For Billy Idol, the
rebel yells are still going strong
This year Billy Idol celebrates two
milestones: his 50th birthday and his 30th
year in rock 'n' roll.
At the rate he's going,
it might be another three decades before the
spiky-haired singer considers retirement. In
March, Idol released his first album of new
material in a decade, Devil's Playground,
which he's been touting on a string of solo and
festival tour dates. (Related audio: Hear
a clip from Playground's first single, Scream)
At this weekend's
Lollapalooza fest in Chicago, he'll share a bill
with dozens of acts, including Weezer and The
Pixies. USATODAY.com's Whitney Matheson
recently caught up with Idol to chat about his
scowl, his son and his aversion to spitting:
So how is touring
different for you now than it was 20 years ago?
Well, you kind of have to
focus everything you're doing that day on the
show. Whereas I think in the past, you had
energy to burn, and it was easy to just —ha-ha-ha!
— live through the night, live through the
day —whoo! — do a show. And also,
we're taking it more — not seriously, because
we're having fun — but I've got a hell of a
band up there, and it really means they can kick
my (expletive) if I don't do my job. (Laughs.)
We've grown up a bit in the last five years
playing the greatest hits, and we've got a hell
of an energetic band, and you have to be fit to
do it, you know what I mean?
I'm a singer. All I've
got is my voice. If I haven't got my health, I'm
up (expletive) street. So I think there's sort
of an element of that that's crept into our
lives today, which isn't that different from
everybody else in the world who gets up and goes
to work. Except I love doing this job, you know.
Who else gets to hang out in the day and sign
So after the show is
over, are you still scanning the crowd for
women? Or has that part of it settled down, too?
Well, I'm single.
(Laughs.) I mean, let's hope that something more
substantial comes along in terms of a
relationship, but ... I would prefer, actually,
to really be in love at the moment. I'd love to
fall in love with someone, Whitney.
Well, I'm married, but
But anyway, let's talk
about your teenage son. He's a musician too,
Not with me... he's in
his own band. They play in L.A. and stuff, yeah.
So have you given him
any sort of advice about the business?
Well, I think the main
thing was, he's got to witness it firsthand. You
don't have to tell them too much. But one thing
I did do was I gave him a lot of equipment. And
it was a bit like, you know, "Now it's up
to you." He's made it all work, and he's
got his own sense, he really has. I mean, he's
not up there pretending to be Billy Idol Part
Two or something. It's better than that.
What's the craziest
thing a fan has thrown onstage for you?
Someone threw this devil
head the other day. ... I don't know, I get a
lot of underpants and knickers and stuff like
that. Bras and things. And thank God, you know,
because in the punk-rock days, they used to spit
at you. People would spit at you all the way
through a show, so I much prefer ladies'
underwear. It's much nicer. Please don't tell
the Lollapalooza audience about spitting.
I don't think you have
to worry about that. A lot of people who'll be
at Lollapalooza probably got to know you through
MTV instead of the London punk scene, where you
I know, yeah. I hope, in
a way, that maybe by doing things like
Lollapalooza a little bit, people will think,
"Oh, look. He's been around a long time ...
but, well, let's go back into his past. Yeah, he
was doing something before MTV, and that's what
links him with these other people just as much
as anything else. It gives him the right to be
here today." I came from the punk rock
And do you still keep
in touch with any of those folks from your early
career, like Siouxsie
I'm mainly mates with Steve
Severin… Siouxsie was his girlfriend. So
we were very friendly and everything, we were
all hanging out, but really she was always his
girlfriend. (Severin and I) grew up together, we
went to school together, practically. So that's
who I keep in touch with.
Are there any bands
you see now that remind you of those days?
I suppose there was that
little flash of people a couple years ago who
were sort of doing the "energy thing,"
if you know what I mean, in a bit more of a
light rock 'n' roll sort of way. … I don't
know. In all truth, you don't want there to be
someone like you. You want to be the only one;
they have to come to you for that thing,
'cause it's he who does it the best.
But yeah, I wish there
was someone — I saw that in my son a bit,
actually, that's who the frightening (expletive)
was. I thought, "Jesus, I recognize those
lips! He's sexy and he's not even do
Speaking of MTV, have
you watched it lately?
Yeah, I'm on it. I'm on
with Bam Margera (on an episode of Margera's
That's right – I
talked to Bam a few weeks ago. He's very
charming, but people like him are today's MTV
stars. They don't really show videos anymore.
No. Early in the morning,
I think MTV2 and VH1 or whatever, they all show
them, but they're just the top 10 — not like
that old variety, where they just seemed to play
video after video 24 hours a day. That's what it
was like when it first came out. There was no
VJ, in fact, at first, if you can imagine. It
was more like the songs just came on. In the
evening, we used to just turn the sound down and
use the screen as images while we were doing
whatever we were doing.
But yeah, I mean, it's
turned itself into something different. There
aren't many platforms on television anymore,
except for the live ones, which we've been
trying to do. There's no MTV, really, not unless
you're just that top 10 band. If you're outside
of that … that's why something like
Lollapalooza is brilliant, because it's still
giving bands like me a place to play.
Are there any bands
you want to see this weekend?
I've seen lots of them;
some of them I've played with before. The
Killers, I saw them. And I've seen Weezer
before. I've seen Dashboard Confessional ... The
Bravery (and) Kaiser Chiefs, so I'm kind of
I don't know the Pixies,
of course. Blimey, bloody hell. We played with
the Pixies years ago in Switzerland — that
must've been in the early '90s — yeah, it was
'91 or something. So it's like, you know,
"Christ! How many years later (and) we're
still going?" It's great. It's about 15
years later, and we're all playing together
again. So it's kinda wild, you know?
By the way, how did
that signature scowl of yours come about?
I think it was all, you
had to come up with something that was
memorable. (Laughs.) Because there were not just
so many other groups, but so many other punk
rock groups. ... We were into creating things
you'd remember, images you'd remember. But that
they be backed up by real emotion was important.
You know, you weren't just the face of
something, it was saying something.
So if a movie were
made about your life, who do you think should
play Billy Idol?
I know that chap Ewan
McGregor said he wanted to do the Billy Idol
story. I read that and I went, "Bloody
hell." If someone like him wanted to do it,
he could probably pull it off. And now he could
do the young and the old Billy.