By Sally Steele

   I have been trying to get an exclusive interview with Billy Idol for quite some time. In fact for as long as I’ve had this magazine. I was pleasantly surprised of what a jolly fellow he was and how he answered each question in such detail. With loads of personality, no one can match the wit and life of the rock legend himself, Mr. Idol.

BILLY : “Hello Sally.”

VR: “Hi Billy how are you doing, is this a little early for you?”

BILLY: “I’m alright; actually I’ve been up for awhile.”

VR: “Oh good, an early riser in a rocker – that’s rare!. We’ve been trying to interview you for quite some time. And I wanted to start off by asking you; how did you get into music, did you come from a musical background?”

BILLY : “Actually, on my Irish side, my grandmother could play 14 instruments just by ear you know, she could play the violin, the piano, the clarinet, the accordion, I don’t know, she could play 14 instruments, she could pick up anything and get something out of it, I’m not as musical as that. Somewhere in my background I do have some musical talent in the family somewhere. My mother played the piano but she didn’t have one in the house while I was growing up.”

VR: “So was that something you always wanted to do, be involved in music?”

BILLY: “Ever since I saw The Beatles in 1962-63 I started to dream about being in a group. Being on stage, in a group, writing your own songs, it just seemed like they were having a ton amount of fun and there was this huge music explosion. The Who, The Kinks, The Stones it was so exciting in England. It was very depressed in the early 60’s and rock n’ roll sort of brought it out of its depression. Music, rock n’ roll, dance music or rap music has always meant a lot in England, music is really super important to English people.”

VR: “So that was what you always wanted to do, there wasn’t anything else you planned on doing as a career?”

BILLY: “No, for a long time you just couldn’t believe you could do it because the level of musicianship got incredibly good during the late 60’s early 70’s. It was almost a little bit daunting for someone like myself, who isn’t the greatest musician, makes you wonder how can you fit into this world where there were so many top level musicians. What’s great about us starting punk rock is we started to change all the rules and leveled the playing field where musical ability didn’t matter so much. It came down to attitude and ideas and your stance you had about society became very important and of course in the mid 70’s, 1976 England was in a terrible depression again much worse than America was, and it was really our way of fighting the depression. Because in England, the government was coming down pretty hard on people, trying to control people. They were really trying to stomp out any freedom of expression so Punk Rock was really our way of saying you can’t stop us, you can’t stop us, we’ll think what we think, you can’t control us, this is not a fascist police state Margaret Thatcher.”

VR: “Right, well you certainly found your niche.”

BILLY: “Oh, Margaret Thatcher, thank God she’s dead, that cow; she should only burn in hell. I’m so glad she’s dead because that’s who we were fighting, those forces of oppression and a lot of what we did in Punk Rock was deliberately to say something sort of social, some groups are very political, my group, Generation X was a little more social.”

VR: “Wow – Ok, well that makes a lot of sense; you certainly found your niche in Punk Rock. What kind of kid were you, I know you had a punk rock attitude, were you a bully?”

BILLY : “No, I was never like that really. I’m more of a lover than a fighter; I’ll f*&k you to death! [laughs]. That’s why I think I like music; it was our way of expressing ourselves. Some men want to use their fists but our way was to use guitars and our brains, we used our music as expression, we used our thoughts and ideas, explored them and dig deep inside yourself to find that thing in you that was special that you could excite people with. It’s a lot of fun discovering that because when we started in punk rock, you had no idea if you had those abilities, we never thought about how long anything would last, we only did things for that moment. We weren’t thinking this is going to go on forever. So it’s weird to be sitting here a million years later still doing it. I could’ve never imagined that almost 40 years later.”

VR: “Right, it’s been a long career for you. So you had friends, you weren’t an outcast, you had your gang and you all played music?”

BILLY: “Yeah I was always friendly, there was always the more leader type guys but I would always be friendly with them. I wasn’t the leader myself but I’d always be friendly with the leader kind of people. The thing was that we were gravitating toward music, that was really what was going on for us in England at the time and I think throughout the world, that moment for young people, it was like a music revolution going on and I think we helped get that revolution going with punk rock a little.”

VR: “When you first met Steve Stevens, what was your first impression, did you feel like ‘this is my guitarist’, I know we’re going to do something?”

BILLY: “I really thought Steve was fantastic when I met him. I thought he was a really great guy and of course we had a really long conversation when I met him, in the end what we decided was I needed to put a group together so he said; “You know I’ll help you put this group together and we’ll just see how it goes”. And were still playing together 33 years later or whatever it is.”

VR: “There was a brief separation, I think, between you guys in the 90’s, why was that?”

BILLY: “Oh, I was probably taking too many drugs you know, and sometimes your ego gets inflamed, and you have silly arguments.  But they weren’t arguments that were deep seated, I think they were the kind where we were all a bit tired out in a way, we’d been working really hard. It’s probably just that, there’s a lot of stress and strain as well trying to do what we were doing.  But we got back together and he is really such a great player, he can play anything, Steve Stevens. I can say to him I want to do an opera and he could do it, I want to do the simplest one chord song in the world and he could do it. He can play anything, he can be anybody and he’s got his own style as well, and of course he’s got all those sound effects. I don’t know – you could smoke a joint on stage and listen to them, it’s like a whole experience itself. I felt he took my ideas and expanded them brilliantly; it’s a great, dynamic relationship. There’s a lot of fun in it too because I think we bring quite different things to our partnership.”

VR: “I agree. I’m glad he’s still playing with you, I love Steve he’s a great guy. Would you do anything different in your career or personal life now looking back, would you change anything?”

BILLY: “Well of course, you always think about some things that were silly at the time, like that argument Steve and I had, but in the end when you think about your life, you realize those things probably had to happen, so even if you could change them, you wouldn’t want to because there must have been some reasons why they happened. [It’s] too hard to remember what they are now but you know there was and in a way that’s the way life is, it doesn’t go in a straight line. You don’t know what’s really going to happen, there’s no way of controlling what happens, you just have to go with the flow and enjoy it really as much as you can, while it’s working and make the most of it while it’s happening.”

VR: “Makes sense. Good advice. Steve told me a funny story about you back in the early days. Can you tell me a funny road story that happened in your career, first thing that pops in your head?”

BILLY: “We came out to Los Angeles to record the first Billy Idol album; we’d only been in the hotel, The Sunset Marquee, for about a day. I must have gone out at night, and gotten a bit drunk, it was about six or seven in the morning, I was just about to drop kick the phone over the balcony when a security guard stopped and pulled his gun out and said “Don’t drop kick that phone!”. Then the manager came up to my room and I had really only been kicking the phone around the room, I don’t know why I was doing it but I hadn’t really done much damage so the hotel manager said “Oh alright just pay for the phone and he turned to leave but then said; “Wait a minute – you have other people in this hotel, don’t you?” So we went to go look at their rooms. We’ve only been in these rooms one night, so no one else was going to be doing anything daft like me. But the first room we came to was Steve Stevens. When his girlfriend opened the door, he was standing up on a chair; he had spent the night super gluing his picks to the wall and he was working on the second wall. I just burst out laughing and the manager said “YOU’RE OUT OF HERE!” I remember thinking- “I love this guy, he’s crazier than I am! [laughs].”

VR: “And that’s why you got thrown out of the hotel?”

BILLY: “Yeah, he had done one whole wall and he was halfway through a second wall, super gluing the picks to the wall.”

VR: “That’s seems so minor; I remember reading something about you getting kicked out of Bangkok. What did you do for them to kick you out of the country?”

BILLY: “I think I destroyed about three hotels, a jet ski, we were also just incredibly out of our minds. You can get anything in Thailand and once you stop taking the illegal drugs you realize you can get anything over the counter there and then eventually they had to get the Thai Army to escort me to the airport.”

VR: “Oh God, the Thai Army, ok.”

BILLY: “I woke up on a hospital gurney with three soldiers on either side of me, watching over me with their rifles.”

VR: “Ok, I think you topped them all!”

BILLY: “It was kind of funny. -well it’s funny now.”

VR: “Do you think you would have become as famous as you did if it wasn’t for MTV since it was so visual?”

BILLY : “I don’t know, possibly. MTV did give me a massive platform in America. When I first put my records out in America, we didn’t put my picture on the cover because in those days of radio if you had a punk rock look you wouldn’t sell advertising dollars so we kept my picture off ‘Hot in the City’ and then when ‘White Wedding’ came out we put my picture on it, they played ‘Hot in the City’ because they didn’t know who Billy Idol was and it got to #18 and when we put my picture on ‘White Wedding’ they said “well we don’t play people who look like punk rockers” but then MTV happened. College radio played ‘White Wedding’ and then TV and black college radio. And then people started to request my songs at the radio stations and then they knew, radio knew there was people out there that liked what we did, that changed everything and then the 80’s took off.”

VR: “Interesting. So tell me what you’re up to as far as your new album and what you are doing these days?”

BILLY: “Well yeah, we are planning on making a new record in late August. We’ve been writing a lot of new songs, sharing new ideas. A lot of it is proprietary work so when we get to the new record, we have numerous ideas, we already have about 20 ideas we can draw from. We might not use all 20 but we might use bits and pieces, you never know. You just have to gather lots of ideas and eventually you pick the best ones and work on those. That’s what we’ve been doing the last year or so, really preparing this new record you know. “Keep out of Reach of Children” is what it’s called.”

VR: “Oh, that’s great. I appreciate your time, Billy. I’m going to leave you with the time we met at The Roxy; it was at Steve Stevens, Atomic Playboys record release party. You remember that, Eddie Van Halen was there. I’ve always been in bands, I’ve been a singer all my life, I was trying to get a record deal at that time, I said the same thing to Eddie and he reacted in a great way, and then I went up to you and asked you the same thing. I asked; “Would you mind shaking my hand for good luck? I’m trying to get a record deal.”. You didn’t react like Eddie did though; you just looked me up and down and said “Oh, you don’t want my luck!” [Billy starts laughing]. I think it was shortly after you had your motorcycle accident.”

BILLY: “Oh probably [laughing].”

VR:  “I just stood there like a dope and wouldn’t go away. So you ended up shaking my hand anyway so you’re a great guy in my book. Are there any last things you want to say to your fans in Vegas? I know you are going to be here May 25th.”

BILLY: “We’re going to have a great time, I’m bringing a new show for you and I’m bringing all my guns with me.”

VR: “Well great, we can’t miss that!”

BILLY: “We’re going to be firing all our weapons!”

VR: “Awesome, awesome. Thank you so much for your time Billy, I really appreciate it. I have a 100 million more questions but we’ll save it for next time.”

BILLY: “Alright darling, thank you.”

VR: “Thank you Billy.”


Sally Steele

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