JON BON JOVI
Oxford Union Address
June 15, 2001
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Union, distinguished guests…Thank you. I’ve been looking forward to joining you here this afternoon. Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Kermit the Frog… that’s a very impressive list of American speakers you’ve welcomed. Now here I am, the latest Yank to address the famed Oxford Union.
But, today is a different appearance than I’m used to. I must admit this could have been rather intimidating. Not the public speaking part – I do have some experience in front of crowds! But this magnificent setting that is Oxford. In truth, I entered into this engagement with some pre-conceived notions about your school, it’s prestigious reputation, it’s rich academic history and it’s distinguished alumni. However, I also realized, that in all likelihood, some of YOU in attendance may be bringing with you some pre-conceived notions about ME. Some assumptions about who “Jon Bon Jovi” is, ideas about fame and celebrity, the obstacles and the victories in my career, the curiosity and the gossip about what I’d have to say. And about making a difference. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s make it our common mission tonight to cast aside all our pre-conceived notions about each other. It’s simple, but it’s true: you cannot judge a book by its cover – let’s explore the content.
“ROCK STAR” is such a label, such a cliché… let’s debunk the myth.
I grew up in Sayreville, New Jersey. Sayreville was, and still is, a working class township and mine was a working class family. My parents met when they were both U.S. Marines. After they married, my father was expected to follow in his fathers footsteps as a plumber but became a hairdresser. My mother was a shop owner and later a florist. They worked six days a week to support my two younger brothers and me. But like any parents, their hopes were to see their children do better than they did. In Sayreville, after you graduated high school, we believed you went to work like your father before you or you ran off to join the service. My three best friends chose the navy. They told me that was how they were going to see the world. But I had other plans… I spent my nights playing with bands in local bars. I wasn’t old enough to be served a pint in those pubs but when I wasn’t performing on stage I was watching, waiting, actually learning my craft. That was university to me. My parents, God bless them, figured “well, at least we know where you are!” If there’s one thing I give my folks all the credit in the world for, it is that they saw desire. They saw the dream and never discouraged me. If you have people like that in your life, you cannot fail.
There is no course on how to be a rock ‘n’ roll star, but it was the only future I ever envisioned for myself. Looking back on it now, there was no logical reason to believe… but I believed anyway. In my mind, I was going to be a musician. I knew it. I felt it. I believed it with every fiber of my being. It was probably a healthy combination of blind faith, naivete and passion that carried me towards my dream… and that, if you take ANYTHING from my words here today, is what you should remember: PASSION + PERSERVERENCE = POSSIBILITY.
Let me break it down.
PASSION is my favorite word. Nothing is more important than passion. Whatever you plan to pursue in life, whatever you do … be passionate about it. Not everyone is born into this world with the same advantages. It can seem pre-ordained and unfair when others seem to have an easier time out there in the world that you. But just because someone is wearing a fancy pair of trainers doesn’t mean they can run faster. Don’t be intimidated by the competition. Sometimes, the advantage is having to work twice as hard to accomplish your goal – the success is sweeter and the failure less bitter when you know you gave everything you had. Remember it’s PASSION, NOT PEDIGREE that can, and will, win in the end. It’s not your father’s world anymore. It doesn’t matter what the world expects from you… it’s what do you expect of yourself? Others will put their expectations, both good and bad, upon you. Ignore them. Be true to yourself. It’s your life.
Liz Murray grew up in New York City’s Bronx ghettos. She was neglected by her parents, both addicts who spent their monthly welfare checks on drugs. There was rarely food enough to eat or warm clothing to wear – her mother sold her younger sister’s winter coat in order to score drug money. Her father lived on the streets. Her mother had AIDS. At nine, she was the most responsible person in the family, pumping petrol and bagging groceries for money to survive, nursing her sick mother and raising her sister. By fifteen, her mother had died of AIDS, her father was wandering the city streets and Liz Murray was homeless. Her life, to most of us, was a living hell. But in the midst of this horrific landscape, she knew she could rescue herself. Determined to overcome her situation, she located her father and dressed him in a borrowed suit so he could sign paperwork enrolling Liz in a very respected public high school. She doubled up on her coursework to make up for lost time. She was a voracious student, sometimes studying and sleeping in the school stairwells that were lit all night – could you call it homework if you had no home? She finished four years of high school in just two years time. When she heard about the New York Times scholarship for needy local students, she applied.
During a school field trip to Harvard University, Liz Murray looked at the campus and its main library and thought “Why not me? What makes anyone at this school any different than me?”
She applied. Then, she was notified that she’d won the New York Times scholarship – in fact, Times readers were so inspired by Liz’s story, they donated enough money to the scholarship fund to allow fifteen more kids to go to college. Liz Murray – the same girl who just two years earlier was eating out of garbage dumpsters took her scholarship money and moved to Cambridge, Massachusettes. Liz Murray will be a member of Harvard University’s graduating class of 2004.
Liz Murray is undeniable proof that YOU ARE THE MASTER OF YOUR OWN DESTINY. If ever there was proof that PASSION, NOT PEDIGREE will win, this is it.
In the 80’s I had become quite successful in my music career. But just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the road of life takes a bend. You either go on or look for the adventure that bend might bring. It was 1991 and in the previous 7 years I had released 5 albums, written five #1 singles, won a Golden Globe, received an Oscar nomination and had sold 40 million records. It was a good time to sit back, put my feet up and relax. I could wave that banner like my diploma and say I’d made it. But I chose to start over again in a new field. I chose to pursue an acting career. Not at the top but at the very bottom.
From day one, I was just another actor looking for work. My fame wasn’t a help – in fact, it was a huge hindrance. No one in Hollywood encourages musicians to make the transition into acting (let’s face it, the track record of rock stars trying to act isn’t very good.) I had to audition JUST to get an acting coach. Even after years of acting lessons, I wasn’t being offered roles – I was going on auditions. Nothing comes easy. It took persistence and patience and years of waiting until I finally won my first movie role. To be honest, on the way from the airport to the set that first day, the idea of jumping on the next flight out of town and running away did cross my mind. After studying in a room with an acting coach for three years, I found myself on a movie set beside Whoopi Goldberg, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kathleen Turner. It was terrifying. I’ve been in 9 movies in the last 7 years, a student of the craft still willing to fight.
BON JOVI still have to fight. I still have to fight. So I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t get too comfortable with who you are at any given time — you may miss the opportunity to become who you want to be.
Now we’ve discussed passion and persistence. What’s left? Possibility. Could I have imagined that my life would be as fortunate as it’s turned out to be? No. Never . But remember those misconceptions we discussed earlier? Let’s clear up a few.
This is a nice job if you can get it… Most people don’t get to do what I do. Everyday I go to work and can’t believe I get paid to do what I love. Rock ‘n’ Roll star or not, if you can say that about your job, you’re luckier than most. True, I don’t have to go to the office, but believe me, all hours of the day and night, in all parts of the world, we are out there working. It’s not the performing that’s work – no I’d PAY to play. It’s sacrificing your kids’ birthdays, your anniversaries, our American football season… and not that I’m complaining but I can do without another club sandwich in another hotel. But even with your degree, even with my accomplishments, you can never take your success for granted. Not fame, but the satisfaction that is success. Never take your audience for granted. Never forget where you come from. Be humble. Stay humble.
People say “money is the root of all evil” but that’s NOT the correct quote. The actual saying is “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil” – money can’t buy happiness, it can’t buy you class, it can’t buy you respect and as the Beatles said, money can’t buy you love.
Fame… Admit it… we all did it growing up… practiced signing our autographs, imagined what it would be like to be famous. I can tell you this: it’s weird. I’ve been very lucky. I’m able to live my life with minimal intrusion from the press and the paparazzi. When I wake up in the morning, it doesn’t occur to me “hey, I’m famous.” My wife and my two kids did not choose to be in the music business. They didn’t choose to be famous therefore I take great efforts to keep them out of the spotlight. With the exception of some unfortunate paparazzi shots, my children have NEVER been photographed. Fame ceases to exist at the end of my driveway.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle…This is why all of you came. You want to hear about the drugs, booze, the parties, the women…you want the gossip? It’s like we say in Jersey: Fuggitaboutit! If you were expecting me to betray the trust of my friends for our stories of life in a rock ‘n’ roll band, you’re gonna have to wait for my follow-up tell-all in THE SUN, or is it HELLO ? Don’t get me wrong… I’ve been in this business almost 20 years and am no saint but BON JOVI has never been the kind of band to air their laundry in public. Did you see the movie Almost Famous? Did you see all the fun they had? Well, they were almost famous – we’ve been REALLY famous. Get it? So, sorry to disappoint but there are some things we’ll keep to ourselves.
So, now we’ve come to the end of my speech.
I’d like to leave you with these finals words: grow up, but don’t grow old and live while you’re alive. When I was younger, I had no idea what tomorrow would bring. Next year, I will turn 40 and I still have no idea what tomorrow will bring. And THAT’S what makes it so exciting. So as you map out your future, do it in pencil. The road ahead is long as you make it. Make it worth the trip.