January 31, 2023


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Billy Idol talks about the career that led to the Hollywood Walk of Fame star

7 min read

It’s November 30 and punk-rock icon Billy Idol turns 67 today, so what’s he doing on a Zoom call with a reporter? “They even got me to do something on my birthday,” he grumbles casually, but there’s a reason to be happy about working on his birthday: He’s talking about his Jan. 6 star ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where two of his closest friends will be among the presenters/speakers. , artist Shepard Fairey — who did the artwork for many of his album covers — and punk raconteur Henry Rollins.

Idol shares thoughts on his career with his characteristic low-register rumble, which he’s been developing since covering “Money Money” in 1981, with a live version six years later becoming his first and only US hit. In his 2014 autobiography, Idol said that the original Tommy James and the Shondells version was playing on a transistor radio the first time he had sex.

“Well, that’s a really good story, innit?” She laughs. “But that’s when I lost my virginity, so it’s not that far-fetched.”

Idol has been active recently, releasing an upbeat, rocking EP, “The Cage,” on Dhani Harrison’s Dark Horse label last September, followed by a special show at L.A.’s Roxy in October, 40 years since she first took to the famous Sunset Strip stage. Club, with longtime partner, guitarist Steve Stevens. He completed a month-long tour of the UK, Europe and South America as well as a residency in Las Vegas. In 46 years, Idol’s look hasn’t changed — the leather jacket, spiked dyed-blonde/dark-rooted punk coif, and ever-present sneer that evoke Elvis Presley, but come naturally to UK-born artist Michael Albert Broad as William.

Idol, who dubbed his 1990 album “Charmed Life,” didn’t miss the irony of his own longevity, nearly flattening himself after a motorcycle accident in the Hollywood Hills in February 1990 and collapsing from a drug overdose outside an LA nightclub four years later. He almost lost a leg due to a Harley-Davidson crash, was forced to turn down lead roles in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” (although he had a minor part in the film) and James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (“I”). Couldn’t”), although she did memorably star alongside Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in “The Wedding Singer.”

“Somehow or other, by hook or by crook, I made my way to this position where I’m still going strong and enjoying it,” says the grandfather of two. “We started playing because we liked it. Maybe it will last six months or some, three years. And now it’s almost 50 years later. The music we’ve been playing lately has been great. Steve Stevens just keeps getting better. I am grateful. Who could imagine?

“We were like tribals, dreaming of a country. When you make music, there is no real template. You have to make it up as you go along. I get a sense of freedom from rock ‘n’ roll. Freedom from 9 to 5. And we’re still having fun and being excited about what we do.”

Being recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a particularly American — and more specifically, Los Angeles — honor, and Idol, who became a U.S. citizen four years ago, spent ages 4 to 7 on Long Island — in Rockville Center and Patchogue — while his father Took a job here, then fell in love with American movies including “Shane” and the country’s pop music heritage.

“You’ll see all the stars walking down Hollywood Boulevard,” Billy begins singing Ray Davies’ famous refrain in “Celluloid Heroes.” “Some you may recognize, some you’ve rarely heard of.”

Idol noted that even when he returned to England with his family in the early 60s, the culture was still heavily influenced by America, particularly the Beatles, who began breaking out as Billy entered his teens.

“They were totally into the soul music that was coming out of the States,” he says. “Everyone was terrified of what was happening in America. You had the luxury of winning World War II, when England was still suffering. Rock ‘n’ roll brought a colour, a life to the glamor of Britain. We got back just in time for the take off.”

Unlike the nihilistic punk movement he embraced as a member of the Bromley Contingent — a group of fans who first carried sex pistols — Idol has always admired his rock bears.

He was particularly inspired by late ’70s punk from New York, including the Ramones — who took their moniker from the Paul McCartney moniker — and Patti Smith, unabashedly celebrating rock’s heritage with a cover of “Gloria.”

“That’s what I was doing,” he says. “I couldn’t say I didn’t like the Beatles. I know when they said, ‘No Elvis, no Beatles, no Rolling Stones’. Even punks grew up with rock ‘n’ roll. I did not see those groups as enemies.

Billy’s mother listened to jazz by Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dinah Washington and Louis Armstrong as well as Broadway original cast albums such as “Camelot” and “South Pacific” while she was growing up. Western frontier music was another early obsession, with songs like “Billy the Kid” or “Streets of Laredo”.

“It’s funny how it speaks to Europeans compared to Americans,” he says. “We don’t have that kind of physical space in England, so it has a fascination for us.”

Billy got his name and look purely by accident. Idol comes from Bill Price, a chemistry teacher, who wrote in his third form report, “William is Idol”, only to change the spelling to avoid mistaking pop star Monty Python’s Eric Idol. It was also a take on Billy Doll (Marcia), the original drummer of the New York Dolls, who died of an overdose during the band’s early UK tour. “It sounded better than Bill Broad, who is like a skinhead in England,” he adds.

The advent of punk in Great Britain in 1976 turned cries of “no future” into a very real career opportunity for Idol, who started Generation X with his bandmate pal Tony James in Chelsea. In that band, he adopted the peroxide platinum look that became his trademark during an accident while trying to dye his hair blue, much to the horror of the band’s lead singer Gene October, who told him to change it immediately.

“Punk allowed us to level the playing field, lower the bar, so we could play music too,” says Idol. “We were encouraged to break the rules. It had a kind of radiant energy. And then MTV helped us. It has enabled me to live my dream … to make music, enjoy it and continue to develop creatively. We just wanted to be in the moment.

“That’s one thing about punk. It enables you to take risks because it is a risk in itself. You had to find a way to move on from it. You had to step up … and believe in yourself.”

This led to him leaving London for New York in 1981 where, still suffering from heroin addiction, he signed a solo contract with Chrysalis Records, where his early career was managed by Bill Aucoin of KISS fame; Aucoin introduces Idol to Stevens. The two began working with Giorgio Moroder’s engineer Keith Forcey, who helped create the rock/dance hybrid that spawned a string of hit singles, including “Hot in the City,” “White Wedding,” “Rebellious Yale,” “Eyes.” Without a Face,” “Being a Lover” and “Swing of Love.”

Steve Stevens and Billy Idol
Skylar Berberio

Idol lived in New York for six years, immersing himself in the city’s burgeoning post-punk scene — his first performance as a solo artist was at New York hot spot Max’s last night in Kansas City — then moved to Los Angeles in 1987, where he has remained for the past 35 years. . He is the father of two children, son Willem Wolf, a DJ, from his longtime relationship with Perry Lister; and daughter Bonnie Blue, from Linda Mathis. Neil gave him two granddaughters, 2-year-old Poppy Rebel and Mary Jane, born earlier this year. For the past several years, he has been dating China Chow, daughter of famous Beverly Hills restaurateur Michael Chow.

“Being a grandfather is wonderful,” he says. “This weekend, I will celebrate my birthday with them.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — already inducted by MTV Contemporary Eurythmics, Duran Duran, Pretenders and Depeche Mode — is the next hurdle for Billy Idol, who has been nominated for three Grammys and 10 MTV Video Awards (winning one). The Hollywood Walk of Fame is meaningful to him, especially since he has made his home in LA for the past three and a half decades.

“I raised my family here and I recorded many of my albums here,” he says. “So to be honored like this is wonderful. This is something I could never have imagined or ever entered my mind. But I made a lot of my creative choices here, so it makes sense.”

As he sang on the recent “Ghost Run,” Billy still battles the demons of addiction, but he’s back in control of his life, drinking the occasional glass of wine at dinner or vape.

Billy Idol isn’t going off into the sunset either. “I think as long as we get creative and come up with new things to play, do things we haven’t done before. We have one foot in the past and one in the future.”

tip sheet

What: Billy Idol gets a star on the Walk of Fame.

When: January 6 at 11:30 am

Where: 6212 Hollywood Blvd.

Web: walkoffame.com

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