Jaunty jester of leather-jacketed juvenile jock rock fame, Jon Bon Jovi, the ultimate corporate front man, has been banned from playing in mainland China. His scheduled gigs in Shanghai and Beijing were canned, supposedly because he used an image of the Dalai Lama as a backdrop at a concert in Taiwan in 2010. On the upside, Rock ‘n’ Roll Jonny, who famously made his band give up smoking to reduce touring insurance, has still been given permission to play two nights at the most commercial of all venues, The Venetian in Macau. These dates, strategically timed over next Friday and Saturday nights, so middle-aged fans won’t have to stay up late on a work night, still have the green light and will have poodle-haired Hong Kong fans flocking to the acoustic cowshed that is the Cotai Arena.
It will, no doubt, be the dullest, most vacuous affair since the three estranged members of The Police, barely in communication with each other, played the same venue in 2008 to enhance their separate pension contributions. Yet the hits will be played, and intoxicated overpaid bankers will put their hands in the air like futures traders on a good day. There will be a perceptible sigh from the audience when Jonny announces “this is a new one” and everyone will sing all the words to “You Give Love a Bad Name” before stumbling off to identical hotel rooms, the gaming tables or the ferry queue.
However, for Bon Jovi this result must seem a double-edged sword. Their credibility will rise as they join the ranks of Bjork, Maroon 5 and Oasis, all refused access to the largest music audience in the world for political reasons, yet at the same time their business management must be kicking themselves over the lost opportunity to crack China. Remember Kenny G’s ridiculous back-tracking when photographed last year at Occupy Central? Claiming he only dropped by the main protest site as a tourist and that this in no way reflected upon the puerile nonsense he produces as a musician, he missed the only opportunity of his life to rescue his own self-esteem.
Given all this, I’m not really sold on the currently accepted reason for the Bon Jovi ban and so I started the unenviable task of searching through their lyrics for clues as to their real exclusion. Marxist-Leninist political theory has little to fear from the messages contained in “It’s My Life” and “Wanted Dead or Alive” though in any case, a single dissident song is not, I think, enough to merit a ban. The real reason may be found in the first line of “Livin’ on a Prayer”, the very lyric that potentially tens of thousands of fans would have been singing at the climax of their concerts in China: “Tommy used to work on the docks”. An unacceptable thought for the authorities, if they mistakenly believe that the docks upon which poor Tommy worked were not in New Jersey, but actually in Tianjin.