Graded on a Curve:
Bon Jovi,
Slippery When Wet

Celebrating David Bryan, born on this day in 1952.Ed.

I’ve always considered Bon Jovi a disease–like kuru, say, only a helluva lot scarier. To contract kuru you have to live in New Guinea and eat contaminated human brains. You can contract Bon Jovi by turning on your car radio.

That said, I never–and I know I sound just like those people on TV commercials talking about horrible contractable diseases–thought it could strike me. I was certain I possessed the necessary modicum of native intelligence and impeccable musical taste to serve as a prophylaxis against Bon Jovi. I was sure it only afflicted those who in some way “deserved it.”

Then one day I was in the car with my girl and “Wanted Dead or Alive” came on the radio. And instead of throwing my arm out of joint in a python-quick lunge to turn the dial to another station like I’ve done hundreds of times before, I sat back in my seat and started singing along instead. And just that fast I was another victim. I had Bon Jovi.

We’ll talk more about how the disease spreads in a moment, but first let’s take a look at the disease itself. Jon Bon Jovi’s a kind of hybrid animal, a mediagenic mule–part unthinking man’s Bruce Springsteen and part hair metal satyr. Problem is he’s no Springsteen and too MOR to be a glam metal god, and you would think these would make him an unlikely candidate as a contractable disease.

Like Bruce he’s a New Jersey populist, but he lacks the Boss’ smarts and grit; if Springsteen’s spiritual hometown is Asbury Park, Jon’s is the Paramus Mall. And in comparison to your average glam metal sleazeball Bon Jovi comes off as the boy next door. Unlike Tommy Lee or Nikki Sixx, he would never slip your sister a mandrax or give her a dose of the syph; he’d have her home by 11 and your mom would love him.

So how is it that Bon Jovi’s 1986 LP Slippery When Wet–the band’s third–sold approximately 8 billion copies worldwide? I mean, sure, there’s a sucker born every minute, and nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American record-buying public, but there’s more at work here than just bad taste, and that more is the fact that Bon Jovi is infectious.

And Slippery When Wet is Bon Jovi at its most virulent. On side one in particular the arena-sized fist pumpers never stop; if I contracted Bon Jovi through exposure to “Wanted Dead or Alive,” my sudden (and horrifying) affection for supersized smash hits “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” proved I was beyond cure.

As for side two, with the exception of “Raise Your Hands” (very Van Halenesque) and “Wild in the Streets” (very sub-Spingsteenesque) it’s a disappointing cesspool of power ballads and Journey-Survivor school claptrap, and helps allay suspicions that Jon Bon Jovi is some kind of musical idiot savant. If side two were to saddle up a horse in El Paso, Texas and disappear into Mexico like Ambrose Bierce, nobody would ever report its disappearance to the police.

But to return again to the subject of Bon Jovi as disease–I’m not the only one who thinks the band of Jersey boys is a major public health hazard. I called the Centers for Disease Control and spoke to Nathan Strok, who’s been spearheading their Bon Jovi task force since the mid-eighties.

Me: Hi. How’s it going? Are you racing for a cure?

NS: You know as well as I do there is no cure. When it comes to Bon Jovi, you’d be better off getting bitten by a rabid Lady Gaga. What we’ve been hoping to come up with is a vaccine.

Me: Any luck?

NS: Not yet. Bon Jovi’s a tricky thing. The best we can offer as of today are ear condoms. Wear them, and you’ll never hear Bon Jovi. Of course you won’t hear anything else either.

Me: What first alerted you to the Bon Jovi epidemic?

NS: Reports from hospitals, mostly. They trickled in at first, then along came “Livin’ on a Prayer” and it opened the floodgates, thanks in large part to Richie Sambora’s great talk box guitar shtick. “Woo woo uh woo woo,” you know. And the song itself is boffo. It’s meaty, beaty, big and bouncy, and boasts one helluva sing-along chorus. Four short minutes and you’re infected, and what’s worse, you literally WANT to pass the disease onto other people. Like any good virus Bon Jovi seeks only to replicate itself, and it won’t stop until it’s infected every non-deaf person in the world..

Me: Why didn’t you just declare a public health emergency and have Bon Jovi banned from the airwaves? I mean, it’s the very definition of an airborne disease.

NS: You can’t fight Big Radio. Or Big Vinyl. So we’re doing what we can. Conducting tests with laboratory rats to see if we can come up with an answer, a cure, some kind of hope we can extend to the millions of people out there who hate themselves for singing along with “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “You Give Love a Bad Name.”

Me: No luck, huh?

NS: The laboratory rats exhibit the same behavior humans do. Shame, ecstasy, involuntary fist pumping, bad eighties hair. The females tend to put Bon Jovi posters up in their cages. Bon Jovi started in a small way, really, but things escalated out of control when they went for a more commercial sound on Slippery When Wet. Not only that, but they did a whole lot of field testing of the songs they were considering for the LP. They literally played ‘em to innocent New Jersey teens to find out which ones were the most infectious. Have you ever heard anything so monstrous?

Me: The inhumanity!

NS: If Iran were to do the same thing we’d nuke ‘em. Bon Jovi literally engineered and then field-tested the perfect musicological weapon of mass destruction. Complete with lethal hooks and designed for maximum dispersal. “Livin’ on a Prayer” is one of the most infectious pop metal tunes of the eighties, the perfect number for weddings, proms, and trying to get your teenage girlfriend into the proper mood for letting you take off her bra. Or so I’m told. I don’t have the disease so I wouldn’t know.

Me: You know how in “You Give Love a Bad Name” Jon Bon Jovi sings “shot to the heart and you’re to blame”? Well what I want to know is if he got shot in the heart how come he’s still singing? Wouldn’t that make him a zombie?

NS: You sound deranged. And I suspect you’re overthinking the thing. All you need to know about “You Give Love a Bad Name” is that it’s as contagious as Ebola. And more dangerous, because people do recover from Ebola.

Me: And if you think “Love”’s contagious, “Wanted or Dead Alive” is a veritable dirty bomb of Bon Joviness. Those acoustic guitars! Those strings! And Bon’s a cowboy! On a steel horse! You know what I like best? The way every time he sings “wanted!” another voice sings “wanted!” right afterwards, like an echo I mean, can I just play it for you?

NS: Fuck no you can’t play it for me. You’re a walking, talking disease vector, you know that? That’s why we’re in the trouble we’re in–people like you belong in quarantine. You’re the perfect example of what I’m talking about. We’re on the brink of a mass extinction event and all you want to do is infect other people.

Me: Sorry. How have you protected yourself from contracting Bon Jovi?

NS: I wear industrial strength ear muffs in the laboratory, always. I destroyed the radio in my car with a ball-peen hammer. I have no radio in my home. And I never go to supermarkets or stores of any type. One of my associates contracted Bon Jovi at an ACME. He went in to buy Ring Dings and walked out a drooling Bon Jovi casualty. As for bars, forget about it. You can find Bon Jovi on every jukebox in every bar in the United States. Gay bars, biker bars, doesn’t matter. Nobody’s immune. Nobody.

Me: Any advice for the uninfected?

NS: Destroy your radio. Move to an underground bunker in the desert and let no one in. No one. This is worse than any zombie movie you’ve ever seen. A remake of World War Z except Brad Pitt doesn’t discover a cure. As you yourself prove, nobody’s immune from this thing. Nobody. I can tell you right now that some of the people reading this are saying, “No. That could never happen to me. I hate fucking Bon Jovi.” And you know what. What that is is a dead man talking big. Nobody’s safe. Nobody!


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