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Jon Bon Jovi urges people to volunteer in his band’s new single “Do What You Can” from the album “2020.”

USA TODAY

NEW YORK – By now, Jon Bon Jovi is familiar with the phrase “Shut up and sing.”  

Early this spring, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer premiered “Do What You Can,” an uplifting ode to essential workers and American resilience amid the coronavirus pandemic. When he released a remix with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles this summer, it was met with some animosity on social media, where people told him to “put his mask on and shut up” and “keep that brainwashing … off my country music channel.” 

He’s bound to ruffle even more feathers come Friday when his band, Bon Jovi, releases its 15th studio album, “2020.” The cheeky title is a double entendre for the election year and clear vision, with socially charged songs about mass shootings (“Lower the Flag”), police brutality (“American Reckoning”) and the Trump administration (“Blood in the Water”). But the singer isn’t concerned about alienating longtime fans. 

“I used this as a moment in my own journey to bear witness to history,” he says. “I’m sure that people will criticize lyrics and I don’t want to turn anyone off – I just wanted to start a conversation.” 

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Bon Jovi, 58, recently sat down with USA TODAY for a socially distanced conversation outdoors in New York. Here’s what he had to say about new music, politics and more: 

Question: What’s the first song you wrote for “2020?” 

Jon Bon Jovi: “Blood in the Water,” and that was over two years ago. That’s the one song about the current administration, and two years down the road, the story still holds up today. I can tell you the references: “Your shadow sold your secrets.” Michael Cohen. “They say the noose fits like your necktie.” Russian ties. “A storm is coming.” Stormy Daniels or impeachment or the election. 

Without taking sides, these are the facts and so I wrote it down. You know, “There’s blood in the water. They’re comin’. How you gonna deal with it?” I enjoyed being this narrator, this voyeur. And throughout this record, I sort of feel like that. 

Q: Did you set out to make a socially conscious album? 

Bon Jovi: No, no. Typically, I’ll have one or two songs that are socially conscious, whether it was “Keep the Faith” (1992), “Dry County” (1992), or “Runaway” (1981). Social consciousness was something I was aware of but wasn’t making a career of. With this record, I was doing the usual. And then as the writing process took root, (the album) took on a whole different kind of gravitas with the latter songs that were written: “Lower the Flag,” “Let It Rain,” “American Reckoning” and “Do What You Can.” 

Q: How soon after George Floyd’s death did you write “American Reckoning,” which details the “eight long minutes” an officer’s knee was on his neck?

Bon Jovi: Before the funeral. I watched Stephen Jackson (a former NBA player and Floyd’s longtime friend) talking on the “Today” show, and he said, “In his last breaths, he was calling for his mom.” And I welled up with tears because I thought, “How could this happen to anyone?” The idea that a grown man is calling for his mom just moved me, it hurt me. 

Q: “Brothers in Arms” also references former NFL player Colin Kaepernick and national anthem protests against police brutality, with the lyric, “Don’t rewrite or define what it means to see a man take a knee.” What did you hope to say there?  

Bon Jovi: To be clear: I love this country. Both my parents were Marines. I was born when John Kennedy was president, and I was able to vote when Ronald Reagan was telling America, “There should be two cars in the driveway” and rah-rah. But the NFL lost the narrative. Colin Kaepernick took a knee not against America, not against veterans – he took a knee against injustice and police brutality. So that’s why I said it (in the song). Again, just stating the facts.

Q: Going into this presidential election, how are you feeling about the state of the country? 

Bon Jovi: They say that each election, someone will come out and say, “This is the most important election of our lifetime,” and that seems to be the cliché that you hear every time. I do believe there’s an ideological difference between these two candidates, and I beg America to be heard and vote. I’m not going to tell you who you should vote for, and whichever way the country goes when the results are had, there still needs to be a healing. Because the idea of any further division isn’t going to be pleasant, and that’s what scares me. 

Q: You recently played a fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Why do you personally think he’s the person to lead us through this difficult time? 

Bon Jovi: It’s my belief that he understands a wide spectrum of Americans’ feelings, needs and hopes. I also think that experience matters – I thought it mattered last time. And relations with allies (matter) because none of us is an island. 

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