So let's say that somehow I got a chance to go see Bon Jovi, despite the fact that I don't have tickets, nor any intention of buying any, I would turn it down (but if I could I would probably pass it on to Caryn who would love to go).
But why then ? When I still sometimes listen to many of their songs – I mean I love songs like Bad Medicine. The common answer I usually give is: "after crossroad, they sold out", but what does that really mean ? I mean I do listen to a lot of bands that are commercially successful (indeed Bon Jovi themselves were highly successful long before crossroad where I cut them off). So it's not about making money.
The common definition of a band that sold out is one that started putting profit-motive above their artistic integrity. It's not bad if your songs sell, but it's bad if you write songs to sell rather than writing songs to say what you really feel. This is a fairly solid definition across the board but I think the Bon Jovi case is special.
What makes it special is the particular nature of what Bon Jovi was all about from the start. Bon Jovi was hair-metal, but unlike all the other hair-metal bands they were not glam. This was not a band about being glamorous, and their songs were not about the lives of luxury and hedonism they enjoyed. Bon Jovi's unique edge was being the blue collar hair-metal band.
The music of Bon Jovi was written from their working-class background, and connected with working class people. When they did sing about the rock-and-roll-life they sang about it's dark side, the loneliness on the road and the losses you experience, that's what Bed of Roses is all about, but the song that defined Bon Jovi above all was Living on a Prayer.
The great working-class blue-collar love anthem. The song about people suffering in poverty and hard-ship, when even the forces meant to protect them have turned against them ("Unions been on strike, he's down on his luck, it's tough") and yet they remain hopeful.
We got each other, and that's a lot for love !
That is what Bon Jovi was all about. So that's what makes Bon Jovi selling out so much worse than any other band who did. Bon Jovi selling out wasn't just betraying their music and their fans – they betrayed every hard-working blue collar guy out there. The reason that every Bon Jovi album after crossroad sucked so much is actually very simple: because they completely lost touch with the people they are talking to, talking about. They cannot represent the blue collar average Joe anymore because they have completely forgotten what that even means.
The trouble is, they didn't evolve their music when their focus shifted and their own lives became comfortable and far removed from that original base. They still to this day try to sing to the blue collar fans of the past, but they have nothing but distant memories to base it on. So every song ends up sounding the same, and what's worse, because the view they are trying to remember from now is one of such luxury and wealth – it rings hollow.
The compassion and humanity (but never pity) with which they once celebrated being an average salary-earning Joe, with which they were once the voices of the underdog now sounds as disconnected from the reality of those people as Mitt Romney's campaign speeches. The promise of hope in their songs, now rings as hollow as a republican speech at a factory.
Bon Jovi didn't get unseated as representatives of the average Joe, they forgot who the average Joe was, and now they just sound like wannabes.
I will not go and see Bon Jovi live when they play in South Africa soon, because I prefer to remember them as they once was. I would not want to be reminded that they betrayed everything and everyone they once stood for. I would rather just crank up "Living on a prayer" and imagine what should have been.