Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bon Jovi's faces seen vs. faces rocked, ca. 1986: two views

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)
  • "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.

Sources: Wikipedia
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.


  1. He's not really a cowboy either.

  2. you are a prolific lunch break writer, sir.

  3. Although I am somewhat awestruck by this post, in the name of sober analysis I must offer an alternative analysis.

    (1) According to the RIAA website, "Bon Jovi" was certified gold on 2/4/86, 6 months before "Slippery When Wet" was released.

    (2) If Wikipedia is correct, then, on the strength of his debut recording, Bon Jovi opened for ZZ Top at Madison Square Garden (capacity 19,522-20,000, depending on the arrangement), as well as Europe with Scorpions and KISS. Scorpions had just released their platinum album "Blackout," and KISS was, well, KISS. These would have been substantial tours with substantial audiences.

    (3) On the "strength" of "7800° Fahrenheit," Bon Jovi toured with Ratt. Presumably Ratt was touring in support of their platinum release "Invasion of Your Privacy." That album was a follow-up to their even more successful "Out of the Cellar," which went double platinum in 1984. Needless to say, Ratt was huge and was likely playing to massive audiences.

    Given 1-3, it is plausible that Bon Jovi both saw and rocked far more than a million faces well prior to writing "Wanted Dead or Alive." Therefore I would ask you to consider the debated lyric as a simple case of poetic license or hyperbole.

    This interpretation gains strength when the other lyrics you cite are taken into account: it is highly improbable that Bon Jovi had "been everywhere" by 1986, or that he walked "these streets" with "a loaded six-string" on his back. Given his already burgeoning fame, public perambulation with his instrument of choice would not have been wise. Even if we were to take Bon Jovi at his word here, the case is only strengthened for a number of faces seen and rocked greater than 1 million.

  4. 1) I'm going to cleave to the fact that JBJ is in fact a valliant teller of rock-and-roll truths. At the point of writing, he had indeed seen and rocked (sufficiently enough to count them as such) about 1,000,000 faces. My rationale is more epistemological: What cause would Jon Bon Jovi have to lie about how many faces he had seen/rocked, and why would he sell himself short? Surely at a time in rock music when groupies were stacked floor to ceiling there was no call for false modesty. JBJ could look a girl squarely in the eye, claim to have invented Calecovision, and she would have given herself over to him, her doubts about his electrical engineering prowess notwithstanding. JBJ had absolutely no reason to present a falsehood in his imllion face estimate.

    B) If I were going to see Ratt play in 1984 (as soon as I get the Wayback machine online), I would not come for the lame opening act. I mean...Bon's just that one dude's last name.

    Roman Numeral Three) I'd also like to trump Mark's final cry of "SANTANA!" with a smug "Winger. Bam."

  5. Sorry for the delayed response, I've been doing important things.

    (1) Yes, I misused the word hyperbole. I apologize.

    (2) That epistemological argument is baseless. Actually, it's not even an epistemological argument, but a psycho-social argument (you're asking about causality, not the conditions of knowledge). I am unprepared, and you should be as well, to speculate as to Bon Jovi's psychological state in the early stages of massive fame. As for possible social causes of poetic license, well, there's this thing called poetic license....

    (3) Having toured as part of a little-known opening band for a much larger band, I can say that you'd be surprised how many people show up early. (This is weak anecdotal evidence, I recognize, but it's probably better than any other evidence we have at this point). But JBJ wasn't even a little-know opening band, he was on the verge of a gold record.

    (4) My case does not rest on the one ZZ Top show. Although that show alone would bump your number over 1 million, the point was rather that JBJ was getting some major opening slots. Your number relied on his not having gone on a national tour of the U.S.--but he toured Europe with three of the biggest bands in the world!

    Scorpions was touring the best-selling album of their career, "Love at First Sting," which went double platinum in the U.S. just a few months after it was released. Scorpions are from Germany, so it's fair to say that they were successful in Europe; they were probably playing large arenas and stadiums by that point.

    I've already gives relevant details about the Ratt tour, and you know enough about KISS.

    The point is that you don't really need the "metrics" from these tours to know that there were very large audiences. And it's not as if JBJ was a nobody at this point--as we've already demonstrated, his album selling well too.

    Once again, JBJ went on huge tours and played huge shows--he had seen well over a million faces! Whether or not he rocked them is another matter....

  6. I have a dilemma when working through the evidence presented:

    1) Neither you nor JBJ have defined exactly what it means to "rock" a face. Many interpretations could be put forth:

    a) the accepted (and I believe here, assumed) view that to have your face rocked is to be awed by the presence, aura, and decibles of JBJ & co's music

    b) to have a literal rock hurled at your face. We all understand the propensity for violence in JBJs music (guitars ostensibly loaded with bullets and whatnot), but I believe we can set aside this view in favor of metaphor

    c) to have the face of the rock-ee witness or experience the rock-or in a non-musical context: as fellow minstrel Michael Jackson says in his timeless "Rock Your Body", an argument can be made that "rocking" in this context is in fact non-musical. Similarly, the German performers the Scorpions liken "rocking" you to the kind of devastation brought upon Galveston, New Orleans, and other cities through strong gusts of wind and rain. Even setting the literal interpretation aside, the metaphor suggests that "rocking" can occur without accompaniment. A third example shows legendary blues artist Muddy Waters (in a composition oft re-interpreted by Led Zeppelin, Buddy Guy et al) wanting an unidentified participant to "rock" the artist "like his back ain't got no bone". I can find no metaphor dealing with music which can explain this phenomenon.

    Is it likely, then, that JBJ's concept of "rocking" a face could require no music? Can we posit that he had indeed met a million people prior to the original claim, and somehow, by his own definition, "rocked" said faces non-musically?

  7. I believe my friend Ethan has had his face rocked by JBJ. Perhaps he can detail the experience in this blog at a later date. I shall forward him this link.


  8. The nature of face rocking was not the focus of the study or the original conversation, and is ancillary to point, that being whether or not JB could have left 1,000,000 faces (note the synecdoche for person here) "rocked". It's quite a safe assumption, taking into account this poetic devide, to say that a rocked face here is someone who has fully experienced the rockingness of Bon Jovi the band, and ostensibly JBJ the man (the legend). And, as the conclusion states, we find that JBJ has a statistically 100% rate of faces seen to faces rocked up to the point of writing this song.

  9. I believe its an obvious argument that if he's seen a million faces and rocked them all, we are dealing with a 1:1 ratio. However, nothing has statistically been proven to me that he has seen and rocked a million faces? What about the faces who have appeared at multiple shows? Is there an analysis of the repeat business that JBJ would have had in those days. Is he in fact double-counting faces? Or, is this point irrelevant since he does not specify that he's seen a million different faces, and just the fact that he's seen the faces themselves. Also, how does he see every face at a given concert. I am not sure I saw every face at my wedding and there were less then 200 people there.

    Having said that, why do we only have to count those faces that appeared at his concerts. JBJ could have met a fan on the street, who was rocked by him in the past. I would argue that would still contribute to his face count.

    I therefore, I can not conclusively tell you whether JBJ has seen a million faces based on your arguments.

  10. I was an attendee of a BonJovi/Ratt show on the 7800&degr;/Invasion tour. Raleigh, North Carolina.

    I am sure I came more for Ratt than BonJovi, despite having very favorable feelings toward "Runaway". The venue's primary purpose, I believe, was basketball, and I recall being able to hear the bass and drums multiple times due to sound bouncing off the back of the venue, and being able to hear the guitars themselves being strummed (the acoustic sounds of electric instruments) and the singers singing, but little by way of amplification for those.

    I cannot in truth say that anyone in that audience had their faces rocked in any real musical sense.

  11. whats the definition of rocking on of these faces? Maybe he didn't have to play to them but just be a general rockstar and piss on their couch....

  12. I wonder how many faces he's seen/rocked in the intervening 24 years.

  13. If you are going to try and be mathematical at least get it correct. If it was a 1 to 1 ratio both "circles" would be the exact same size and sit one on top the other.
    In your diagram putting a circle with "faces seen by JBJ" inside a circle with "faces rocked by JBJ" means one is a SUBset of the other, ie smaller in number.

  14. You forget he also opened for .38 Special at the meadowlands in NJ in the early eighties as well.

  15. I have a different interpretation.
    BonJovi could've infact seen 1,000,000 faces but is it specified that he has not rocked more than 1,000,000 faces? he is not limited to the 1:1 ratio but he could've rocked all the faces but only seen 1,000,000 of them. (so he might have rocked all the faces who have ever heard BonJovi this number being more than 1,000,000 faces that he has claimed to see)

  16. I am pretty sure the song was written by Desmond Childe, though he may not be credited for it. So, if someone else has indeed put words in his mouth, then the analysis might be suspect. Someone else may have done the actual face-rocking of millions.

    As for rocking faces, the term "rock and roll" originally referred to having sex, so rocking a face could have bizarre connotations.

  17. In the absence of a cited source or other supporting evidence, I'm skeptical about the second, third and fourth factual claims - in sentence one - made before the point of debate was even raised.

    Do we in fact have any reason to believe or - dare I say it: assume? - that at the time Mr. Bon Jovi authored the lyrics in question he was:

    1. Sitting down
    2a. Sitting at a desk
      (2b. Was the desk, indeed his?)
    3. Writing the lyrics with a pen

    I have no evidence contra your claims. I simply need some assurance as to the research method used to establish the foundation of your argument before considering it prima facie.

  18. I wonder if Jon Bon Jovi has considered updating the lyrics to include the likely dozens of millions of faces he has rocked in the ensuing 26 years since the song's inception.

    Personally, my face has yet to be rocked at a Bon Jovi concert. I happen to like his music, but I would not, in good conscience, be able to truthfully substantiate the claim of face rockage in the midst of such songs as 'Silent Night', 'Only Lonely', 'Bed of Roses', etc. If such claims are to be made based simply on songs performed toward said faces, what is to stop Adam Ant from claiming face rockage by 'Goody Two Shoes', Flock of Seagulls with 'I Ran', etc? I think you get my point.

  19. This is speaking purely from a woman's point of view, that although I attended a JBJ concert, I simply would not allow JBJ to rock my face in any sense or meaning of the word. My face was completely unrockable. How many other women were in the audience who, for various and unknown reasons, simply refused to have a face-rocking? Is JBJ making the claim that his rockinghood is irresistable and that I can only stand by, helplessly, while he rocks my face? This is at least implied by the way he sings that particular lyric in his song, that concert-goers have no choice but to let JBJ rock their face. In fact, he sounds a little dangerous. My sense of propriety is offended that someone might suggest that they could face-rock me against my will.

  20. @Anonymous above - You only thought that JBJ didn't rock your face. Had you been able to see your own face during the concert, you would know otherwise.

  21. You science and math guys are all alike, all brains and no heart, and you missed a possible truth. John Bon Jovi actually rounded down as to make his song musically pleasing, which in turn magnifies his ability to rock. What was John supposed to do, sing this: "I've seen 6 million seven hundred twenty-three thousand faces, and I rocked the all...."?
    JBJ wanted the song to sound good. I say he rounded down because, come on, I dont need numbers to tell me that JBJ saw and rocked way more than a million faces by the time he wrote that song. I've had my face rocked by him when he did an acoustic performance on one of those day time shows, and you can't tell me that JBJ can't rock a face over the tv. Yes, it was after he had written the song, but I'm saying the experience of having your face rocked by John Bon Jovi gives you insight into what you guys are discussing. And btw, I have been rocked, live, by the Scorpions, which blew me away, literally, about 175 feet past the back fence at Irvine Meadows, so I know.

    You also dont take into account that John Bon Jovi is a cowboy, and he has the night on his side. How does that affect the numbers? Maybe he has seen and rocked faces from the shadows? Do you take into account his experience walking the streets with a loaded sing string on his back? Perhaps JBJ has gained the ability to simply think about his music while in a crowded area and, next thing you know, you've got a mall full of rocked faces.
    yes, numbers may not lie, but do they tell the entire truth?

  22. Regardless of the argument used here, it is good to point out that having the ability to both see and rock faces is not a guaranteed ability of a given musician. For example, consider Stevie Wonder who may have rocked a million faces, but would not have seen a million faces. Likewise, Justin Bieber may have seen a million faces, but is often considered face-rockingly challenged.