This Gen X musical nostalgia is as misplaced as the Boomer kind, says David Browne

By David Browne
Updated September 06, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Jon Bon Jovi: Ross Marino/LFI

Why are Bon Jovi suddenly musical saints?

He was invited to give a speech for students at Oxford University, at which the debating society’s student president introduced him as ”a defining artist of our generation.” He’s been the subject of a profile on a highbrow cable network. Legitimate writers now compose glowing, revisionist reviews of his work and career. VH1 treats him like a legend.

There’s only one small problem: We’re talking BON JOVI, folks.

For reasons that remain nearly inexplicable, the last few years have seen Jon Bon Jovi, the man and the band after which he’s named, elevated to perversely iconic status. From the way they’re treated, you’d think Jon was Dylan instead of a perpetual Springsteen wanna-be, and that Bon Jovi were the American Stones rather than the luckiest, best packaged bar band in the world.

I’ll admit I have my own Bon Jovi pleasures, none of them guilty or having anything to do with the fact that Jon and I were both born and raised in the same Jersey towns. The sacred triptych of ”Wanted Dead or Alive,” ”Livin’ on a Prayer,” and ”You Give Love a Bad Name” is eternal — classics of unplugged hair metal, power-pop hair metal, and adrenaline-rush hair metal, respectively. All three were on ”Slippery When Wet,” after which the quality ratio drops dramatically. The albums that followed were padded with blatant rewrites of those songs, dubious hits like ”Blaze of Glory” and ”It’s My Life.” Strained Boss ripoffs, weak-kneed heavy metal, and power ballads are not the legacy of a timeless band, no matter how long one has been around and survived.

I used the phrase ”nearly inexplicable” two paragraphs ago because Bon Jovi appreciation is, in some ways, understandable. As we’ve seen this year with the Weezer comeback and the 10th-anniversary hosannas for Nirvana’s deserving ”Nevermind,” Gen X nostalgia has kicked in. And since Gen Xers began buying LPs in the mid ’80s, and since the records one loves during adolescence leave a profound mark, it makes sense that Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Poison, and Bon Jovi have been swept up in the sentimentality. It’s ironic that a generation that openly derided the maudlin impulses of boomers is going through the same stage, but some things in life you can’t alter. After all, nostalgia is very potent — as anyone who knows me will attest when I wax on about Don McLean’s ”American Pie,” one of the first records I ever owned.

At a time of brutalizing rockers and rappers alike, Bon Jovi must strike many as an unthreatening nostalgia item; the band recalls a time when rock aimed to be inspiring, not self-immolating. Plus, they seem like genuinely affable guys. But that doesn’t change the absurdity of Bon Jovi’s newfound coronation. We’re talking luck, savvy marketing, and a great publicity agent. What we’re not talking about is great, or eternal, rock & roll.