Rebel yellin’ with Billy Idol
Preview: Billy Idol @ MTS Centre

 

She sings, she dances, she acts, she hosts radio shows…

Now Bif Naked has turned celebrity interviewer by taking on the task of speaking with Billy Idol.

The former William Broad is the man from the London, England, suburb of Bromley who was part of the infamous ‘Bromley Contingent’ (which also included Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin) that followed the Sex Pistols around in the earliest days of punk in 1975-’76. Young Mr. Broad rechristened himself Billy Idol in the fashion of the day, went on to front Generation X (with whom he recorded two albums of post-punk pop), then moved to America and reinvented himself as a quasi-punk rocker and huge MTV star in the 1980s.

Billy’s been through the wars over the years. Heroin, cocaine, crack and alcohol abuse, a horrific motorcycle accident and a terrible 1993 album called Cyberpunk all rattle around in his closet. Now Billy’s back to form with an album called Devil’s Playground and, at age 49, is enjoying some of the best press of his career.

He spoke to Bif by phone before the pair embarked on their cross-Canada ‘Naked Idol’ tour.

Here is her story:

My name is Bif Naked. I am NO journalist. I don’t even own a computer, for crying out loud! But on a fine August day I was told I was going to interview the legendary Billy Idol. I fainted! I was not worthy…

I can do a pornographically breathy version of Eyes Without a Face in the shower, and I still try to do my own version of his famous lip curl in the taxi mirror. Plus, he is ripped (qualifying him as dreamy on the “Biffy scale”).

But I was nervous! I was to embark on a tour with Billy Idol in just three days, and I had not yet met him. First impressions are only available once, so I thought I’d better make mine good.

The following is an edited version of a conversation I was privileged and delighted to have with the superbeautiful Billy Idol:

Bif: Congratulations on everything, especially on Devil’s Playground, your new CD. It’s amazing… a really great record!

Billy: You’re magic. Thank you.

Bif: For someone like me, who was lip-synching to Flesh for Fantasy in my parents’ basement several years ago, this new record is sooo good. My favourite song is Summer Running, maybe because I am a just a hopeless girl… It’s such a beautiful song. Do you like singing lovey-dovey as opposed to screaming?

Billy: Lovey-dovey. Ha ha. Well I think that as a singer — and I’m not just a singer — but that side of me wants to communicate all the emotions, so yeah, of course it’s brilliant to do both. Lots of great people never had to scream a day their life — like Frank Sinatra. He never had to scream. But that’s not what it’s like today. You have to scream. It’s all about screaming.

Bif: You’ve got such a rich, thick, multi-faceted voice.

Billy: You want to use it. That’s the point. You want to try new places to go, new places to sustain. Like Roger Daltrey, for instance. You see Roger Daltrey pre-Tommy, and he’s such a different singer post-Tommy. On Who’s Next he’s huge after three years of singing Tommy two hours a night. You have to work it. I had a few years away from singing where I could work my voice a bit. I hope that made it stronger.

Bif: You have such a loyal, dedicated audience who are committed to you, and now it seems that you’re recruiting a new-era, younger audience again. How does it feel? It must be exciting.

Billy: Well yeah, it really is. For someone like me, at my completely advanced age, it’s really energizing because that’s where you really need to see that people think the same as you, at whatever age they are. Of course you’ve got the loyal fans who have been there forever — and thank God for them. But it’s great to see the greatest hits album brought some new people, and now Devil’s Playground brought some new people. I think there is that element some people can see that “Oh, he’s starting to work for it,” which I think is an important thing in rock ’n’ roll — the horrible part of it… But sometimes you’ve really just got to work for it. We all want it to be magical and easy. We all want the reward without trying, but sometimes you’ve got to sweat. It’s the only way you’ll find out how to make the next record.

Bif: You’re a testament to someone who has been able to just maintain and sustain. Has your musical vision changed since your early Gen X days?

Billy: Writing for Generation X was writing for a group, a band, a movement. You really thought about it — Your Generation, it was really boyish. “We’re going to kick that shit down” — I still kept that attitude with Billy Idol, but maybe the Irish side of Billy. That guy is going to cry into his beer and that’s not that bad a place to come from. I tried to put those elements into Gen X. My voice got deeper over the years. Then recently it got higher. Maybe I was just lucky and didn’t burn my voice out. But you know… you’re a singer.

Bif: Did you enjoy playing on Warped Tour?

Billy: Yeah, it was really great fun. It was just magic, just playing a half-hour set. In Generation X we sometimes only had 20 minutes of music, so we played the set twice. It was kind of like those days again. I really enjoyed getting up there and just blasting out the best numbers.

Bif: You were in The Doors movie. Was the character you played based on a real person?

Billy: It wasn’t really. We were kind of compulsive people. The big guy, “Dog,” and me, “Cat,” were kind of compulsive friends of Jim Morrison. He had a few people who were hangers-on/roadie-kind-of-bodyguard people, and he had a few people hanging around doing a documentary a lot of the time. A lot of stuff that’s in Feast of Friends and bits and pieces of films that you see of Jim Morrison... were actually these three guys. I got so cut out of the movie you only really see me on an aeroplane. I’m just a general hanger-on, really. And that’s kind of what Jim Morrison had around, people who were drinking friends, who were kind of actors, kind of in the film world. They were all having a blast. You can imagine Jim Morrison had aspirations of making films, so he was hanging with film people.

Bif: You were in another airplane scene. Was that The Wedding Singer?

Billy: That’s right. I’m going to get typecast!

Bif: In that scene you threw a punch didn’t you? Are you into martial arts or anything? Boxing? You seem like you’d be a really good fighter.

Billy: There are some natural things I do onstage… I do punch the punching bag sometimes at home. But I don’t really… I’m a runner. I run away.

Bif: You are ripped — is that what your workout entails? A punching bag and running?

Billy: A few different things, but I don’t do it that much now. I did it a while ago. I change up what I do. I do different things. I really thought if I pulled my body together it would help my voice.

Bif: You must eat a lot of protein. I’m a fitness-crazy person. Looking at your delt heads, you’ve gotta be on the most amazing healthy diet.

Billy: After doing a two-hour show, it’s so aerobic you sweat off any water you had on you, so it’s great for looking ripped. It takes a week or so for me to lose all that water. When I had my motorcycle accident I was really glad I had a workout ethic. It helped me recover when I nearly lost my leg. It was one of those things that helped you mentally overcome the problem. I think that’s what you’re always looking for: “How can I overcome this problem? What advice will help me overcome this problem?” The motorcycle, although it hurt me, it did a lot to help me get my head straight. That’s what Summer Running was all about. It was all about my motorcycle. It really helped me put my head straight. That’s why I’m glad you liked that song.

Bif: Did you co-write that with Stevie?

Billy: Yeah, he did a great job.

Bif: When you weren’t playing together, did you and Stevie still hang out?

Billy: When we did Summer Running, we were writing nonstop. We saw each other every day because we were working together. In the old days we would have got high together, but we replaced it by caring about the music. “Get out of that rocking chair! Put down the pipe! And go to rehearsal!”

Bif: You still have that great chemistry. That chemistry is evolving.

Billy: He’s playing better than ever. That’s what’s exciting about Steve Stevens. And Brian Tichy, the drummer. I wrote a lot of the songs with him. I think you’re going to see live that he’s a lot more fun than you can tell on Devil’s Playground. He’s a really great drummer. The best drummer I’ve had since Tommy Price… in the Rebel Yell days. It’s a really good group. We’re all pulling together to help each other. It feels like it’s more than just me these days. That’s a fun feeling.

Bif: Critics have embraced your record and there is nothing but good talk about your tours. Did you just get back from Europe? Have you been touring non-stop?

Billy: We just played England at Donington. Monsters of Rock. We did the second stage. It was brilliant. And there were a couple of gigs in Germany with Velvet Revolver and Mudvayne; and in Italy with Oasis; and Lollapalooza in Chicago, and the Warped Tour; and in Baltimore with Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Social S — kind of like a who’s who. The New York Dolls even played on it.

Bif: Are you chased by paparazzi in different countries?

Billy: Not really anymore. Thank God the MTV thing died off a bit. When you write songs, you don’t always want that bright light on you. When you wanna roll in the gutter, you don’t want those bright lights on you. You just start to roll and they shine a camera in your face and you can’t do it anymore… I think sometimes you get to a Charles Bukowski place and you have to be left alone. It’s probably brilliant for press and everything if you have those people following you, but it must be murder. I watch those people on television and I’m so glad and it’s not me anymore.

Bif: Even your lifestyle compared to previously. You were notorious... I guess you guys just did have a really good time?

Billy: It just escalated and escalated. You didn’t realize you upped the scale all the time, and eventually you just had to contain it or it would destroy you. It’s like a nuclear explosion getting bigger and bigger. Of course it was all over 20 years ago, so just give me a bit of time to get control of myself and putting this together again with people like Steve. We’re trying to reintroduce ourselves to people who are my son’s age. The new generation doesn’t know about Billy Idol. I think we’ve made a good record, and we have to go out there and keep trying to get through to people. And I’m really surprised what chances people will give you when you finally get in front of them and you’re good — “I don’t give a shit how old they are, they’re good!” They throw away their inhibitions and just realize you’re rocking. That’s what you care about.