Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bon Jovi: "Keeping the Faith" They're "Undivided"

Note: I am recycling some unconfirmed rumors and the details may be slightly inaccurate as I write from the heart rather than cross-check over Google. However, my memory rocks so I should be pretty on point.

I love my Apple TV. The greatest addition to my life since the birth of my child. Always adding applications. Most recently, they added a Vevo application where I could watch music videos on demand. So why not look up my favorite band, Bon Jovi, to see what's there. When I got to the band description, it started reading as follows: "Bon Jovi is lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Phil X..." and that's when it hit me: my favorite band may be forever fractured.

Last April, guitarist Richie Sambora bailed on the band the day of the their Calgary date leaving the guitar onus on complementary piece Bobby Bandiera. Jon Bon Jovi played the role of martyr asking for the crowd's support and Richie then went on leave for a "personal matter." The next show Jon re-hired substitute Phil X, extremely able but not Richie, and we [Bon Jovi fans] thought Richie would be back for the next leg of the tour.

Well, almost 6 months later, the band is still fractured, completely defeating their image as a group of working class Jersey boys who stood united against adversity, handled their issues in-house, and inspired over 130,000,000 fans to never give up and keep fighting the good fight.

What makes it especially painful is all the endless stills and video we have witnessed over the years of Jon and Richie on stage, side-by-side - a true Batman and Robin. Jon puckers to the crowd with arm around Richie. At the end of each show, Bon Jovi salutes the crowd hand-in-hand like they just won the big one. There were a championship team you would want to play for.

However, now they have entered the realm of most other superbands with superegos: communicating through the press, letting the media get to them and resorting to high school girl gossip wars. Not exactly Jersey Strong.

To fill you in, here is what has leaked over the last 6 months perpetuating the split.

- Jon telling Ellen Degeneres it is a "personal matter" and saying Richie is still a member of the band and they want him back, but then leaking that Richie "has been through this before." (a nod to his substance abuse) Ironic since Richie was a huge help to Jon's daughter after her heroine overdose.

- Jon telling a magazine, "you continue on," because it's not like Richie is U2's The Edge. This promptly Richie to email Jon saying, "Hire The Edge!"

- Richie was set to make $2 million per month and 20% of revenues. Phil X makes $10,000 a month - if that's accurate, Phil values himself as much as the 99-cent store.

- Rumor is the extra money goes to Jon and his ongoing quest to become an NFL owner.

- Friends of Richie said Jon had a history of belittling him.

- Friends of the band said Richie always brought around floozies, bimbos and his frequent drinking thinking it was still 1985.

- Apparently Jon and Richie spoke last month to patch things up, but Jon gave an ultimatum of go to rehab or you're out of the band. Richie countered by saying he is and has been sober.

While Jon isn't a tweeter, Richie has turned the other cheek on Twitter, pretending Bon Jovi never existed, with tweets focused on his daughter Ava, fashion line and solo tracks he has released over Youtube, most recently a 9/11 dedication called "Engine 19." He comes off as someone at peace, living his life, but always avoiding the elephant in the room of fan questions.

Obviously, this rift was not sudden, but rather than just regurgitate gossip, here is a hypothesis of how this feud started with some perspective from both sides and a supposition on how Bon Jovi could once again be whole.

How The Split Started

(....Sorry, just had another moment of disbelief that I am writing about this. )

On the bonus features of Bon Jovi's "This Left Feels Right" DVD, Jon commends Richie on making that album possible, saying he was the most important aspect of the project. Richie then genuinely patted Jon on the shoulder - a truly warm moment behind longtime friends.

However, I've learned that clean hands make a happy life and hands started getting dirty after Richie's personal life came crashing down from divorcing Heather Locklear, losing his father and going to rehab #1. Listen to Richie's solo song "Seven Years Gone" for some apt artistic channeling. Jon has prided himself on never using drugs (excluding alcohol) so maybe the divide started with a little barb that Richie tried to brush off, but it stayed with him.

Just like marriages, and this has been a 30 year marriage where band members have seen each other more than their families, communication is paramount, and if the communication lines don't stay clean you muddy the waters. And sometimes the barbs of one motivate the other to commit a transgression against that person or the group (i.e. Richie's Calgary no-show). And of course, knowing you committed that transgression you justify it afterwards (i.e.  the "Jon made fun of me" rumor) and then withdraw from the situation (i.e. leave the tour for 'personal reasons'). However, that transgression can motivate the first person to commit a transgression back (i.e leak the 'personal matter,' be sloppy in the press). Like a grade school fight, both are complaining to the teacher, "But he started it!" So after all that, here's how I feel about both sides.

Why Jon Is Right
Jon is the boss. Richie, Dave, Tico, Hugh and Bobby are tecnhically his loyal employees. They show up and stand by him, honoring their obligations to the band. Richie bailed in Canada, the cardinal sin of any performing group. He's treated Richie very well over the years, and you can't mess with 'the brotherhood.' While the gossip may paint Richie as the victim, Jon was the one first betrayed. It seemed like Richie was never fully committed to another tour when he said he was. He may have still been consumed with his under-appreciated solo album and spending more time with his daughter.

Why Richie Is Right
If you're not getting The Golden Rule from Jon, you can find better working conditions. He may have never been fully on board to doing another full-fledged tour just after coming off "The Circle" tour which was huge. Sometimes family comes first, and Richie wanted to make sure he was the best "Papa Richie" he could be to Ava.

How Bon Jovi Can Be Full-Strength Once Again

Right now Richie isn't fully committed to confronting his issues with Jon. Right now Jon is in tour mode only and doesn't want to put up with any noise to take away from the shows. Although karma had other ideas - cue drummer Tico Torres' recent emergency appendectomy.

Like I said before - lack of communication got them into the mess, full communication must get them out... if... if they want to reunite. They've used the press, they've used the phone. When's the last time Jon and Richie have been face-to-face? The bold thing for Richie to do would be to crash a show and talk to Jon backstage. The bold thing for Jon to do would be to crash Richie's home next month when the band returns to LA, maybe give him the most heroic of cameos onstage.

Obviously, I writing for the fan. Obviously, I know a fraction of the truth, but when we buy our ticket, Richie knows fans aren't getting the full package.  Like all money issues, if this is a money issue, they can be resolved. Ask the NFL, NBA and Writers Guild to name a few.

The greater good is the fan base, which has been as dedicated as any, making Bon Jovi repeatedly the highest grossing tour multiple times over the last few years. If they want it, the money is there. Their ticket prices are only going to continue to rise as they continue to evolve into a national treasure and connection to a simpler time.

Hopefully they've got each other and that's a lot, for love.

Let's hope they give it a shot.

Evan Wecksell is an outstanding guitar-playing comedian, but has a soft spot for Bon Jovi. You can follow him on Twitter @evanwecksell