Seven Years Gone: Meeting Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi

I had a difficult time looking adults in the eye as a kid. They talked to my parents about it, thinking me suspicious or just painfully shy, as if that’s a crime. Over time, I guess, some people’s shyness fades as they grow up. I decided to bludgeon the shyness out of me around age 17, until there was nothing left of the person I had been born as. I would reinvent myself as fearless, outgoing, the kind of person who could walk into a room and hold it in her hand. But in my mind, the shyness flickers across my being, the part of me I couldn’t destroy.

When I meet celebrities, I’m drawn back to that elemental part – the one that can’t express myself beyond a few polite words, basic conversation, a shy smile, as long as I am prodded along, a toddler on shaky steps, needing a hand to hold.

I fell in love, the way only a 14 year old girl can, with Bon Jovi. It started with one song and ended in a thousand songs. A Greatest Hits record turned into every CD import single, every interview CD, every magazine, anything I could touch and hold in my hands. I spent $80 on a tourbook from the 1989 New Jersey tour. “The Brotherhood Tour” was scrawled in red font on the cover with a photo of the five members of the band sitting at a bar. I inhaled the scent of the 80’s, dust and Aqua Net, amongst those pages. I ached to live those moments in a way I would never be able to.

A $35/year fan club membership bought me four glossy magazines a year, guitar picks, bumper stickers, the feeling of belonging. My address featured on the pen pal page at age 16 found me with 3 new pen pals in Germany, Brazil, and Seattle. We stayed in touch until I went off to college, sending magazines, mix CDs with our favorite Bon Jovi songs, photos, and postcards all over the world. You can’t put a price on feeling like you belong at that age.

In high school, I kept my head down. I figured it the only way to survive, plowing my way through the ungroomed forest of the hallway, content to let the branches scrape me on my arms and sides as I rushed ahead, not wanting to fight and risk the scars across my face, my back, the places you can’t heal from. I wrote poetry on October benches, love poems that I can’t cringe on now, because they are so earnestly beautiful in their love.

I adopted another era as my own, more than content to find myself amongst people twice my age. I would always rather be the ingénue, the precocious one beyond her years. I remember adding a few years to my age when asked at some of the shows and still being told what a baby I was. I loved it. I reminded people in their mid-to-late 30’s and early 40’s of how old they had been when they had discovered Bon Jovi and rock music. Seeing it through my eyes reminded them of how they had once seen it. Together, we were the same, even if I hadn’t yet graduated high school and they had been in the working world for over a decade.

I’ve seen Bon Jovi in three states, I’ve seen sixteen concerts, I’ve been in two Bon Jovi videos. I have never sat in the nosebleeds. But never have I been close enough to touch one of the musicians for whom the words “changed my life forever” are insufficient.

Tuesday, July 22: I couldn’t find The Iridium Jazz Club despite having the exact address. I wandered around past au petit manager and the Winter Garden Theater, former home of CATS. Finally I spotted the sign, hidden beneath scaffolding. I was the last VIP to arrive and after a short wait, was escorted down a narrow staircase and to my seat. As a jazz club in the style of a comedy club, there’s a $20 minimum on drinks and concertgoers are seated at restaurant tables. I was dead center, with one chair between me and the stage. The man next to me had 3 Richie Sambora tattoos and was wearing a 1991 Stranger In This Town Tour t-shirt. I knew I was amongst people who bled the same blood.

Madison Square Garden seats 18,200. Giants Stadium had the capacity for 80,000. The Iridium seats 190 people.

The show was glorious. It was perfectly imperfect, electrifying, rock ‘n roll glory tangible in the air. The sound mix was off the entire night, and Richie joked that they had just gotten off a run of stadiums in Europe so the mix must have been calibrated for that. There was no “rock star” posturing, no pouts and struts for the crowd, no drum solo to fill time, no hollow words and pandering to the camera.

The show opened with “A Song For You”, originally sung by Leon Russell and made famous by Donny Hathaway. The excitement was so high once Richie appeared, I almost didn’t listen to the words, but Richie could not have chosen a better song to start the show with. Stripped of the artifice, the light show, the stadium screens, the music video airbrushing, all that was left was a band and the fans that would die for this man.

I've been so many places
In my life and time
I've sung a lot of songs
I've made some bad rhymes
I've acted out my life on stages
With 10,000 people watching
But we're alone now
And I'm singing this song to you

Richie’s 2012 solo album Aftermath of the Lowdown is light-years better than anything Bon Jovi has released in the past 7 years. Their last 2 albums (2009’s The Circle and 2013’s What About Now) revisit the same old tropes (going-to-live-while-I’m-alive, working-man-underpaid-or-unemployed, cars-on-the-highway, love-will-keep-us-alive). That said, check out “Thorn In My Side”, “Because We Can”, and “What’s Left Of Me” – the 3 standouts of these two records.

Richie’s album is blistering rock ‘n roll; it’s an infinitely more modern record than most 80’s rock acts could ever hope to make. He tore it up on stage with rock anthems like “Burn This Candle Down”, “Sugar Daddy”, and “Nowadays”. Classic Bon Jovi songs like “Lay Your Hands On Me” and “I’ll Be There For You” were a rare treat to hear Richie’s soulful voice bring a new meaning to these familiar songs. 

Fortunately, Richie left off the done-to-death songs like “You Give Love A Bad Name”, “It’s My Life”, and “Livin’ On A Prayer”. It’s understandable that at a stadium show, for $200 a ticket, Bon Jovi needs to play their biggest hits. Of course they do. But this was a Richie Sambora show, in honor of Les Paul, for his truest fans. We’ve heard those songs before. We’ll hear them again. No one complained about their exclusion.

The highlight of the show was “Seven Years Gone”. A gorgeous, painful song about the death of Richie’s father, Adam, in 2007. Listening from six feet away, the song burned through me, as if all the emotions I had balled in my fist and held tight to were obvious for him to see. He was singing to me. I cried, knowing.

Times are changed, times that went too fast
Tearing moments from the past
While today's singing yesterday's songs
You wake up, move on
The 7 years gone

After the show, I lined up with 30 other fans who had been lucky enough to purchase a VIP meet-and-greet pass to this show.

(Total cost for the concert ticket, autographed 11x14 poster, concert t-shirt, and meet and greet, including tax: $228.00.

Total 2014 cost of the Backstage with Jon Bon Jovi fan club membership, including autographed photo by Jon, a fan club letter from Jon, and a hoodie: $159.99.
What’s the better deal?)

I was dripping with emotion and sweat. The line was in the bowels of the Iridium, right near the kitchen, and was far from a VIP lounge. It was kind of perfect in a strange way. We waited for an hour, maybe. Time, which I let govern my life and my anxiety, meant absolutely nothing in this moment. I spoke to fans who had flown in from Sweden, Japan, New Zealand for this concert.

And finally, Richie stood in front of us. I was in the middle of the line, purposefully, wanting to gather my emotions before speaking. I would make eye contact. I would smile with everything I had. I would not be shy.

The first words I said to Richie were, “Can I give you a hug?” Hearing him talk only to me made me feel more alive than I thought I could. “Sure, darlin’,” he drawled. I told him how awesome the show was, and he admitted messing up the words on “Wanted Dead Or Alive”, singing the climax of the song a verse too early, then catching himself. I told him we loved it anyway. I had a CD single of “One Light Burning” (1991) I had bought at the Westport Library book sale in 2003 for a dollar or two; I held it out to him for his autographed and he laughed, holding it out to his band and crew to take a look. “Weren’t you a handsome devil?” One of them said.

I told him the highlight of the show for me was “Seven Years Gone”. I told him that my father took me to my first Bon Jovi concert - May 20th, 2001 in Albany, NY - that he died when I was 15, and how much that song meant to me. I told him that I cried when he played it that night. He paused, took a moment with me. He told me it made him cry too, how hard it was to lose his dad. I told Richie that his music saved me and he told me it saved him too.

We looked each other in the eyes.

We took our photo, smiling, sunglassed souls. I thanked him and hugged him again. I waited to the side, talking with more fans and waiting for my new friends to give me back my camera, which I had passed to them in the hopes that they could snap a few photos of me talking to Richie.

I could live a thousand lives and never be as lucky as I was in that moment. To be one of 190 in a room, to be one of 30 in a meet and greet line, to be one of 1. To let my guard down and open my heart to a man who had done the same to me through his music.

The next day I cried with beauty, because there are so many ways to be broken but only several ways to be beautiful.

I have spent so many years blatantly refusing to open up, preferring to skate through life with a constructed persona that soon outpaced me. I preferred to be surrounded and alone.

It doesn’t surprise me that rock ‘n roll is what broke me down and lifted me back up. It doesn’t surprise me that in that moment, I was my elemental self, at once both the 14 year old with innocence and a terrified heart, and the 28 year old who is learning to embrace who she really is.

I love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for my life, you’re a friend of mine
And when my life is over, remember when we were together

We were alone and I was singing this song to you

There is no airdate scheduled as of yet I can find.  

The two people you see in this video are sitting across from me at the table. Yes, that's how close I was. You can't see me though!


Lee-Ann said…
Glad you got to meet Richie and that it was a fulfilling experience! :)