20 Years Ago: Jon Bon Jovi Combines Music and Acting With ‘Destination Anywhere’
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In addition to fronting Bon Jovi, Jon Bon Jovi spent the ’90s pursuing a second career as an actor. He combined his talents in 1997 with the release of his second solo album, Destination Anywhere, which was accompanied by a short film, starring himself, that reinforced the themes of the record.
His film work began in 1990 when he made a brief appearance in Young Guns II, which ended with his character being killed. He also recorded 10 songs which became Blaze of Glory: Inspired by the Film Young Guns II, his first solo album released in August 1990. The title cut gave Bon Jovi his fifth No. 1 single in five years.
After the experience of Young Guns II, he took up acting lessons, but not for the reasons you would assume. “Acting lessons was an idea for me to get scripts, so I could write songs for film,” he said. This proved to be a profitable notion within a few years when Bon Jovi scored their biggest international single, “Always,” which was originally written for the Gary Oldman film Romeo Is Bleeding before it showed up on the band’s greatest hits collection Cross Road.
“It took me two years to tell the band I was taking acting lessons, probably because I figured I’d quit or they’d give me s— about it,” reflected Jon Bon Jovi in 1997. “About three-and-a-half years into it, I auditioned for Moonlight and Valentino and won my first role.” Inspiration struck again in the form of “(It’s Hard) Letting You Go,” originally envisioned for the credits of the film before finding a home on the band’s 1995 album These Days.
In early 1996, Jon Bon Jovi descended upon London for his first role as a leading man in the aptly titled The Leading Man, where he plays Robin Grange, a Hollywood heartthrob who escapes to London to a play and then seduces the playwright’s wife. Bon Jovi made the most of his downtime on the set writing 10 songs that would eventually be the starting point for his most imaginative album, Destination Anywhere.
“I wrote the first 10 songs…in a trailer,” he told the press in a 1997 EPK. For a man who rarely had taken a deep breath in the previous decade, he found the downtime refreshing. “For the first time in my life, it was somewhere I was alone. My whole adult life, I’ve been married with a wife, kids and a band. Before then, I lived with my folks, so I’ve never been alone. So those hours were precious. I’d sit in the trailer and write songs.” Jon quickly demoed the songs, including the future Japanese bonus cuts “I Talk to Jesus” and “Cold Hard Heart” along with album cuts “Midnight in Chelsea”, “Staring at Your Window With a Suitcase in My Hand,” “It’s Just Me,” “Learning How to Fall” and the album’s title cut.
Watch the Video for “Midnight in Chelsea”
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He spoke of the meaning behind the title track. “Anywhere you stopped, that’s where you’d lay down at night and sleep, and that’s where you met people and saw things off the beaten path. There was no arena, there was no airport and none of the trappings of life in a rock band. I wanted to capture that in the song.”
When it came to choose a producer for the project, Jon Bon Jovi chose two disparate talents both inspired by his time in the U.K. “The Britpop thing having just started, I was listening to the radio in my trailer –the Manics [Street Preachers], Black Grape, Blur, Pulp – I went, ‘Woah! What the f— is this?’ Those songs! ‘Common People,’ ‘Design for Life.’ Beautiful, and great lyrics, I thought this was cool.” Seeking out Black Grape’s producer, Stephen Lironi, Bon Jovi had a key collaborator who would help steer the work towards an experimental rock record with dashes of pop and electronic programming. It was also on this U.K. trip where he accepted a party invite from Demi Moore that led to a meeting with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, who would be a key collaborator and producer on the album, with Stewart commenting on their partnership, “We’re both willing to take that leap into the unknown.”
“It shouldn’t be safe. Nothing’s sacred” was the goal Jon had for the album upon its release. The result was an exceptionally personal and introspective record, where Bon Jovi left his usual template behind and instead embraced current trends often to great success. With a core rhythm section of Kenny Arnoff on drums and Hugh McDonald on bass serving as the foundation, Bon Jovi took on much of the guitar work on his own with Lironi, Stewart and longtime Southside Johnny guitarist Bobby Bandiera filling in the gaps.
Watch the Video for “Queen of New Orleans”
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The album is an eclectic mix of British and American music from the ’90s, which found Bon Jovi stretching further than anyone could have imagined. “Queen of New Orleans” finds Bon Jovi dismantling the stadium-rock archetype for a leaner sound. The monotone vocals stand in contrast to the female backing vocals and the buzz saw guitars. “Janie, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” captures the aura of Britpop with the shuffling acoustic guitar taking the lead.
Inspired by a row he had with his wife in Amsterdam on Bon Jovi’s European 1996 stadium tour, he escaped to the washroom where he wrote the song for his wife Dorothea. Despite its tip-of-the-hat to Oasis, it features the most earnest vocal of his career. “Little City” was born out of yet another movie with the same title distributed by Miramax in 1998 while “Every Word Was a Piece of My Heart” was written in Vienna during the tour as well. “’Every Word’ is a song I’d written on the road with the band. I wrote this song with the idea that, making no apologies, here it is. This is what I did, and like it or not, ‘Every Word’ was all I had to give.” Lironi’s version made the final cut while the buoyant and zealous Dave Stewart mix became a b-side.
Bon Jovi also brought in Eric Bazilian of the Hooters, who had recently had massive chart success with Joan Osbourne, for “Ugly,” a bare love song disguised as a tongue-in-cheek mid-tempo cut. The nuance in Bon Jovi’s smoky vocals heighten the irony of the title on what could arguably be one of the most creative songs of his career. It could have been re-written to be a power ballad, but restraint helped the song blossom. “Learning How to Fall” takes a cue from Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” with layered rhythms and melodic harmonica.
Watch the Video for “Ugly”
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The album closer proved to be the most emotionally turbulent composition of Bon Jovi’s career. “August 7, 4:15″ was written out of anguish in August of 1996 when long-time manager Paul Korzilius’ six-year-old daughter was mysteriously found dead in her Texas neighborhood. The lashing rhythm and searing guitars punctuate the indescribable pain of a parent burying their child under ominous circumstances. In 1998, Unsolved Mysteries aired a program on the incident in the hopes it could be resolved, but to this day, the death remains unsolved.
The 48-minute promotional film, directed by Mark Pellington, best known for directing Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” video, straddles serious drama against the backdrop of the album of the same name. The film premiered on VH-1 and MTV on the evening of the album’s release, June 17, 1997.
Taking the album as the foundation for the film Pellington created a screenplay along with Stuart Cohn and Tom Gorai. Bon Jovi enlisted an A-list of actors for the project including Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Whoopi Goldberg and Annabella Sciorra.
In America, the album peaked at No. 31, but fared better in the U.K., where it made it to No. 2 and eventually sold two million copies worldwide. Despite an innovative marketing platform, there was resistance from radio stations in the U.S. “We played the single for what they call Modern Rock stations in the States,” Jon said. “They go, ‘Man, we love this! Who is it?’ You tell them. (Pulls face.) ‘Can’t play it.’ Why not? ‘He has too many hits. Can’t play a guy who has hit records’.
Upon the album’s final single release in 1998, Jon Bon Jovi began writing songs that would lead to Crush in 2000 where he reunited with the members of Bon Jovi who would regain their presence as a stadium act with the single “It’s My Life., However, Destination Anywhere stands as an anomaly on his discography. While it is the only studio album of his after 1985 to not make the Top 10 of Billboard‘s album chart, it stands as his most ground-breaking and contemplative album. At the time of its release, Jon Bon Jovi reflected, “We’ve been really blessed with the band for all those years to have achieved all these successes. But there comes a time, when you have to walk away from it, and see if you can start over again.”
Written by Tony Kuzminski
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