Rock Reads: Bon Jovi - When We Were Beautiful

by Anthony Kuzminski

Picture books these days are a dime a dozen, everyone seems to have one. Their worth is determined by the care put into compiling the book. Recent books by the likes of U2 and Metallica (authorized and unauthorized) have been among the best. When paging through them, you want to be transported to the past while simultaneously seeing a story unwoven over the pages and pages of pictures. The world is witnessing an influx of Bon Jovi material at the moment; a new album, documentary, live DVD and a photo book. The picture book When We Were Beautiful was the one I was looking least forward to and at this time because I figured it would be more of a souvenir rather than an important document of the band's career; it's my favorite of all the recent releases. The nearly two-hundred page hardcover book isn't a biography, a definitive photo history or even a companion piece to the film When We Were Beautiful. It's a standalone entity and while it shares its name with the title of a new song and their documentary, it's more or less a collection of pictures and stories celebrating the band's quarter of a century together.

Over the last twenty-five years, I am not sure if there is any musician who has given more interviews than Jon Bon Jovi. Love him or hate him, the man is the hardest working man in show business. While other rock stars view doing morning radio shows as beneath them, Jon sets the alarm early and is willing to show up, smile, shake hands and kiss babies. This is a blessing and a curse. I've followed his career so long that I find him to repeat himself over and over again in there interviews, yet while reading the WWWB book, I could separate myself from the hundreds (if not thousands) of interviews he's given over the years. If anything, his quotes come off more sincere and congratulatory in print, than in person. I walked away with a better appreciation of the physical and emotional demands that he endures taking his rock n' roll circus on the road. Make no mistake, it's very hard to sympathize with multi-millionaire rock stars who live very good lives, but through some intimate and revealing photographs, one can see and feel the exhaustion and challenges that one endures being in a rock band regardless of size or success.

Many of the quotes and stories can be heard in the documentary, but the book houses dozens of stories and quotes not found in the film. We get some interesting anecdotes from Jon about how he keeps his voice in shape, some minor reflections on the These Days record and individual reflections from all four main members of Bon Jovi. While there are no earth shattering revelations in the book, but there is enough here to hold one's interest amidst the stunning photo's. After all, this is a photo book more than anything else. In the last few years, there have been some really exceptional picture books on Motley Crue, Metallica and U2, but most of them were either tied to very specific time periods or were all-encompassing; the Bon Jovi book is neither. Even though it has a few childhood pictures and some pictures from the very early days, including a show on Jon from the first time they played Madison Square Garden in 1983 (opening for ZZ Top). In short, at just shy of two-hundred pages and with a list price of $30 (less than $20 at most online retailers), this book is a bargain and it's simplistic and succinct length makes the book alluring. This very easily could have been a glorified tour program, but it's so much more. Considering that programs from the Lost Highway tour were $40, this book is a steal at its price, and especially considering it is a hard cover. I'll admit I wish there was more. Alec John Such is barely seen, as is his replacement, Hugh McDonald and that's a shame as both are integral members to the band, their history and their live show, even if they are standing in the shadows. Violinist Lorenza Ponce and guitarist Bobby Bandiera (who play with Jon at fundraisers and both who were on the 2008 tour) are only seen in glimpses. It would have been nice to hear them give their insight about performing with one of the biggest bands on the planet. There are no pictures from Anton Corbijn (who shot the Keep the Faith album pics) or Ross Halfin (who took many of the rawest concert shots of the band during the 1990's). While these are a few letdowns, there are dozens of pictures from Mark Weiss. Weiss shot the infamous banned (and released) covers for Slippery When Wet and was an integral part of capturing the image and spirit of the band during their first commercial heyday. Weiss managed to seize the band at their most youthful and exuberant before and amidst international fame. These were five kids living out their dreams at a time of innocence before taking pictures was a laborious task. His images inside When We Were Beautiful are reason enough to own this book. They're such a trip down memory lane that it makes me yearn for a full-blown book of pictures from him devoted to Bon Jovi. Bill Hale recently released a book on Metallica's early club years and while I wasn't old enough to witness the magic of Metallica, his pictures made me feel like I was there. I wish Weiss would do the same with Bon Jovi, as these are more than pictures, but a time capsule to the past.

Not every project by an artist should needs to be an all-encompassing look back. Whether it's a book, video collection or even a box set, the first rule is that it should be first-rate regardless of the time frame involved. While When We Were Beautiful houses mostly pictures by Phil Griffin from the band's 2008 Lost Highway tour, there is enough here from the band's past to sink your teeth into and be thankful that they made a decision to encompass their entire career. This isn't the definitive book on Bon Jovi, but it's an eye-catching chapter in their ongoing career and that's enough to make it highly recommended.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.

Bon Jovi - When We Were Beautiful
Publisher: Collins Design (Hardcover 192-pages)

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