Bon Voyage

WOODY GUTHRIE. BOB Dylan. Bruce Springsteen. John Cougar Mellencamp. Jon Bon Jovi. Which one of these names does not belong? Or two? Or three? Note the snot-clotted Okie twang passed from one generation to the next; the fancy lyrics wrapped in a prole vernacular; the particular way of wearing a white undershirt. Call it imitation or call it incest. Or imagine instead a coven of grubby A&R execs hunched over claw-footed bathtubs, molding new generations of golems out of ever-more-dilute material. Just circle the name(s) with a #2 pencil, rip this paragraph from the paper, and send it to the president of Polygram records, or the president of the United States, or anyone else who feels your pain, or feels you up--or manages to feel anything at all about the sad majesty of the aging Caucasian rock star at the twilight of our American century.

Wait a minute. Wipe my eyes for me, friend. Blow my nose. Now let's zero in on this figment of a folk hero, John Bongiovi, born the eldest of three brothers in Sayreville, New Jersey. His mother was a florist and a former Playboy bunny; his father, a hairdresser. This boy would be booted from Catholic school as a rambunctious preteen, then perform with Springsteen at age 15 in Asbury Park. He'd wear tight jeans, and sell 13 million copies of a single album. And he'd get laid a lot on the tour bus in his 20s, and then marry his high-school sweetheart. He would, almost singlehandedly, put the hair into hair rock.

And though today Bon Jovi's scalp-line is holding steady, the path to artistic maturity is still a slippery one, or at least slippery when wet: An erstwhile Versace model, JBJ has left plenty of stadia seats soggy over the years. But time does funny things inside a man. After a few "acclaimed" movie roles and a decade-plus of heroic touring (let's say 450 nights a year), an artist of JBJ's stature needs to spelunk the very depths of his soul. We're talking about looking into the celluloid void of celebrity--imagine the recursive loop of a camera taping its own monitor--and emerging intact... resolved as never before to make one really important, long-form music video. The title in this case: Destination Anywhere.

Coincidentally enough, that's also the name of the Jon Bon Jovi CD release that "inspired" this multimillion dollar maxi-video. Written as a gritty (or is that "gritty"?) 45-minute urban soap opera and starring JBJ, Whoopi Goldberg, Annabella Sciorra, Kevin Bacon, and Demi Moore, Destination Anywhere represents a weird narrative fusion of Raymond Carver's story "A Small, Good Thing" and a geo-ethnic genre we'll call Mean Streets-lite. It's also a courageous performance for Moore, acting as she does opposite a demonstrably prettier male co-star. By comparison, she looks like k.d. lang, and in one scene, rather like a young Gene Hackman. What everyone else is doing in this vanity hour is something of a conundrum. For what it's worth, one friend attributes almost diabolical persuasive powers to Bon Jovi's ass.

"I can remember a time when every city street would lead me back to you," JBJ begins in a reverb-spiked epigraph, and then we're in Manhattan's Little Italy. In point of fact, all streets here lead to Chinatown. But the 8mm flashbacks and letterbox formatting inform us that the prose here is more like prosody; and within the half hour, Demi Moore too will be reciting more of the same about her character's dead daughter, making promiscuous reference to Demeter, and remaining surprisingly clothed throughout.

I'm afraid I can't marshall the enthusiasm for a more comprehensive plot summary. I will relate that the general shape of things involves Jon and Janie, their shattered relationship, her painkiller addiction, a loanshark named Leo, and a night of New York debauchery that I think is supposed to be harrowing. The thematic trajectory follows two quotes: "I think God closed his eyes and the world got mean," and "What's it gonna take to make you believe in me?" The answer to this last question, posed by Jon to Janie in her "book of dreams," is fairly straightforward: something more than the usual narcissistic preening and adolescent solipsism. For contained within this tale of personal responsibility and maturation is one of the most gratuitous lap-dance sequences this side of Showgirls, and a closing number in which an entire neighborhood freezes in suspended animation, waiting for Jon and Janie's rekindled love to bring them back to life. And then Bon Jovi turns into Peter Pan and Moore turns into Tinkerbell and they fly away together while the lost boys cavort in the foreground...

But not everyone is stuck in a prolonged pubescence. MTV--or the Viacom broadcast entity that has effectively stripped the "M" out of that appellation--has reinvented itself yet again, this time as a purveyor of infomercials. Video killed the radio star; a decade later MTV, with its ceaseless in-house specialty shows, has made a retaliatory hit. For when Bon Jovi strides across the sidewalk in synch to his own soundtrack in between the "regular programming" of his own fabricated movie, he walks right into the future. Destination: Bank.

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