Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” Lyrics Meaning
The characters who are at the center of “Livin’ on a Prayer”, “Tommy” and “Gina”, are based on a few real-life couples. One is a guy Jon Bon Jovi personally knew in high school who gave up his realistic ambitions to become a professional-baseball player rather to take care of his girlfriend, who unexpectedly got pregnant. Then another other co-writer, Desmond Child, based the lyrics partially on his own experiences as a New York taxi driver, while his girlfriend was working in a diner. And then the last co-writer, Richie Sambora, view the pair of characters at the center of “Livin’ on a Prayer” as being a representations of his own parents.
What’s the meaning of “Livin’ on a Prayer”?
“Living on a prayer” is basically an expression that points to the idea of living by faith. Simply put, the person who is actually practicing such a lifestyle has nothing to rely on except his or her own prayers. And such is the case with the aforementioned characters.
From the onset Tommy is depicted as an unemployed dock worker who is “down on his luck”. That means he’s having a hard time earning enough to survive. Thus he is supported by his partner, Gina. And she “works the diner all day” in the name of supporting him. But the overall implication is that she is a low-paid worker, and her income is insufficient to cater to them both.
However, she is still optimistic. In fact she encourages Tommy to stay strong in the midst of such adversity, even if they don’t know where the road ultimately leads. Indeed the fact that they have each other as mutual support is more important than their lack of money. And Gina has a hopeful outlook that the two of them, together, will verily make it. And such points to her “living on a prayer”, as in having faith that in the end everything will work out for the best.
But due to the strenuousness of the situation, she also lacks confidence sometimes and “dreams of running away”. And in these instances it is rather Tommy who is tasked with assuring her that everything will turn out alright. Indeed things have gotten so bad that he is forced to pawn his beloved guitar. But still, he is compelled to play the role of the one who is keeping this relationship together in hopes of a brighter day.
So all things considered, whereas the lyrics feature a distinct narrative and are set in a particularly-trying point in America’s economic history, perhaps “Livin’ on a Prayer” can best be described as a love song. And why a love song? Because at the end of the day it features a couple who refuses to give up on their relationship even though they have perhaps every economic reason to do so.
The music video to this track, which was filmed in Los Angles (the Grand Olympic Auditorium specifically), had Wayne Isham as its director.
Facts about “Livin’ on a Prayer”
The track was officially released on 31 October 1986 as the second single from Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” album. And it went on to be quite a success – for instance marking the second song in a row in which the band topped the Billboard Hot 100. Moreover the track has gone triple-Platinum in the United States.
“Livin’ on a Prayer” also reached number one in Canada, New Zealand, Norway and on the UK Rock and Metal Chart. This is in addition to charting in over 10 other countries, including South Africa and Finland.
Moreover “Livin’ on a Prayer” was voted, by the general (online) public, as the Greatest Song of the ‘80s via a poll held by VH1 in 2006. And it has received similar praises on comparable listings.
And all of this for a song which initially Jon Bon Jovi had decided not to release. That is until Richie Sambora compelled him to continue working on the tune.
The characters that are at the center of “Livin’ on a Prayer” are also referenced in other Bon Jovi songs. For instance “Gina” is mentioned in the band’s 1988 tune, “99 in the Shade”. And both “Tommy and Gina” are given a shoutout in “It’s My Life” (2000). And although they aren’t specifically namedropped in “Born to Be My Baby” (1988), that song is considered to be a climax to their tale.
Who wrote “Livin’ on a Prayer”
This song was written by Jon Bon Jovi, his bandmate Richie Sambora and another prominent musician by the name of Desmond Child. And the producer of “Livin’ on a Prayer” is Bruce Fairbairn.
Tribute to Victims of September 11 Terrorist Attack
“Livin’ on a Prayer” also became an unofficial anthem of sympathy towards the victims of the World Trade Center bombing in 2001. For after New York itself, New Jersey was the state which lost most of its citizens to the disaster, and Bon Jovi themselves are from the Garden State. And the band actually performed this tune at the “America: A Tribute to Heroes” benefit concert on 21 September 2001 for the victims of 9/11.