Book of the Month: Margaret Olson’s Bon Jovi: America’s Ultimate Band
For our third ‘book of the month’ recommendation, I decided to choose one that summarizes the evolution of American rock and roll and the music industry since the 80’s till our days. Margaret Olson’s Bon Jovi: America’s Ultimate Band (2013) analyzes how a working-class and multiethnic group from New Jersey (Italian, Latino and Jewish) became both a fundamental part of American popular culture and transformed into a transnational commercial brand.
The book starts with a historical context to explain how the vital experiences of the band members and their local musical referents, such as Bruce Springsteen or Southside Jonny, influenced the Jovi sound and lyrics. Olson also deals with the difficult task of situating Bon Jovi within a specific genre such as the ‘hair’ or ‘glam metal’ of its origins and classic American rock.
Using the case of Bon Jovi as a paradigmatic example of innovation and adaptability, the author explores the dramatic changes suffered by the music industry after the arrival of videoclips and MTV, what made the effective election of aesthetic looks and interpretive skills decisive for the success and survival of musical careers.
However, the most attractive and relevant contribution of the book is Olson’s description of the transformation of Bon Jovi from rock band to transnational brand and business company. By analyzing Jon Bon Jovi’s vision and leadership, Olson affirms that the diversification of the brand to the fields of sports, merchandising, politics and philanthropy took Bon Jovi to a new level in which it became an inseparable part of American Culture and media, what she considers the main non-musical reason why they are still relevant today.
After a 37 years career, Bon Jovi has entered the Rock and Roll Hall Fame. Moreover, Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora were also inducted to the Song Writers Hall of Fame. In addition, they keep releasing new albums and selling out stadiums all over the world. Margaret Olson’s book fills a vacuum in rock and roll historiography but also opens the way to several interesting research lines from multiple perspectives. Although some of the information contained in the book is not new, it does provide a new insight and structure that makes it easy to read. The later makes her work both accessible and useful to the general public and researchers alike.
Olson, Margaret. 2013. Bon Jovi: America’s Ultimate Band. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.