hung over. Thus, the bottle of vodka is metaphorically lodged in his head, although actually it is on the draining board, empty. Either of these readings can be given primacy without harming the sense of the poem - it's the doubt in the mind of the reader that creates the frisson.
And some blond gave me nightmares
I think that she's still in my bed
As I dream about movies
they won't make of me when I'm dead
Genius. Bon Jovi, by dreaming about movies they will not make of him when he's dead, reminds us of his fundamentally tripartite nature. Poet, musician, movie actor. So, he muses stoically, he will be remembered not as John Bon Jovi, but potentially only as an American military engineer, for example, if the person who is thinking about him has seen U-571, or perhaps as the vampire hunter Derek Bliss. Do you see? His very skill at placing himself inside the skin of a character will ultimately efface the real John Bon Jovi from memory. It is beautiful and sad.
With an ironclad fist I wake up and
French kiss the morning
"Ironclad fist" is important and relevant, and we shall come back to it. It is in no sense about wanking. Note also the ambiguity of the phrasing here - he may be waking up with an ironclad fist and subsequently French kissing the morning, or he may be French kissing the morning using an ironclad fist. This may sound rude, but is not - rather, it is a metaphor for punching in the mouth, reminding us that he may have a piano, but he is also one tough hombre.
While some marching band keeps
its own beat in my head
This apparently hackneyed decription of a hangover - picking up, of course on the bottle of vodka, which we now find is not actually lodged in his head - at least, probably not - is recontextualised - made rich and strange - by the reader's knowledge that John Bon Jovi has his own band. Why would Bon Jovi not be playing in Bon Jovi's head? I'll tell you why. Because they have left him in his hour of need. He has woken up with an ironclad fist, because that viper Richie Sambora has clad his fist in iron as he slept in the arms of Morpheus and Smirnoff. Maybe it started off as a joke, but then when he realised that with a fist clad in iron John Bon Jovi would be a) unable to play the guitar and b) superhumanly well-equipped to Danny Rand him like a red-headed stepchild for his fist-cladding impertinence, Sambora fled into the night. This also adds another layer to the use of the piano. Since you can play the piano one-handed, Bon Jovi uses it to highlight his own iron-fisted solitude.
While we're talking
About all of the things that I long to believe
About love and the truth and
what you mean to me
And the truth is baby you're all that I need
Who is "baby" here? Is it the blonde? Clearly not - she has been giving him nightmares. Is it Richie Sambora? Hardly. John Bon Jovi has demonstrated that he can succeed an his own merits as an actor, a musical artist and a poet wthout the so-called "help" of a man who has galvanised his right hand. The "baby" is clearly Bon Jovi's hand. All he needs is a hand not encased in iron, so that he can play the guitar again, and also write poetry and act without listing heavily to starboard. He calls his right hand "baby" as a knowing nod to the very traditions of the romantic genre that he is subverting, and it is definitely not about wanking.
I want to lay you down on a bed of roses
The casual reader will see this as romantic. After all "a bed of roses" is a good thing, isn't it? A good life is often likened to a bed of roses. However, think a bit more. A bed of roses is full of thorns, it is exposed to the elements... it's not a nice place to be. And really, ultimately, what do you lay on a bed of roses? Manure, that's what. It's proverbially good for the roses. And who will be laid on the bed of roses?
Richie Sambora. He's the shit. John Bon Jovi is the shovel. With a metal hand.
For tonight I sleep on a bed on nails
I want to be just as close as the Holy Ghost is
The mixing of different religious traditions - known as syncretism - is a common way of expressing the loss of distinct spiritual meaning afflicting the modern world. Whereas T.S. Eliot took the entire Wasteland to bring together the devotional language of the High Christian Church and the epic language of the Vedas, John Bon Jovi merges Catholicism and Eastern mysticism in a single couplet, and nearly made it rhyme. Think on.
And lay you down on bed of roses
He's a spiritual man, but he's a man of action, too. Don't think this is over, Sambora. You're heading for the roses, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
I think we should take a break there. You may want to walk around for a bit, maybe have a cup of tea. It's powerful stuff.