Dear Bon Jovi,
Sorry for throwing empty beer cans on your lawn.
You know how sometimes you tell the day by the bottle that you drink, and then times when you’re alone and all you do is think? Well, sometimes when you’re 17, and a world-famous rock star who is famously from the state where you live but whose music you strongly dislike buys a fancy house on a cul-de-sac in the next town over from yours, you find out where that house is and drive over there with a bunch of your friends and sit outside in your car and drink beer and throw the empty cans over the fence into the rock star’s lawn. Like, three times.
Kind of obnoxious, I realize, to start an apology by making fun of song lyrics you wrote almost 25 years ago. Though I do think they are incredibly bad. They are some of the worst lyrics I can think of. Maybe just after the ones from Kansas’s “Carry On My Wayward Son” about masquerading as a man with a reason, and how that charade is the event of the season.
But I didn’t intend this to be a critique of your lyrics. Whatever my opinion of them, it’s no excuse for vandalism. The fact is, I think it’s wrong to throw empty beer cans, or any other trash, on another person’s lawn, under pretty much any circumstances. Even if that person surely has a well-paid grounds crew on hand to pick it up for them. Especially in that case, really, when you think about it. It’s not like the guys in your grounds crew wrote “Wanted Dead Or Alive” or “Livin’ On a Prayer” or titled their album Slippery When Wet.
Jesus, this must be the least apologetic-sounding apology you’ve ever gotten. Obviously, I’m still conflicted about your contribution to my home state’s cultural image. (You know, you titled your next album New Jersey.) A couple years from now, I’ll probably be writing you another apology just for the tone of this one. So before I fall into some kind of infinite regression, allow me to be sincere again:
While I believe very much in forgiving youthful indiscretion, including my own, I also believe in taking responsibility for one’s actions. It was my idea, to drive to your house, to park there, to throw the first can. There were often other cars parked there, too. Your real fans, I assumed. I remember a Camaro was there once, and I wondered whether its inhabitants would want to fight us or something when they saw what we were doing. I had a twinge of guilt, too, at the thought. Here they were, honestly liking you, hoping for a chance at an autograph, maybe. What must have they felt like, watching us insult you? Who made us the taste police? I wish I had thought then, as I do now: no matter how I feel about the music someone makes, that someone is an actual person. He actually lives in that house, and this is not cool.
And you’re probably a really good person. I’ve never heard anything otherwise. In fact, this past summer, when I was back in New Jersey for the weekend, I ran into an old friend of mine, Matt Cheslock, who told me you’d been doing a lot of charity work lately with his father, who is a doctor and a good person. Apparently, you’ve been helping a lot of people that don’t have health insurance to get medical treatment. This is an unmitigated good, regardless of the quality of the lyrics of any given song. Sorry again. I just can’t let the lyrics thing go. Maybe you’d even agree at this point, though, huh? I mean, it’s okay, right? Lyrics are just one element of a song. A small part, really, of your job. You’re 48, I’m almost 40. Everything is more complex than we think it is when we’re kids, right? There’s nothing wrong with reassessing our past work. I mean, we should see things as they are. As ridiculous as those lyrics are, they’re kind of perfect in their way. I mean, for a silly, pubescent, rock-star-outlaw-cowboy thing. Like Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero,” too, right? I mean, I loved that song when I was twelve. Or Bad Company’s “Shooting Star.” Or Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page,” — that must have been a big influence, right? Honestly, I probably would have been the biggest Bon Jovi fan going if “Wanted Dead Or Alive” had come out three years earlier than it did. In fact, I remember really liking the first song of yours that I ever heard, “Runaway,” which did come out three years earlier, in 1983, when it won that battle of the bands contest on 103.5 WAPP. I remember hearing it at the 7–11, waiting on line to play Ms. Pac-Man. That dynamite keyboard line, and then your voice comes in: “On the street where you live girls talk about their social lives…” It fit the scene just right. I still like that song! But even if you did agree with me about the problems with “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” even if you chuckled and said, “Yeah, you know, thinking back, I have to admit, those lyrics are pretty silly,” that wouldn’t change the fact that this song, this thing you thought of with your brain, is inarguably a classic. Get in a car anywhere, drive around for an hour listening to the radio, you’re bound to hear it — New Jersey and Long Island, of course, but California and South Carolina, too. Almost 25 years since it came out, your song gets played on the radio, how many times every day? Hundreds? Thousands? How many classic rock stations are there in the country? It must be very satisfying. Not to mention the money it’s made you. I don’t say this to be a dick. You deserve that money. It’s a very catchy song, eminently sing-alongable with, especially the part where Richie echoes you in the chorus, where he makes “wanted” into a four-syllable word. “Wan-teh-eh-ed!” Everybody loves to sing that part. Everybody fights over it at karaoke. You know this. You wrote that melody with your brain. Surely you know how so many people love it. You’ve been everywhere. You’re standing tall. You’ve seen a million faces and you’ve rocked them all. I’m sorry I can’t help it. Those lyrics! God, they’re awful, right?! Just totally, ridiculously overblown! You know it, too, right?! I mean, come on! You must know it. You must laugh about it, right? You and Richie and Heather or Denise or whoever he’s hanging out with at the moment. I’m sorry, I’m being a dick again. I don’t know what it’s like to be famous. But, man, “a loaded six-string on your back?!” Ha ha ha ha! Right?! But it’s okay! It doesn’t matter. No matter how awful I think those lyrics are, no matter how much they make me laugh my snotty laugh, I know them all by heart. I sing along at the top of my lungs when I’m in the car. Jokingly, sure, mostly. But also, I have to say, I’ve come to love them in a way. In a confusing and complicated way. In a way perhaps not entirely unlike the way you can feel sort of proud about some dumb thing you did when you were a drunk punk kid, even as you know, and are fully willing to admit, that it was wrong and so are, at the same time, honestly ashamed of it. Those lyrics are a part of me. They’re a part of New Jersey, the culture. A part of our state’s big stinky stupid romantic gorgeous ugly awesome cheesy swamp. And you wrote them.
What did I ever do? I threw beer cans on your lawn.