Tommy used to work on the docks
Unions been on strike
He's down on his luck
It's tough, so tough
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Jon Bon Jovi
(thanks, Rosana Prada)
"[I] wrote that song during the Reagan era (1980–88) and the trickle-down economics are really inspirational to writing songs," say Jon Bon Jovi about the band's smash hit “Livin' on a Prayer.” Often touted as an anti-labor anthem, when asked if Tommy was a strike-breaker in an interview for The Guardian
, the band replied “No. He just lost his job - it wasn't that he crossed the [picket] line. The industry left the town and he didn't get the job back. It was a fictional character. The inspiration was a young couple who got pregnant and gave up everything they had, but that didn't read right, so we changed the story." Bon Jovi has continued to distance themselves from the political interpretation of what is arguably their most famous song. However, given that the band hails from industrial, working-class Sayreville, New Jersey, it's by no means a stretch of the imagination to conclude that the band was making a statement about the economic situation during Reagan's term in the White House.
Sayreville, New Jersey is a borough perched on the Raritan River in Middlesex County, New Jersey. Home to less than 50,000 people, Sayreville was originally settled by Navesink Indians. It was only after the American Revolutionary War that the town previously known as Roundabout and Wood's Landing received its modern moniker from James R. Sayre Jr. of Sayre Fish & Brick Company. Sayreville quickly became one of the leading brick producers in the region. Despite attempts at redevelopment, including the addition of luxury apartment blocks and marinas, Sayreville remains an industrial town perhaps best known for being the home of Bon Jovi.
According to notes in the Desmond Child & Rouge: Runners in the Night
album, Tommy and Gina – the protagonists of “Livin' on a Prayer” – were based on real life situation: during the 1970s Child was a New York taxi driver and his girlfriend, Maria, worked at a diner to make ends meet. Although a personal reference to Child's youth, this was by no means a unique situation at the time. The upbeat vibe of the song with the rocking chorus declaring “We're half way there... Take my hand and we'll make it - I swear” is infused with hope and the sense of joy of being able to go it alone. This was a message that resonated with young adults at the time, making “Livin' on a Prayer” the band's first #1 hit on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. This single caused sales of the 1986 album Slippery When Wet
to skyrocket, carving out a place for the band in rock history.
Jon Bon Jovi's childhood home
"I think I find more strength in faith than I do in organized religion. 'Livin' On A Prayer' is most certainly nondenominational," says Jon Bon Jovi. Non-denominational and still a fan favorite almost 30 years after its initial release, “Livin' on Prayer” has since been covered by a number of artists including, Paul Anka and more recently the cast of the TV series Glee
. In 2000, Bon Jovi released their album Crushed
. The first single off the album was “It's my Life,” a classic, Bon Jovi rock anthem meant to inspire. And it did, partly because of a lyrical reference to those early characters, Tommy and Gina, "This is for the ones who stood their ground, for Tommy and Gina who never backed down." The theme of forging your own path in life, of having the courage to live life the way you want to continues to resonate with fans old and new. The two songs are frequently performed as a pair, most noticeably at the closing ceremony of the 2002 winter Olympics.
Named by VH1 as one of the Greatest Songs of the 80s, Bon Jovi told The London Times
in 2010 that he never gets tired of singing the song. Bon Jovi went on to perform “Livin' on a Prayer” at the 2010 Grammy Awards as a result of a fan vote. Fans had to choose between “It's My Life,” “Always,” or “Livin' on a Prayer.” Despite the more anthemic, upbeat nature of “It's My Life,” the fans voted and “Livin' on a Prayer” won by a landslide, proving that the best songs truly are timeless, and not all that much has changed economically in the last 30 years.
~ Suzanne van Rooyen
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include
Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and
The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.
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