Music

Billy Idol: "Punk didn't make a dent in politics"

Punk singer Billy Idol on The Sex Pistols, shaping the music video and being sent back in time to kill John Connor


Was punk really the revolution it is supposed to have been or was it a natural evolution of what was going on at the time?

It did come in the form of a revolution but at the same time it was rock ‘n’ roll music forwarding itself into the new age. There was a lot of prog rock in the ’70s, which was cool and everything, but there became a glut and it was very difficult for anything else to break through. There were great guitar pieces but a dearth of songs.

Punk was not just about music though, was it also redefining politics and protest?

Punk rock opened the door to people like me – the marginalised. We got a chance to do something artistic with our lives. Everybody was exploring the artistic side partly because the Pistols said there is no future, there’s no future for you. That was a rallying call. That was the revolution.

The Pistols sang about there being no future, were they proved right?


I think they were to be honest. There was so much unrest. We believed in mixed communities and race mixing, not a country just for the white English. You got your head kicked in for it but that’s England sometimes! In some ways what’s going on now is reminiscent of those times.

So is punk ripe for a comeback?

Kids don’t have the music to pour their aggression into. That was our way of fighting back. Music is a way people can express their angst in a way that doesn’t necessarily take in commercial concerns. It goes beyond an idea of selling records.

So when you became famous and commercially successful, did you feel you had betrayed where you had come from?


Punk had done what it set out to do to a certain extent and it didn’t make a dent in the political system. Margaret Thatcher got in! That was scary. You went, “Fuck all that shouting, nothing happened!” It was demoralising. I didn’t see it as betraying anything at all. I saw it as moving on as an artist. I don’t think I did anything except follow my heart and that’s what punk was all about.

It was the rise of MTV that helped you enter the mainstream.


Yes it provided a massive platform for new artists. I took the aggression and spirit of punk but streamlined it, tinkered with it and made it a bit sexier.

Some of your early videos were made by renowned film directors like David Fincher and Tobe Hooper. You were using music to express yourself in a new way, were they doing the same with early music videos?


I don’t know if any other person had actually used a film director tom make music videos at that time. Obviously Michael Jackson was going to do that sort of thing but this was 1982. I’d already had zombies in Dancing With Myself.

s Dancing With Myself about dancing or really about masturbation?


It was actually about dancing. In 1978 we were on a tour to Japan and there were all these Japanese men dressed up as John Travolta dancing in these mirrored discos. They were literally dancing with their own reflections.

You’ve used it as the title of your new autobiography, which you’ve been writing for the last six years.


Two of that was probably me typing with two fingers. I wanted to have a very definite style. Bob Dylan’s Chronicles was incredible as is Patti Smith’s Lost Kids. I could see how good they were but that’s not what you aim for. You aim for how good you can be.

It contains lots of trivia people might not know, like you were almost the villain in Terminator 2…


Yeah I was nearly except I had a bad motorcycle accident do in the end I couldn’t do it. I even saw drawings of Stan Winston’s special effects where they actually had me as the Terminator 1000.

When you’re invited to weddings, is there pressure to sing White Wedding for the bride and groom?


Sometimes, which is funny because it’s almost an anti-wedding song. Those songs are fun to do. It keeps you alive. Once you’ve done it for years it is second nature. You’ve got to do the thing you love.

Billy Idol has a new book ‘Dancing With Myself’ and LP ‘Kings and Queens of the Underground’, both out now. He is touring the UK this month. billyidol.net

 

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