My fear was mediocrity, being just another cog in the glorious system that would eventually grind our spirit down to dust. I refused to be a prisoner in a gilded cage from which there was no escape… I was determined to overcome my limitations, to stare my mediocrity in the face, to step up and dare to fail big, to go for the gold, live on the edge of uncertainty. At least I’d be alive to feel my own pain, as John Lennon had commanded – Billy Idol.
Wikipedia: “William Michael Albert Broad (born 30 November 1955), known professionally as Billy Idol, is an English singer who holds dual British and American citizenship. Billy’s family moved to Long Island, New York when he was two years old. But five years later – for whatever reason – they went back to England. His classmates called him “the Yank.” (I get called the same thing when I’m down South and they find out I’m from the Boston area. Some people never get tired of fighting the Civil War -ME)
During high school, young Mr.Broad taught himself to play guitar and got involved in singing in local bands. One day on a train platform, Billy met a gal named Susan Ballion, and together they became fans of the Sex Pistols. Susan later took on the stage name Siouxsie Sioux. (How is it that so many Brit rockers wind up meeting at train stations? – ME).
Eventually, Billy became the guitarist for a band known as Chelsea and was in the thick of the punk scene. He and bassist Tony James were writing the songs and didn’t like the singer. So in 1976, they formed Generation X. They were a punk band but were inspired by mid-60s British pop.
Said Idol (stage name based on a schoolteacher’s description of him as “idle*”), “We were saying the opposite to the Clash and the Pistols. They were singing ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones,’ but we were honest about what we liked. The truth was we were all building our music on the Beatles and the Stones”
Generation X lasted for four years and were fairly popular in Britain. If they had any success at all here in the States, I totally missed it. Idol and James stuck it out and rechristened the band, Gen X., In 1981, Gen X released an album called Kiss Me Deadly which pretty much went nowhere.
In that same year, Billy moved back to NYC. As his website bio says, “Like his father before him, Billy Idol decided to re-start his life in America. In 1981, 26-year-old Billy landed in shabby, crabby, cracked, wrecked, and wonderful Manhattan. Idol heartily embraced the subway lows and skyscraper highs promised by the lyrics of Lou Reed and Patti Smith. It was a brave move for a man without a band and only very limited cult success in his new country.”
Determined to make it, he teamed up with guitarist Steve Stevens (his Ronson to Idol’s Bowie) and released an EP called Don’t Stop. Idol still had the punk look and sound but it’s interesting the album is listed as dance-rock. He and Stevens had been gravitating towards that sound for a while.
From that EP came a Tommy James 60s hit called “Mony Mony” which I will happily avoid. But the other song that matters is his retread of “Dancing with Myself” which had been the lead track on that last Gen X album.
The “inspiration for the song occurred during a tour of Japan by Generation X when Idol and James were struck by the sight of the young crowd in a Tokyo discotheque dancing with their own reflections in walled mirrors rather than with one another.” (Today we have people sitting together looking at their phones instead of talking to each other – ME).
So, let’s sink another drink. (Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones on guitar):
To Idol’s great and lasting fortune, MTV had started up around this time and if anybody was made for that medium, it was he. In 1982, he released Billy Idol which was effectively his first solo album.
And remind yourself that it is a nice day for a nice, White (shotgun) Wedding. The bride in the video was Idol’s then-girlfriend Perri Lister who was apparently some sort of Brit celebrity. They later had a kid together:
Since I don’t necessarily do six-packs chronologically, I’ll just jump around here. An Idol tune (he’s a pretty good songwriter) that I’ve always kinda dug is the Twilight-Zone sounding “Eyes Without a Face.” The title came from a movie but of the song Idol says:
“I started to use ‘Eyes Without a Face’ as a possible title/lyric/chorus for a song. I began to write words that, in some disguised form, spoke about my life in New York and a relationship gone wrong, on the edge of disintegrating into madness. Perhaps I was reflecting on my own touring infidelities. In a way, those can leave you feeling soulless, especially if you’re already in a relationship that you value but are degrading by looking elsewhere for additional sexual kicks.”(Yes, that must be awful – ME.)
After having (shock! horror!) somehow developed drinking and drug problems, Idol moved to LA. And in “February 1990 a horrific motorcycle accident nearly took Billy Idol’s life (and came perilously close to taking his leg, along with costing him a major role in Terminator 2).”
Here’s a nice soulful cover of the Booker T song “To Be A Lover” from Whiplash Smile:
And for good measure, here’s “Rebel Yell.” The rebel yell was something that Confederate soldiers used during the Civil War to intimidate the enemy. But Billy says he had attended an event where Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood were taking swigs from a bottle of “Rebel Yell” bourbon whiskey. He was not familiar with the brand, but he liked the name and decided to write the song.
Idol wrote a book about the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll lifestyle and at the ready-for-Medicare age of 65, appears to have conquered his demons. From his site, it looks like he’s about to do a limited US and then Europe tour. Weirdly, all of the US dates say, THIS IS A BILLY IDOL & STEVE STEVENS ACOUSTIC SHOW.” Really? Who the fuck wants to hear that?
I leave you to ponder the deeper meaning of “Rita Hayworth.”
*He picked Idol so as not to be confused with Eric Idle.