Meet the Cast of Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer

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Classic Metal Hawk hereby presents a blog post on Bon Jovi. I know – we’re in heathen territory now.

But bear with The Hawk whilst he explains himself. This is a true sound of the 80s, and a heavy metal gateway drug to boot. Read on!

Bon Jovi? I Mean … For Real?

A Classic Metal Hawk Song Blog covering Bon Jovi? What’s that all about? Look, The Hawk thought long and hard about this for a couple of reasons (which no doubt have already occurred to readers):

  • Bon Jovi? Classic Heavy Metal? Really?
  • What’s there to say about it anyway? It ain’t exactly a ‘Whoa man, deeeeeep!!’ kind of tune.

Let’s take those objections in turn.

First, we’ll get the genre thing out of the way. Bon Jovi are not a heavy metal band. There, The Hawk has said it, and now we can all chill. They’re a rock band, a sometimes decent one. But yes, we’re pushing things to the limit and beyond if we try to call them Classic Heavy Metal  – The Hawk ain’t gonna insult anyone’s intelligence here. Let’s just say that he’s willing to throw in the odd rock-based blog if there’s some personal reason for doing so. Any fortunately, there is in this case.

Gateway Drug

Because not only were Bon Jovi the gateway drug for Classic Metal Hawk to get into Classic Heavy Metal in the first place, but ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ is the first Bon Jovi song he ever heard on that journey. So it’s pure sentimentality, you ask? You betcha!! The Hawk doesn’t care about that, and is willing to bet that most Classic Heavy Metal fans are at a somewhat sentimental point in their lives. And if ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ ever comes on a bar’s jukebox even to this day, The Hawk ain’t too proud to sing along. Here’s a personal anecdote for you: back in those days, The (very young) Hawk bought a copy of the ‘Slippery When Wet’ video, whose intro features a fan letting Jon Bon Jovi autograph her breasts using a permanent marker pen. That’s something that leaves an imprint on an adolescent Hawk, let me tell you.

Secondly, nobody ever said Classic Heavy Metal had to be deep. There’s plenty of other unapologetically and fabulously shallow content covered on this blog from all kinds of metal sub-genres. Is ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ a deep and reflective work of art? Not really. Will this be one of the Hawk’s shorter blogs as a result? Probably. Does anyone care? That’s not for me to say. We’re diving right on in, so stick around if you want to.

Anyway, The Hawk is willing to bet that there are plenty of combined closet Classic Heavy Metal fans / Bon Jovi foot tappers out there. Prove me wrong!

Facts and Figures

So, first, the basics. ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ was part of the commercial smash hit album ‘Slippery When Wet,’ an album which, according to Wikipedia at least, “turned heavy metal into a radio-friendly pop format … and is also commonly seen as a breakthrough for hair metal”.

Classic Metal Hawk isn’t so sure about that. ‘Slippery When Wet’ came out in 1986, by which time there were a whole host of 80s Hair Metal bands that had done perfectly well for themselves, without necessarily ‘redefining’ heavy metal. So forget Wikipedia and stick around on The Hawk’s blog if you want authenticity in your music commentary.  

So we can say, for example, that ‘Slippery When Wet’ was one of the most influential works at the time in pushing rock bands like Bon Jovi into becoming arena rock acts. OK, that’s not too problematic. After all, the release could hardly have gone any better for the band. It went straight to the top of the Billboard album charts in America, and remains one of the top 100 best sellers in the US of all time.

To give you an idea of the hype around ‘Slippery When Wet’ at the time, ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ was actually only the second single released from the album, the first one, ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ having already been a chart topper in its own right. So when the band came to release the gritty social commentary that is ‘Livin’ on A prayer’, they must have been super confident that it was a sure-fire winner.

The Cast

Back to the main event – what do we know about the Livin’ on a Prayer story?

The song features our 2 main protagonists, Tommy and Gina, a young couple of small means but big dreams. Tommy, as the opening line of the song tells us, used to work on the docks. Used to. But not anymore.

All Out…

Strike action called by Tommy’s union bosses has backfired disastrously, so that instead of winning improved pay and conditions via their ill-conceived industrial action, Tommy and his firebrand brotherhood have been laid off en-masse, and are now on the scrap heap. Dole bludgers unable to put food on their families’ tables. Humiliated at having their traditional roles as male breadwinners called into question. Down on his luck? Yeah, that’s putting it mildly.

In Tommy’s case, the situation is made worse by the fact of Gina still busting her chops waiting tables down at the diner morning, noon and night. She brings home her pay for love? Sure, and because they’re getting evicted without it, a least until Tommy can get his act together and find a new job.

No Guitar

Mind you, Gina is probably somewhat mollified by the fact that Tommy’s guitar is in hock at the pawn shop – so he can’t use his newfound free time to slob on the couch, strumming chords and dreaming about being a rock star. Instead, he can maybe do some light cleaning, push the vacuum cleaner around, hang out the laundry, that kind of thing. Because let’s face it, if Gina gets home from the diner to find a sink full of dirty dishes, there’s going to be hell to pay, and rightly so. No wonder she sometimes sheds a few tears at night.

See – Bon Jovi giving us social commentary at its finest. You may well wonder how Tommy and Gina have the energy to dream about the future given their present lifestyle circumstances, but let’s not over-analyze – it’s really just an appeal to the human spirit. Anyone can be having a bad day, or week, or month. But music is one way to find escape from that, and to dream of what might be in a better future. Why not? And if you happen to be listening to a song with a soaring key change at the back end like this one has, then those possibilities suddenly seem greater still.

Based on a True Story…

The song even has an autobiographical flavour. For the ‘Slippery When Wet’ album, the band had brought in prolific song writer and producer Desmond Child to help craft the songs. Starting out in the music business, Child was earning next to nothing had to make ends meet – he never worked on the docks, but he did drive a cab in New York for a time. And his partner, Maria Vidal, did indeed work at a diner, with the super-crappy name of ‘Once Upon a Stove.’ But get this – Vidal’s colleagues at the diner nicknamed her ‘Gina’ – they thought she bore a slight resemblance to the actress Gina Lollobrigida. Almost exactly at the time of The Hawk writing this blog, Gina Lollobrigida passed away at the age of 95, after a stunning film and TV career. If all the real life Tommy and Ginas out there get inspired by that, then all power to them.

Jon Bon Jovi himself also had somewhat of a working-class upbringing, both of his parents having served in the marines before finding work in New Jersey as civilians. He wanted the song to be identifiably working class, and that’s how it turned out.

That’s about as deep as we’re going to get with ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’, but that’s ok. The fans were happy with it after all. We’ve covered the album’s success earlier but what about the single? It did plenty ok too. Number #1 on the US Billboard chart as said, it had similar placings all over the world, and has re-charted plenty over the years as well. It was certified triple platinum in 2013 (3 million digital downloads) and at the time of this writing, is closing in fast on 1 billion YouTube views.

And, look, it’s easy to be critical about cheesy material like this, but sometimes it’s as well to put that aside and scroll down some of those YouTube comments from people who put this song on during difficult periods in their lives and it gives them hope. Just like Tommy and Gina. So let’s put all the cynicism aside and give it another listen.

Bon Jovi as a gateway drug to heavy metal? Who’s convinced? And who intends to never allow The Hawk to darken their on-line door again after his brazen confession of selling out?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send feedback direct to The Hawk.

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