Charge your Life Alert bracelets and tune your hearing aids, because the forthcoming news is akin to having your age come swinging toward you like a wrecking ball: It is the 40th anniversary of rock legends Bon Jovi. Not that you’d guess it’s been that long by looking at Jon Bon Jovi himself, who appeared, feather-haired and dreamy, at the Television Critics Association conference on Friday.
Bon Jovi was there to promote the upcoming docuseries about his life and career, Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story, which premieres on Hulu Apr. 26. In news that will likely excite fans and delight critics who are exhausted by the recent trend of celebrity documentaries that are made with the involvement of the performer and amount to nothing more substantive than a superficial hagiography, Bon Jovi promised journalists that he never had any interest in ignoring the darker, more upsetting elements of his and the band’s past.
“One thing we agreed upon on day one was this was not going to be a VH1 puff piece,” he said. “That, if anything, I wasn’t going to stamp my feet and say, ‘I have final say.’ Gotham [Chopra] was the director. This had to tell the truth and have all the warts to go with it in order to tell a real truth. So I’m proud of the film” Journalists screened the first two episodes of the series, but Bon Jovi teased that “the deeper, darker, crazier stuff happens in three and four.”
Few people outside of the Bon Jovi bandmates were interviewed for the series, including Richie Sambora, who left the group in 2013. Bassist Alec John Such, who died in 2022, sadly wasn’t interviewed. Bon Jovi said there was no discussion to sanitize any of the band’s past conflicts, resentments, in-fightings, major mistakes, or anything unseemly or disparaging—and he’s glad for it.
“There are moments of other guys’ truths that are obviously in the film, because I wasn’t going to ask for them to be cut out,” he said. “But, generally speaking, because it’s not a puff piece, you have to accept that, you know? And I think that makes the bonds deeper. By being able to truly speak the truth without fear of repercussion or bruised egos, it makes you appreciate it more. After any initial string, you know?”Chopra filmed everyone’s interviews independently, and then as a collective would show the group the cut—without anyone arguing over having something removed. “There was some punches in the nose,” Bon Jovi said. “And then, I got over it.”
From the TCAs stage, Bon Jovi spoke about how his process has changed over his 40-year career, for instance how he writes—which included some very innocent, though amusing, shade at the reigning most famous musician in the world, Taylor Swift.
“At 20, when I got a record deal, I didn’t have a lot else to write about other than high school, and I didn’t break up with people like Taylor did all the time,” he said. “My notebook was about the world around me. But as I grew in public, the evolution happened and in order to grow with your public, I think you have to tell your truth and not pretend to be something you’re not, and you’re only going to get better at what you do. Or, at the very worst, you’re going to live your truth in public.”
Recently, he was taken aback by the impact his writing has had.
“I received a two-page handwritten, long-form letter from [Ukrainian] President Zelenskyy telling me what ‘It’s My Life’ has meant to the people of Ukraine. Holy shit. I mean, I was just writing that coming from who and where I was at that time. And now, to realize that the effect that some of these songs have had on cultures is humbling.”
Bon Jovi also revealed for the first time that he underwent vocal surgery over a year-and-a-half ago, facing his own mortality and possibly the end of his singing career. The first time he sang since that surgery was a week ago, at the MusiCares event ahead of the Grammy Awards, where he was being honored.
“I pride myself on having been a true vocalist,” he said. “I’ve sung with Pavarotti. I know how to sing. I’ve studied the craft for 40 years. I’m not a stylist who just barks and howls. I know how to sing. So when God was taking away my ability, and I couldn’t understand why—I jokingly have said the only thing that’s ever been up my nose is my finger, so there’s no reason for any of this.”
One of his vocal cords was atrophying. The comparison he gave to what was happening was that, vocal cords are parallel, and imagine they’re both supposed to be as thick as a thumb. “One of mine was as thick as the thumb, and the other one was as thick as a pinky,” he said. “So, the strong one was pushing the weak one aside, and I wasn’t singing well. So, my craft is being taken from me. That’s what I mean by being older, because it made no sense.”
He found a surgeon who was able to create an implant that would build the atrophying cord back up. Nineteen months later, he was able to sing again.
“Friday night was the first time that I’d sung in public,” he said. “Saturday morning is the first time I woke up without multiple voices in my head. It was just me. And that was the best feeling. It was just me. So I’m a work in progress. But boy, do we have a great film, and I’ve got a damn good album. And I feel really great about all of it.”