When Jon Bon Jovi first titled his namesake band’s 15th studio album “2020” last year, he had no idea that number was going to end up feeling more like 666 to a lot of people.
“I thought ’2020’ signified clear vision, and after [2016’s] ‘This House Is Not for Sale,’ I thought I had a vision of where we wanted to go and what I wanted to say,” the rock god, 58, told The Post. “The second thing was a cute ‘Oh, it’s an election year. This’ll sell a lotta T-shirts!’ ”
Now, as the new LP arrives Friday — five months after it was first scheduled to be released — the original vision of that title has been blurred. “2020” has gotten a topical twist in the wake of a pandemic, racial injustice and political turmoil.
“I really realized the title had a much deeper meaning … and I was bearing witness to history,” said Bon Jovi, who was born John Bongiovi in Perth Amboy, NJ. “And that allowed me the opportunity to rethink what I was saying and to go back into each and every song and look at it lyrically.”
Not only did Bon Jovi push back “2020” due to the coronavirus crisis — “I thought that the last thing that the world needed was a rock band to release a record” — he canceled the group’s summer tour rather than postpone it so that ticket buyers could get refunds. “I was much more cognizant that folks would need the money [back] for the rent and credit card bills,” he said. “Who knows when anyone’s ever gonna perform the way we would have again?”
But rather than just livin’ on a prayer during lockdown, Bon Jovi wrote two new tunes that — along with other socially conscious songs such as “Lower the Flag” and “Blood in the Water” — helped define “2020.” One quarantine composition is “American Reckoning,” a Springsteen-esque ballad that Bon Jovi wrote after seeing the video of George Floyd’s murder in May.
“When I was watching and you heard George Floyd calling out for his mom, my eyes welled up with tears, and I had to go in my room and close the door and write a song,” said Bon Jovi. He was especially mindful about his message as a white man: “I certainly would be eligible to be the poster boy of white privilege, so who am I to think that I can write this song? So I wrote down, ‘I’ll never know what it’s like to walk a mile in your shoes.’ ”
Meanwhile, the anthemic “Do What You Can” was inspired by one of Bon Jovi’s five-days-a-week shifts at one of his two JBJ Soul Kitchen restaurants, which help feed the needy. The rocker’s wife of 31 years, his high school sweetheart Dorothea, snapped a photo of him on dishwashing duty at the Red Bank, NJ, location, which he posted on social media with the caption, “If you can’t do what you do … do what you can.”
“The next day when I woke up, I went, ‘Well, there’s a big ol’ Bon Jovi song title,’ so I wrote the song,” said Bon Jovi, who took to the streets of New York to film the single’s video in August. “We went from the Intrepid down to Wall Street and everywhere in between … Here I was singing a song that had been born out of the COVID-19 crisis, and I was reminded of the day when the NFL called upon Bon Jovi to play Times Square after 9/11 to kick off their season the following year, and we were playing to half a million people. Eighteen years later, here I am singing a song again out of crisis to nobody.”
With homes in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Red Bank, Bon Jovi is thankful to have “the best of all worlds.” He has forged a tri-state alliance with two other regional Rock & Roll Hall of Famers: Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.
“I followed in their footsteps with the aspiration of being half as successful as [either] of those guys were,” said Bon Jovi, adding that now, “it’s a close brotherhood. We do talk, and we do see each other, and we do get together and play each other’s songs.”
Just as Bon Jovi keeps challenging himself musically, he still pushes himself to stay in rock-star shape. “Nobody loved the fat Elvis,” he said with a laugh. “That’s my reminder … I eat and drink and I live a full life, but I’ve just always enjoyed working out.”
So can he still slip in to his skintight ’80s jeans? “That might be a stretch, but I’m not too bad,” said Bon Jovi, noting that he prefers a slightly more relaxed fit these days. But that doesn’t mean he would be caught dead — or alive — in Dad jeans.
“I haven’t gone over the edge yet, mind you,” he said. “I am not going near the Dad jeans. Don’t you worry about that.”