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Band Review

Richie Sambora: “The Answer” Is In the Question

By Anthony Kuzminski

Seek the truth, and you shall find another life


On Monday September 24, 2007 it was announced Richie Sambora entered rehab for the second time in four months. I have to tell you, my heart goes out to the guy. Jon Bon Jovi may be the brains behind the operation of Bon Jovi and is the driving force behind their continued success, but it’s Sambora who gives the band its heart and soul. He’s the yin to Jon Bon Jovi’s yang and is the man who on stage night after night brings the harmonies of the Bon Jovi catalog to life. He alone is one of a handful of artists who has profoundly affected my life in an indefinable way. His 1991 solo album, ‘Stranger In This Town’ shook me to my core emotionally. It’s one of the most honest and naked records ever released and dare I say it, but it’s the best album of the last twenty-five years that Eric Clapton never made. Clapton even makes an appearance on the album on “Mr. Bluesman” a track Sambora wrote about a young kid from Jersey who wanted to be…Eric Clapton. Truly inspiring records turn your insides out and make you ponder and question your life in ways you never imagined. They paint a picture that opens doors for you. Not only did ‘Stranger In This Town’ do this for me, but it made me cogitate about how I could enhance it. It kept me company on many a lonely night where I could completely relate to the narrator of the title track, “Stranger In This Town”, made me thankful but still yearn for a lost love when I heard “Rosie” while the confessional “Rest In Peace” forges long distance love before the visceral power of swelling guitars compliment “Church of Desire”. “Father Time” forced one to look to their past mistakes in a swirling ferocious song led by Sambora’s jolting and ingenious power hooks. The album’s first single, “Ballad of Youth” forced me to never forget the past but to move onwards and upwards leaving behind “yesterday’s blues” while “River of Love” reeked of a sexual roadhouse exuberance. ‘Stranger’ is by no means an easy album to digest but if you let it reveal itself to you on multiple listens, you will find yourself entranced, encouraged and enlightened.

I remember bringing the CD home on September 3, 1991 and following the instructions on the inner sleeve; “Turn down the lights, Light a candle… Welcome”. From the eerie and mystical opening notes of “Rest In Peace” to the spiritual and transcendent finale of “The Answer” I was transfixed and taken to another world where I was able to meditate on my own time and take stock of my life. This is an album with multiple themes revolving around all aspects of life embodying the somber, surreal, sexual and sublime. Every time I have encountered obstacles in my life, ‘Stranger In The Town’ is on the shortlist of albums that console me and refresh my soul.

They say for every living thing
There's a guide up in the sky


One particular time in my life found me surrounded by darkness and defeat. In November of 1993, my grandmother and my aunt died within twenty-four hours of each other. My mother’s Mom and Sister passed onto the next world and while she was torn to pieces, I couldn’t do anything but sit there and support her. It may have been one of the most draining and excruciating painful experience of my life. I got through it with the support of my friends and a few records. I remember taking ‘Stranger In This Town’ with me everywhere I went as it was a constant companion to me during this time. Over the next few weeks, I delved deep into the album and discovered this wasn’t just a piece of plastic with a hole in the middle but the greatest self help book ever written. On ‘Stranger’ Sambora set out to make a reflective, insightful and evocative record much like the ones he grew up listening to in New Jersey where it would be a friend to you whenever none could be found. It’s an understatement to say he succeeded wildly.

A few months after the deaths of my aunt and grandmother, I was chosen to give a speech on a retreat and I spoke of my spirituality. At the end my speech, I played “The Answer” because I remember feeling this one song could express so much more than any words I would speak. At its conclusion, I looked up and saw tears in the eyes of a few football players to whom I was speaking. One of them afterwards came to me and wanted to know all about the song and where he could get a copy. A few days later when the retreat ended, I gave him my cassette of ‘Stranger In This Town’ for his continued journey through life.

So I live each day like I know it's my last
If there is no future there must be no past


If I die prematurely, I would want “The Answer” played at my funeral. Despite the title, it’s a mystical and mystifying song that for some leaves you with more questions than answers. I remember being in my car on a chilly December day about a month later and “The Answer” came on. At this point, I was questioning everything in my life. Seeing two family members pass on into another realm is never easy but was equally disheartening because one went far before her time should have been up. What does life hold for us? It seems like we fight for answers we never really get and largely lead unsatisfying lives. However, when I look back at the lives of my grandmother and aunt, I realize they truly lived each day to its fullest and never blamed life’s hardships on anyone. They merely rolled with the punches and I can’t help but think what an indelible impression they left not just on me but on others whom I continue to meet to this day. I was entering into a different phase of my life that to be frank scared the hell out of me. As I sat there in my little Ford Escort Sambora sang the lyric “There’s a world in every drop of rain” from “The Answer” and I can’t quite explain it, but a sensation of peace and tranquility came over me. The anxiety I was feeling moments earlier vanished. In the year that followed these two deaths (and I know I will sound like a quack), I felt the presence of God numerous times. Maybe it was God and maybe it wasn’t, but what I do know is that someone from another realm reached out to the lost soul in me and assured me, just like the great Tom Petty song, “It’ll All Work Out”.

“The Answer” is an acoustic number that is complimented with washing landscapes from Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan and Tony Levin’s wondrous bass. The philosophical lyrics were written by Sambora at the tender age of nineteen when he was seeking for substance and route in life. Being a teenager isn’t all it’s cracked up to be even though in retrospect many view it as the pinnacle of their life. To be honest, I don’t miss a lot of the drama and I still find myself pondering life’s mysteries daily. I’ve learned quite a bit in my life through many eclectic people and experiences but I’ll never forget what a guiding light ‘Stranger In This Town’ was to me during my high school and college years. Even though it didn’t give me the answers I was looking for, it reminded me to look within and try to find the answers myself instead of waiting for someone to give them to me. For that I’ll forever be indebted to Mr. Sambora and I wish him a happy, healthy and speedy recovery to the concert stage.

There's a world in every drop of rain
Embracing oceans sweep us home again
Come along with me, come along with me
Seek the truth, you shall not find another lie


Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and can be found at The Screen Door

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