Friday, April 10, 2015

Bigger Than Ratt: The Time I Had a Moment With Jon Bon Jovi

(1985) It was one of those slap me moments. Or grab a piece of my arm and twist. A "shut up!" moment. Sadly there were no cell phones at the time. No Facebook or Twitter. There were car phones, but they were like clunky army field radios with wires and boxes, and they were super expensive. I suppose I could have pulled over and pretended to my passenger that I needed to make an important pay phone call to the radio station where I worked for some bullshit reason and then really call my friends and tell them I was driving the back streets of Providence, making my way toward the Civic Center with Jon Bon Jovi riding shotgun in my beat-up AMC Spirit.

Why God why could it not have been a Pacer?  On my salary, at the time, a new car was not in the budget. This was a hand-me-down from mom who couldn’t really drive any longer because of the effects of multiple sclerosis. But I know a Pacer would have impressed JBJ.
So there we were, Jon and me. Chatting away, big hair and all. Talking about all kinds of stuff. Places to hang out in Providence and Boston. Where we went to school. I remember at one point he said something like, So that’s pretty cool the radio station hired you at such a young age.
That was quite a revelation, because, at that point, I didn’t really think much of what I was doing. It was 1985 and I was right around Jon’s age. Twenty-four. And I was so entrenched in the music scene, so blinded by my love of music, that I wasn’t cocky or arrogant about what I did. I just lived and breathed playing everyone’s records and going to concerts almost every night of the week.
Oddly enough, I was almost embarrassed to tell people what I did for a living or even what I did the night before. What was I going to say?  I listen to music all day. Go to shows every night. Oh and I had dinner with Bryan Adams last night.
“I’m a DJ at WHJY in Providence,” I’d usually say. Casually, almost hoping it wouldn’t register. I still don’t know why. Most of my friends had respectable jobs. Mine seemed like a super fun hobby all day long. Inevitably, the person asking what I did for a living would gasp when I told them then shoot a bunch of questions at me, grab my arm and get all excited. Anyone with me would just sit by and watch this type of exchange unfold and shake their head. Most times I’d look to them to bail me out. Celebrity is a funny thing. I looked up to these big rock stars, and listeners looked up to me because I interacted with said stars and was somewhat well-known on a more local level.
And now Jon Bon Jovi was doing it. Gushing, sort of, over the fact that I worked as a DJ at the radio station.
“Yeah, it’s really cool that they hired me, but honestly—”
“So who have you met?” Jon asked, cutting me off.
I had to think for a second. Here’s a guy who was signed to a huge label, Mercury Records, with big radio songs already—Runaway and In And Out of Love. He’d opened for bands like Scorpions and Kiss, just completed a European tour AND sold out eight shows in Japan of all places… and he was asking ME which rock stars I’d met.
“Oh, I’ve met a lot…” I said. “Um, like the guys from REM a bunch of times—”
“They’re so great, man,” Jon said, cutting me off AGAIN with his excitement. “Who else?” he asked.
It was getting strange.
“Okay, let’s see… Duran Duran—really nice guys, Aerosmith a couple of times, The Clash, Boy George, INXS, Pete Townsend, Bryan Adams, the guys from U2 a couple of times..."
“Gerry, that’s so amazing!” he said. Jon hit me on the shoulder. He was like a star-struck kid. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?  This went on for most of drive across town. After a while, even I was amazed at who I’d personally met over the last few years while doing radio.
What Jon would never have realized back then (or maybe he did) was that, all of these years later, as I write about it, he was hands down the most gracious and genuine rock star I’d ever met. In fairness to them all, no one was ever nasty or rude. Well, maybe one. Some were just going through the motions, the politics of business. Shaking your hand, posing for a radio station photo-op and such. They knew they needed us to help them sell records, and we needed them to sell commercials and have their label guys get us drunk and give us just about anything we wanted. Just. About. Anything. But not Jon. He rode in beat-up old cars with underpaid radio DJs and at the least pretended to care about our silly little lives.
It was funny how I’d ended up on this intimate little ride with Jon Bon Jovi, because the pecking order at the radio station would have certainly called for someone “bigger” than me, the nighttime jock at the time. But it’s interesting how things sometimes turn out. Earlier in the day, Jon had finished an on-air interview at our station with the afternoon jock, Rick OB. After that, he and I ended up in one of the radio station’s production studios recording some DJ spots and station IDs. The record label guy who had driven him to the station was in a hurry to get Jon back to the Providence Civic Center so he could get over to some other radio stations and do more business with programmers and music directors. Jon told the label rep to just go ahead without him. When the guy asked him how he was going to get back to the venue, Jon just looked at me and said, “Are any of you guys driving over soon?”
Seriously… was I going to say no? “Yeah, right after this I can drive you,” I said.
I totally kept a straight face, but inside I was like FUCK… is this really going to happen?  There was a long pause. Then the label guy shook our hands and left Jon Bon Jovi in the capable hands of me. I’m not even sure my car was insured at the time. This was my first post-college year where I was actually receiving a full-time paycheck for doing radio. Things were still a little tight. But I’m sure mister rock star was insured to the hilt.
“Hey, this is Jon Bon Jovi, and you’re listening to the one and only Gerry Moylan, rockin’ your nights away, right here on 94 WHJY!”
“Perfect,” I said. I hit the stop button. This went on for another half-hour or so, then, “We’re done,” I said.
“You sure?” Jon said.
When I recall that day, I'm struck that this guy was so smart. He knew it was more important to spend quality time with a full-time jock at a big rock station that would play the shit out of his records than it was to run off so the label guy could get to his next meeting. At the time, Jon was very publicly dating Hollywood actress Diane Lane.
So Jon Bon Jovi ends up in my crappy little car and is truly enthralled with the tales of which rock stars I’d met.
Once we arrived at the Civic Center, we drove through a huge mob of fans. As soon as they saw my car the crowd backed off and looked elsewhere, figuring I was the janitor or something. I opened my window and showed our passes to the guard who let us into the rear lot behind the Providence Civic Center. The coveted VIP lot.
I remember a woman screamed, “Oh my God, Jon!”  The mob suddenly realized their error in judgment. Had they given my AMC a little more respect, maybe they would have had some personal downtime with JBJ. Buh-bye.
Once backstage, Jon introduced me to all of the guys in Ratt (the headliner that night), who by the way did not come to our station and do an interview that day. Did not record promos for any of the jocks. Didn’t care (or pretend to care) about which rock stars I’d met. Their record was soaring, and they were like spoiled brats with star-struck women hanging all over them, and Milton Berle appearing in their videos. To their credit, they did tell me to grab a plate and join them all in a huge backstage feast, booze and all.
Jon stuck with me the whole time, and even had me sit by him while we grubbed. He knew I felt intimidated. Then he reiterated out loud something like… Guys, Gerry is a full-time on-air DJ at WHJY, keeping all of our music alive.
They all raised their drinks to me. Whatever.
A short while later, we had some contest winners meeting the bands backstage. More photo-ops. When we finished, Jon came over and thanked me for the ride. Told me to enjoy the show and he would hopefully see me soon. I told him Ratt should be opening for him. We hugged and he whispered Don't worry, they will.

An hour later, he would be taking the stage before thousands of serious rock fans. Within a couple of years Bon Jovi would be one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Bigger than Ratt.
Gerry Moylan is a writer living in Los Angeles. He is currently in the process of shopping a manuscript for his first book, a memoir about his September 11th experience. For more information, please visit his website at or on Twitter.

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