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'I can only give the best': Bon Jovi on vocal surgery and the road to recovery

Jon Bon Jovi, shown here in 2011, says the band's 1986 hit "Livin' on a Prayer" has "touched more lives than I could have ever dreamt."
David Bergman
Jon Bon Jovi, shown here in 2011, says the band's 1986 hit "Livin' on a Prayer" has "touched more lives than I could have ever dreamt."

After decades of singing anthemic songs like "Livin' on a Prayer" at sold-out stadiums around the world, Jon Bon Jovi stopped performing a few years ago because he was having problems with his vocal cords.

"I was overusing it," the Bon Jovi lead singer says of his voice. "Even though I'm trained and I have studied the craft for these 40 years, eventually the body gives out. It's not dissimilar to being an athlete."

Bon Jovi tried every kind of therapy, but when none of them proved effective enough, in the summer of 2022, he did what he had hoped to avoid: He underwent vocal surgery. The new Hulu docuseries Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story alternates between a retrospective of Bon Jovi's life and career and his reckoning with his vocal injury.

"The process has been slower than I'd hoped for, but the progress and the process are really doing very well," Bon Jovi says of his recovery. "I'm currently able to sing. For me now, the bar is, can I do two and a half hours a night, four nights a week?"

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of his band's first album, a new Bon Jovi album, called Forever, will be released in June. In this interview, Bon Jovi plays "Kiss the Bride," a not-yet-released song on the album that he wrote for his daughter, who is engaged to be married.

"My baby girl's all grown up and she's about to walk down the aisle," he says of the song. "I cried when we wrote it. I cried when I sang it in the studio. I have yet to play it for my daughter."

Interview highlights

On his first break, back in 1983

I think that all you could ever have prayed for was that somebody would give you an opportunity. And for me, that opportunity came when I went to see a DJ in 1983 and was fortunate enough that that new radio station did not have a receptionist. When I tapped on the window of the broadcast booth, the DJ made the sign of "shush" by putting his finger across his lips, and the program director came out. He said, "What can I help you with?" And I told him I'd love him to hear some music. They asked me to wait until after the shift. He came out, he heard that song "Runaway," and he said, "That's a hit song." I said, "I know." And then they proceeded to tell me about a homegrown talent album that they wanted to support, and that song could be on that record. Little did I know that that was going to lead to a major record deal that I still have today, some 40 years later.

On howBruce Springsteen made becoming a rock star feel attainable

I was also influenced by what was [then] contemporary rock and roll — Queenand Led Zeppelin andBad Companyand Elton John and all the things that were on the radio in the latter '70s. But those things just seemed bigger than life. They were just posters on your wall. Whereas Southside Johnnyand Bruce Springsteen, although they were making albums and were my childhood heroes, were 25 miles south of my house. So on any given night in those bars, you're going to see one of those ... men hanging around in the bar. And it was sort of like being that close to Santa Claus, because something fictional that was made real. You could go and touch them. You could talk to them. You could watch them.

On the band's 1986 hit "Livin' on a Prayer"

It's the age-old story of boy meets girl. But Tommy and Gina have become the boy and girl of everyone's love story. That song has transcended language barriers, generations, political beliefs. Black, white, young, old, Democrat, Republican. "Livin' on a Prayer" has touched more lives than I could have ever dreamt.

The anthems are what the band are known for. We have been quite good at it over the years, but I think it's the lyrical content that keeps people coming back. ... "Livin' on a Prayer" and "It's My Life" or "Legendary," these songs have all touched people around the world, and we've been blessed enough to keep coming up with them.

On trying out different looks for his stage persona

Having grown up in public, you were going to do things and try things and see what kind of shoes fit. And blue jeans and T-shirts were what we were meant to be. But in honesty, in 1984, '85, '86, when you're being told by the "record company" and the managers and the agents and the headliners that you were supporting, "this will help you be more successful," we were probably trying on shoes that didn't fit. And we were lumped in with a certain group of bands that I never bought their records and I wasn't necessarily fans of. But we were cutting our teeth on that international stage, and that was OK, because ... we took what we learned in those formative years and then went home again.

On whether the vocal injury made him consider retirement

I love what I do and the audience deserves the best of me, and I can only give the best. I'm not willing to be out there walking through the motions or changing the keys of the songs. I'm just not interested. Now, with that said, in truth, I can always write another record. I'm not worried about my ability to write another song. ... I could have walked away. I just haven't had to come to that conclusion because, as I said, the process and the progress are steady.

Back in those days, I think as far ahead as I'd ever dreamt was the year 2000, because it was that magical science fiction number. I never dreamt about 2024 and a 40th anniversary. Who could have? If you had considered, 40 years ago, where would rock and roll be for men and women who were 60 and on — there weren't anybody to refer to. And now you can look [and see] The Rolling Stonesare 80-plus, and the E Street Band are 70-plus, and U2and Bon Jovi are 60 plus and very active.

Lauren Krenzel and Susan Nyakundi produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Daoud Tyler-Ameen adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2024 Fresh Air

Terry Gross
Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.