Even rock stars age: the Bon Jovi doc shows us how

Even rock stars age: the Bon Jovi doc shows us how

Four episodes and over four hours of documentary can't really resolve it the dichotomy underlying Bon Jovi's four-decade career. On the one hand there is a globally successful rock band, capable of hitting the biggest and most profitable tour of the year 20 years after their debut, conquering the top of the country charts before Beyoncé tried and bringing together a whole new generation with a hit (“It's my life”) which arrived when for many they were now vestiges of the past.

On the other hand there is the elephant in the room, to which “Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story” gives little space. The fact that Bon Jovi and Jon Bon Jovi have often (always?) been taken less than seriously. First the global hits of the 80s ignored by the Grammys, then the singer's haircut which makes more news than the release of the new album, finally the late entry into the Rock Hall Of Fame, achieved after 30-odd years of success.

Critics have never loved them. Despite having a batch of hits that a large part of the public could still sing by heart (even against their will), the band's musical legacy seems secure only in the singer's head. There is only a fleeting mention of how much this lack of critical recognition made the frontman and band suffer. A group that has had Bruce Springsteen, Scorpion, Kiss among its noble fathers since its inception, but which is difficult to compare to these names.

Telling a rock star like a sports champion

By seeing “Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story” you can focus on at least this: what factor caused this short circuit: since adolescence, Jon Bon Jovi has been a son of New Jersey, of the American working class. No luxuries, no wealth, but nothing to really worry about either, with a roof always over your head and food on the table, a carefree childhood that culminates in the discovery of music and charisma of those who have the natural gift of being on stage.

He is the protagonist of “Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story”. The director and producer Gotham Chopra ends up sewing on him something quite different from the typical docuseries with which an old glory tells of his rise to success, oblivion and return to the scene with a new album.

Although Bon Jovi has a single and an album on the way, the documentary only becomes a promotional launch in the last 10 minutes. For the rest it is the curious cross between a very well documented and edited account of the incredible history of Bon Jovi and an intimate, painful story that happened in front of Chopra practically by chance. We can see that in his past the director has told stories of great sporting champions who have now retired, focusing on injuries, physical problems, and farewell to the stage. When Bon Jovi unexpectedly comes up against the limits of his body, he cannot hide from Chopra's lens and is portrayed as an athlete whose time seems to have run out.

When a charismatic leader loses control

The true value of “Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story” is revealed only to those who have the patience to give it time to discover its true timeline. In fact, the documentary is starting manages two timelines: the present and the past, reconstructed through memorabilia, relics, pieces and recordings that have never left the archive. It is a now standard approach for this type of product. We go from teased hair to faces with wrinkles that look at each other and tell how they felt at the time.

Filming for the documentary begins in 2022, when Bon Jovi and his band get together and rehearse for 3 weeks, before starting a tour with around twenty dates in the United States. A trivial matter for those who have world tours of 300+ dates behind them, and a practically uninterrupted string of presence on the scene from the first hit “Runaway” up to Bon Jovi's first solo attempts at the beginning of the 90s.

For the documentary, Bon Jovi organizes a review of his catalogue, taking out demos and studio recordings from an archive – tidy, very clean, made up of well-labelled cases, cassettes kept in vacuum bags. His preparation for the tour is obsessive: laser to stimulate the voice, chiropractic, physical exercise, exercises with a vocal coach. The voice is weaker, the press as always is not tender, but the commitment is maximum.

You don't even need a flashback to understand how Bon Jovi achieved success. From these few scenes we understand everything there is to know. How methodical, focused and centered Bon Jovi is as an artist, as a man and as a worker. One who has always told others “follow me and believe in me, I will take you where we want to go”, taking on enormous responsibilities for a twenty-year-old, but demanding absolute commitment and loyalty.

The charismatic leader and control freak, who unexpectedly loses control after turning 60. After the Nashville stop, we see him get off the stage, he says he feels good. Cut. A few minutes later, dejected, he reveals what he told him his wife Dorothea Bongiovi – married after an escape to Las Vegas in 1989 and by his side ever since. The woman caught him off guard, revealing to him that his performance wasn't up to par. If he's not 100%, he doesn't want to perform.

Here it is the sports injury, the thought of retirement, never entertained by anyone son of the American dream who believes in hard work to excess, in responsibility, appearing credible as a rock star while avoiding for his whole life the excesses that in theory the role imposes. Something slightly larger than a fingernail, a vocal cord, forces him to evaluate the mortality of his career.

A shiver: but so Is “Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story” the doc that announces Jon's retirement from the scene? Yes and no. It is a documentary that aims to be a celebration of a band that has faced the passage of time by evolving and proving that it can remain on the crest of the wave. It is a compendium that, without ever showing it, brings together a number of objectives and goals achieved which also sounds like a j'accuse to a musical clique that has always snubbed them.

Bon Jovi vs Sambora

The most interesting part, however, is the one contained in the third and fourth episodes, in which the unexpected happens and Chopra is in a privileged position to be able to document it. The vocal cord surgery, COVID, the death of Alec John Such, who we heard commenting on the history of Bon Jovi in ​​previous episodes.

The story happens and Chopra is there to film it, making the documentary suddenly more intimate, melancholy, rough. Bon Jovi finds himself confronted with his mortality, with the fallacy of his voice, with a band that time blunts and thins. It is the third episode that deals with perhaps the thorniest passage: the farewell to the scene of guitarist, singer and composer Richie Sambora, in 2013.

Here too Chopra enjoys a unique point of view. In fact, Sambora agrees to intervene and Bon Jovi agrees to let him tell his side of the story. Since the dawn of the band the doc tells the story a creative and human relationship made of understanding, competition, tensions, friendship. Sambora apologizes for how he left (abandoning the band just hours before the start of an 80-date tour), but not for having done so, asking for forgiveness from the fans and other members of the group.

No reconciliation, no rapprochement. The documentary, a bit like Bon Jovi, is shaped by the personality of the charismatic frontman and focuses on the story of how Sambora's farewell led the group to first integrate a guitarist, then their own producer as second guitar, then a percussionist and vocalist to help Jon with his singing. The dysfunctional Bon Jovi family gets back to work, but needs three new members to overcome a very difficult farewell.

If “Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story” has a flaw, it is that of not giving enough follow-up to a series of rather cutting statements by Sambora, which however seem to hit the mark on several topics absent from the documentary. Sambora, for example, says his addictions and incessant touring schedule kept him away from his daughter for much of her childhood and adolescence. Dorothea Bonjovi never talks about how her relationship with Jon survived those years of incessant touring. His son Matthew, now tour manager, never makes a comment towards Jon as a father, limiting himself to praising him as an artist.

In the car with the Boss: Bon Jovi talks about his old age

What makes “Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story” special is what Jon can't hide because it happens while he turns around. Over time he almost seems to melt, allowing himself to talk about his weaknesses, past and present. An indulgent and self-absolving tale, but no less powerful for that. Like when he finds himself getting the manager of the group accused of possession of marijuana out of trouble.

Like when the band ends up performing in front of “the enemy” behind the Iron Curtain where rock is illegal. Like when the Mexican student struggle puts the closure of the tour at risk and Jon proposes to do two concerts in a single day to calm down fans and protesters, arriving at the end of the evening with margaritas on stage, alcohol in his body, drunk companions and irritated, but always on point. As if to say: they deny us professionalism, but we have overcome this too.

Bon Jovi melts into the indulgent, yes, but still interesting tale of his old age. The approach to politics, social causes, the long car rides with his friend Bruce. Just them, no cell phones, no radio, driving 160 kilometers, comparing their very similar life experiences, as men, as Americans, as music legends.

It can't be easy working in Bon Jovi's court, that's clear. Ambitious, charismatic, control freak, fiercely loyal, workaholic. It's not even for him, a slave to his rigid and severe standards, who still doesn't know if and when he'll go back on tour, if he'll be able to sing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a band he led with a firm hand for four decades. Luckily for him and for us, Chopra films him when the cracks in his public persona become deeper, giving us the portrait of an ambition that finds itself confronted with the insurmountable limits of mortality. He has given us and given us so much of himself, in these four episodes, that it is tempting to believe him when he says that “there is no shame in growing old gracefully”.

“Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story” is available for streaming from April 26, 2024 on Disney+ in Italy.