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Twisted Metal Logic

Ask Jon Bon Jovi what kind of car he drives, and the 27-year-old rock superstar will tell you straight up, with no hesitation: "A Jeep."

It's the kind of vehicle he feels comfortable with, probably because it fits in so well with the unassuming, regular guy image he's always managed to project. The Jeep is a quality ride--not cheap, certainly--but down-to-earth. Practical. A workingman's car.

"And, uh, a couple Corvettes," Bon Jovi suddenly adds, a bit more sheepishly. "And a Ferrari . . . "

Oh, well. So much for practicality. When your band's sold more than 25 million albums and Forbes begins listing your yearly net earnings somewhere around the $34 million mark, you don't exactly have to worry about keeping your car payments down.

And yet, miraculously, Jon Bon Jovi does. Not because the hottest thing to hit rock 'n' roll since tight pants is beginning to have problems balancing his checkbook. If Bon Jovi frets over his expenditures, it's because, as hard rock's No. 1 hunk becomes more and more suitable for his own special edition of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, he's concerned his quality of life may be swinging way out of balance with that of the multitudes who've put him where he is today.

Keeping in tune with the minimum-wage minions has always been a prime concern of the former John Bongiovi and his band of fellow New Jersey rockers--guitarist Richie Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan, bassist Alec John Such and drummer Tico Torres. "We're still a very accessible band," Bon Jovi insists in his current press materials. "We're not on a star trip where we don't live the same life as our fans."

And so, as soon as the rock star reveals the make of car occupying the fourth parking space in his garage, he feels compelled to put the purchase in perspective for Joe Lunchpail.

"You know, it's really not a big deal," he says over a car phone from the back seat of a limo (another luxury he claims doesn't suit him) whisking him through Jersey en route to the airport (where the band's private jet awaits his arrival). "People think that we drive Ferraris because it's the rock star thing to do. But the way I look at it, it's like when you were a kid, all you ever did was look at Camaros and think about someday having one. Well, I was the same way. And it just so happens that now that I'm older, I can afford one. Only my Camaro is a Ferrari."

It's a clever leap in logic, that one. Just the sort of tricky rationalization that could also allow Bon Jovi to shrug off extravagances like a recent flight to northern Italy to pick up some furniture for his new house as, oh, the average kid's ultimate shopping spree (only his mall is Milan).

Taking that thinking just a little bit further, Jon could even compare the somewhat show-bizzy situation of his guitarist going out with a super-celeb girlfriend to the high school cutup scoring with the prettiest girl in class (only Sambora's head cheerleader just happens to be Cher).

It's also just the kind of argument that threatens to stretch the credibility of Bon Jovi's "Hey, we're just like you" pose a wee bit thin. And the band's leader, who's succeeded in fashioning himself into every bit the champion of the working stiff as Jersey's other favorite son, Bruce Springsteen, seems to know it.

"Yeah," he says, rolling the Camaro-as-Ferrari line over again in his head for a second inspection. "I suppose they might not understand that too well in Russia."

IT WAS WHILE Bon Jovi was in Russia last month, headlining the two-day Moscow Music Peace Festival with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, MotleyCrue, and the Scorpions, that Bon Jovi first began to feel guilty about his 'Vettes and Ferrari. There, he got to see firsthand, a gap between the haves and have-nots that was never apparent in the band's tours of America. "Everybody I spoke to said, `We need sneakers.' `We need button-down shirts.' You know? I mean, they don't even have CD's yet!"

That, in part, is why Bon Jovi's band, its manager and executives of Polygram Records had first visited Moscow last December. Besides going there to organize what would be the first rock concert ever held in Lenin Stadium, the group also used the opportunity to ink a deal with Melodiya, the USSR's state-owned label, to make its latest album, New Jersey, the first American rock disc officially available in that pop music-starved country.

But for all the capitalist motives of his first visit, being back in the USSR in August gave Bon Jovi and the boys a real out-of-limo experience.

"The kinds of questions everybody there asked me were like, `How much money do you make?' `Do you own a car?' `Do you have your own house?' Because in Moscow, there's no such thing as a private house. Everybody lives in an apartment. And the funny thing is, you'll be living with your whole family in your apartment--which is a little nothing--and all of a sudden you get a knock on the door. And it's old Johnny Joneskachev saying, `Move over, I've been assigned to this apartment, too.' That's the way things are run there."

The culture shock prompted Bon Jovi to wonder whether any rock star could come off as a working-class hero to people in these conditions. Certainly, their lifestyle was not one he was eager to share. "We've always been a workingman's band," the singer says. "But I guess it would be harder to feel close to the regular people in Russia if we were there for any extended period of time. I mean, yes, I did see an apartment, but it was a quick `Hi, how are ya?' And I left, y'know? I didn't have to live in it for two weeks . . . or a month or a year."

But if Bon Jovi's Soviet visit defined the limits of how modestly the young millionaire was willing to live in order to feel at one with his audience, his efforts to include all the little people on his skyrocket to success prove he's at least determined to have their lifestyles meet halfway.

"Let's just say you came back with a lot lighter suitcase than you left with. The people are wonderful there. You'd give 'em the shirt off your back."

WHETHER GENUINELY attempting to bridge the gap between star and audience or merely testing some marketing strategies, Bon Jovi has always gone some extra distance to make its fans feel like extended members of the band. The idea of recruiting local kids to help select which of the thirty-odd songs recorded for their 1986 breakout album Slippery When Wet would make the final cut was truly inspired.

To whittle down New Jersey's 22 tracks to a workable twelve, Bon Jovi again left the choice up to a random fifty fans. And when it came time to shoot the video for "Bad Medicine," Jersey's first single, the guys handed over a truckload of camcorders to a concert crowd and let them shoot the footage themselves.

The big question, of course, is how much longer Jon and the boys will want to hang out with the regular folks after the shows now that their circle of friends includes everyone from heads of state to Hollywood's elite.

Then again, if Bon Jovi's account of how the band went slumming one night with Sonny Bono's ex, maybe the Jersey boys'll just persuade all their super-celeb friends to get down and dirty with the peons.

"We were in Middletown, New York," Bon Jovi recalls. "And the only place to stay there is a Holiday Inn where all the doors open to the pool, and there's no security or room service, and there's like a teeny little bar where all the truck drivers stop to drink. And we said to Cher, `Well, if you're gonna be with us now, you gotta deal with us how we are.' And she was like, `Man, are you kidding? I've been doing this forever. Let's go!'

"So there we are in the bar,'" he continues, "and there's Cher, hangin' out on the stool with a Bud in her hand, havin' a drink with the boys." He's laughing giddily now, like a kid who's just spotted his first movie star acting human in a restaurant. "I mean, is that cool, or what?

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern