Some time in 1986, Jon Bon Jovi sat down at his desk and penned these lyrics, which became part of the song "Wanted Dead or Alive": "I walk these streets, a loaded six string on my back / I play for keeps, cause I might not make it back / I been everywhere, still I'm standing tall / I've seen a million faces and I've rocked them all." The last line of that stanza is what concerns us here. It is clearly a bold claim no matter how one interprets it, but what exactly is Mr. Bon Jovi saying here?
The statement is bipartite, containing two claims: (a) I've seen a million faces and (b) I've rocked them all. I identify two basic hermeneutical possibilities.
(1) First is the "plain sense" reading: JBJ has literally seen one million faces, and of the one million faces he has seen, he has rocked all of them. This is probably the most audacious interpretation of the statement, as it posits a 1:1 faces seen to faces [seen and] rocked ratio. For this to be true, every face belonging to the set "faces seen by Jon Bon Jovi" also belongs to the set "faces rocked by Jon Bon Jovi." Such a reading could, however, account for a specific context in which the faces were seen, reducing the set size and making the statement somewhat more reasonable. Perhaps the 1,000,000 faces seen refers only to faces seen by Mr. Bon Jovi in concert audiences. Even so, this is an audacious claim.
(2) Second is a more nuanced, but less audacious interpretation of the statement: Jon Bon Jovi has (b) rocked 1,000,000 faces, and the previous claim (a) refers only to the faces rocked by Bon Jovi. In other words, Mr. Bon Jovi is claiming not a 1:1 seen:rocked ratio, but a total of 1,000,000 faces [seen and] rocked, with the actual number of faces seen being higher than 1,000,000 and the ratio thus being somewhat higher than 1:1.
In order to resolve this quesiton, we will have to rely on estimates to establish a realistic upper boundary of faces rocked by JBJ.
At the time this song was written, Bon Jovi had not gone on a national tour. Clearly the claim to have seen and rocked a million faces is not so bold post-Slippery When Wet, as the accompanying tour included 163 gigs. The band would only have to average an attendance of 6,135 rocked faces per show, at a time when the Slippery When Wet LP was selling millions and millions of copies. (Bon Jovi's 2/8/87 stop in Austin, for instance, was at the Erwin Center, capacity 16,755.)
However, in 1986, Bon Jovi had performed primarily in New Jersey. JBJ learned to play guitar in 1975, at age 13. That means Jon had 11 years of face-rocking under his belt when Wanted Dead or Alive was written. That means he would have to average 90,909 faces rocked per year, or 1,748 faces per week. How likely is this? Let's take a look at his pre-Bon Jovi bands and recordings to determine.
- Raze: This is JBJ's first band, formed at age 13 while attending an all-boys Catholic school. I would generously estimate that his band rocked 100 faces during its maximum estimated three-year tenure.
- Atlantic City Expressway: JBJ's second band, a "12-piece cover band named ... after the New Jersey highway," formed at age 16. We would need to know what style of covers they were performing for an accurate estimate, but Wikipedia says they played New Jersey clubs. Estimated faces rocked in the band's approximately two-year tenure: up to 2,080 (20 faces per gig x 1 gig per weekend x 2 years)
- John Bongiovi and the Wild Ones: JBJ's third band, formed sometime in his late teens. Style not listed in Wikipedia. Opened for "known" New Jersey acts. Estimated faces rocked in three-year tenure: up to 7,800 (50 faces per gig x 1 gig per weekend x 3 years)
- "R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas": JBJ's first professional recording, age 17. Estimated faces rocked: -15. (Ed.: Can this be a negative value?)
- "Bon Jovi" (self-titled album) + "Runaway" single: 1984. These recordings can only account for a previously undocumented set, namely faces unseen by JBJ yet still rocked by him, but we can use them to establish an upper boundary of maximum faces rocked in this period. 500,000 copies of "Bon Jovi" sold before 2/4/86 [updated -- see below].
It's not clear how many were sold in the 1984-1986 window, but for our purposes,we will count all sales as potential faces to been seen AND rocked by JBJ.
- "7800° Fahrenheit": 1985. Bon Jovi's poorly-received (outside of Japan) sophomore effort. I can't find any proper sales numbers, but all signs point to it selling badly. It seems likely that initial sales were far fewer than the 500,000 of the previous album, but in the interests of establishing an upper boundary of faces rocked, I'm going to assume that the fan base expanded by 500,000 or so during 1985, due to continued airplay, sales of the "Bon Jovi" LP, and even some sales of 7800°.
Totaled up, that gives us an upper boundary of 1,009,865 faces rocked. Subtracting a few for faces unseen by JBJ in concert due to obstructions, we arrive at a number startlingly close to 1,000,000 but not significantly larger. This evidence points to the likelihood that view (1), the "plain sense" reading of JBJ bipartite statment is the correct one. It seems that Mr. Bon Jovi is, in fact, claiming a 1:1 faces seen:faces rocked ratio.
Thanks to my collegues Mark Beebe and Nick Johnson for their assistance with this monograph.
A note to the haters: I wrote this over a single lunch break, while you were probably watching an episode of The Gilmore Girls, so suck it.
UPDATE: Please see the comments section for a well-argued alternative view, presented by no less an authority than noted arenarockologist and frequent commenter elcaballo. While I'm highly impressed with his research, I still maintain that the numbers I have established here are an effective estimate for the upper boundary of faces rocked. I could be persuaded otherwise by the tour metrics for the Ratt tour if I had them, but an individual show -- even a large one -- shouldn't move the upper boundary of faces rocked AND seen by much, considering that I was already counting every person who bought the "Bon Jovi" album as a potential face in the crowd at a Bon Jovi show. In fact, my greatest insecurity about my estimates is that there weren't enough Bon Jovi shows for all album buyers to have seen JBJ and thus had their faces rocked AND seen by him, and the information provided by elcaballo allays these fears somewhat.
As to the hypothesis that JBJ was just being hyperbolic, my esteemed colleague undermines that notion by suggesting that JBJ has seen and rocked well in excess of 1,000,000 faces. If that were true, JBJ claim's would be an understatement -- the opposite of hyperbole.