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Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Closing in on the final pages of Billy Idol's autobiography, Dancing With Myself, and don't want to finish it. A dozen pages to go and I couldn't read on, save it for another time, make it stay just a little bit longer. He's quite a good writer and he tells a good story. He's even a rock star who reads books that are not easy to read. You'd never know it by his behavior. Pedal to the metal, full on, everything goes. His first song with his punk band in London, Generation X, was, Ready Steady Go. I remember when the London punk scene withered and Billy Idol came to USA. Of all the punk albums I have in the house, when I want to hear punk, I most often put on Generation X. I started reading his story from my interest in the years 75-77 in London punk. He gave a you-are-there account of his experience with rock n roll since his early childhood listening to the Beatles and the Who. The punk moment was just right for his age and generation. He embodied the punk spirit, just about as much as Johnny Rotten did. After some time of creating a stage persona with a certain attitude, the stage persona bleeds over into one's personality. Billy Idol took punk persona all the way for about twenty years. He managed to function with a heroin habit, cocaine addiction, both at once, and everything else that came along. It's a life full of consequences of stupid actions. He had a knack, like me, for making a fool of himself at a moment that turned out to be crucial. When he had his Rolling Stone interview, he was apprehensive they'd twist him around like they were known to do and trick him into saying things he didn't want to say. 

He was so anxious before the interview, he put himself into a stupor, then exploded in the interview yelling about how he hates Rolling Stone magazine, hated the interview, told them not to put it in the magazine, regretting he'd consented to the interview, put on a shameless rant that embarrassed him terribly when it was reproduced in the magazine, word for word. He said it was good for the short term record sales, punk attitude, but it turned all the rock critics against him. He had many such incidents in states of advanced inebriation, mixed with punk attitude and rock star arrogance. I like about his telling of his story that he owns up to his arrogance and his inner stupid, his addictions, his love for the never-ending party that is a rock band on tour. In his most self-indulgent time he threw away the love of his life and their child, the other love of his life. It got his attention. For awhile. He said when the most gorgeous, hottest babes he'd ever seen were all over him, what does a man do? Making music on stage meant more to him than his addictions. His addictions kept him going, even assisted him doing the one thing he loved most unto his guiding light. His dad told him when he told mum and dad he wanted to be with a rock band, he'd never make a living a rock musician. Not many years later, Billy went home to London to see family and carried with him his first framed gold record, gave it to his dad. In a time he'd made a major mess of things from too much of everything, debilitated by it, his dad and mum flew to LA to stay with him and nurse him back to health, his mother a nurse and Irish. In the course of his life, his dad was the friend who stuck with him all the way along. 

I never bought any Billy Idol albums after Generation X. I liked what I heard that he was doing, White Wedding, Eyes Without a Face, Dancing With Myself, and the great song, Rebel Yell. He told of a time in a NY recording studio complex, the Stones were in there recording at the same time he was. He and Ron Wood were friends. He and his band went and hung with the Stones awhile during time out for refreshments. He said Keith and Mick were drinking Rebel Yell. He started thinking about it as a song and asked them if they had any plans to name a song Rebel Yell. They said no. It was his to do. He wanted to make it sexy and did. He brought punk rhythms into American metal and made a difference. He tells his own story by album recordings, the tours that follow, and the time in between of resuming the other life of wife and kid he loved like crazy, but found it ultimately impossible to fuse the two lives. He didn't say it directly, or I forgot, but his story tells that his time writing songs, putting them together with the band, recording them, the album release and five months on the road doing what he loved more than anything in life, on stage charging up an audience with some killer rock n roll, was his life, all else peripheral. I like his spirit, his attitude toward life. He tells his story with an enthusiasm the equal of how he lived it. He gave himself to his life wide open, committed. He wrote his story in the same spirit. He had two motorcycle wrecks. The second one almost ended his career. Came close to having his lower right leg amputated, the bone crushed, broadsided by a car bumper. He's a high-energy dude with a lot of it to burn off. He willed himself healed in time for the next tour and did it. 

Not many people confuse rock musicians with artists. I'm one who does. Reading Billy Idol's life is the story of an artist the same as reading a life of Vincent Van Gogh. A good piece of music of any variety is art. I would call the Kronos Quartet playing Terry Riley compositions art the same as I would call Billy Idol's albums and performances art. He's a musician, songwriter, composer, vocalist and a performer. I'm one who sees theater alive and thriving in rock concerts. This coming Friday night I'm going to Charlotte to hear/see four hard-core punk bands, Daniel Biggins' band, The Seduction, one of them. I thought about Daniel quite a lot reading Billy Idol's story. Daniel is doing the only thing he ever wanted to do in his life with his band. He is one happy dude when he's on stage giving it all he's got as loud as he can make it. I think it's through Daniel I had some insight into Billy Idol, the kid who wanted to be in a rock band and nothing else all the time growing up, learning an instrument, looking for others with the same dream, put a band together and do whatever a kid can do, a step at a time. I've come to believe knowing Daniel helped Billy Idol come to life for me in the telling of his story. I was stuck in the middle of a thousand page biography of Van Gogh, needed a break. Read three Chris Hedges books, writing you'd read in The Nation magazine, documentary looks at contemporary history. Then I wanted a page turner. Went to amazon, Billy Idol's Dancing With Myself popped up as a suggestion going by purchases past. I knew on sight this was the book I was looking for. It fulfilled its promise. I don't believe I'll buy any of his music, unless it would be a Generation X album from 1976. I never took to his American metal period. I appreciated that he injected punk rhythms into metal, but I wasn't a fan of 80s metal and still am not. I liked his hits, but have become wary from experience of buying an album because I like one song. I can find Billy Idol on YouTube any time I want. 

billy idol 


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