Saturday, December 12, 2009

Book review: Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful

Book review originally posted by me on earlier today, under my Amazon screen name Randi Reed "MusicBizAdvice Editor":

Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful

****" Great photography, something for casual or hardcore fans, and even a bit of practical advice for musicians"

How does a band sum up over 25 years worth of career that's spanned more than half their lead singer's life, thousands of concerts, and sales of well over 120 million albums? Not to mention survived more than 8 different music trends (at last count)and umpteen label management changes (10? 12?), while doing their own thing. By Jovi, this'd better be good.

Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful is indeed a very good anthology of a great career. Arranged by subject instead of the more predictable chronological order, it's narrated by the band members themselves and loaded with photos from a perspective rarely seen of the band, who publicly admit to not letting many people into their tight circle. There's much here to surprise the public, and maybe even a few hard core fans.

For one thing, this is not a picture book full of pretty, posed studio photographs of cute guys in the 80's. Although a couple of those are there for scrapbook purposes, the majority of the book's photos are either original, Phil Stern-style behind-the-scenes candids that were snapped for the book and its accompanying documentary (many of these photos are in black and white) or are photos of the band onstage. In both cases, the style and quality of the photographer's work shares equal billing with the subjects, with great results.

As a serious photography hobbyist, the photos on pages 8-9,13,15,43,126-27,and 137 are among my favorites, because I know how deceptively difficult they are to do. Because of this, my copy of Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful isn't kept with the other music biographies in my collection. Instead, it resides on a shelf of favorite photography books, between works by Phil Stern and Life Magazine: these are the kind of artist photographs I'd like to achieve.

When We Were Beautiful also contains snapshots from the band members' personal collections, photo session outtakes, and previously unapproved photos. Some of these are hilariously not so great...such as the series of an extremely sleepy/sleeping Jon Bon Jovi on a plane to Moscow in 1989 (page 48-49), complete with large red X's and thick lines drawn on the photos to indicate someone's disapproval (presumably management's or Jon's). Every major artist has marked-up contact sheets of unapproved, goofy photos in their files. Bon Jovi actually lets you see them.

The text shows the expected business savvy, tenacity, and personal growth of the individual band members, as well as their wit (David Bryan, page 59--drinking liquid while reading not recommended). But it can also be surprisingly revealing, such as on page 138. There's even an "Eeeeew"-provoking gross-out moment from, of all people, Jon Bon Jovi (page 142).

From a practical standpoint, for aspiring artists (and their aspiring managers and tour managers), the Backstage section is most helpful, especially Jon's wisdom on page 139. Pages 138-144, 150,152, and 175 are of special note...particularly page 152, which gives the reader something to think about.

Bon Jovi:When We Were Beautiful is certainly not the type of sordid tell-all that publishers and the media like to see from a rock band, so don't expect this book to get much media attention. Nor is it the bare-it-all autobiography a lot of rock fans and celebrity watchers may prefer. But by all accounts, Bon Jovi are guys who deeply respect their families, especially their kids, who don't happen to be in the spotlight. In Jersey parlance, ya gotta respect that. And ya gotta respect the band for doing it their way.

After all, it's worked for 26 years.

Verdict: ****

Want it? Buy it here:

Disclosure of Endorsements/Recommendations/Financial Compensation or Business Relationships per FTC Blog Disclosure Regulations in effect December 1, 2009: In the 90's I worked for a concert promotion company that presented many Bon Jovi shows. Since that time I've received no financial compensation or free product in direct connection with the band. I have, however, interviewed their recording engineer for, and the website sells Amazon products as an Amazon Associate.

Randi Reed
Founder / Editor in Chief,