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Billy Idol: Rebel With A Cause

By Anna Griffin, Editor in Chief

Undeniably charming with an irreverent British cheekiness that defies his edgy, bad boy, punk image, but is always accompanied by his iconic lip curl, spiky, platinum hair, and lithe, tattooed, leather-clad frame, singer, songwriter, musician and actor, Billy Idol might be considered an unlikely warrior in the conversation about sustainability.

Beginning his music career in London in 1976 as a guitarist in a punk rock band, before forming the band, Generation X, with a former bandmate and becoming lead singer, Idol was soon embarking on a solo career. Leaving England and moving to NYC in the early 80’s, he partnered with his long-term guitarist, Steve Stevens, bursting onto the American music scene with the commercial success of his debut studio album, “Billy Idol" (1982), and second studio album, “Rebel Yell” (1983), gaining international recognition. Fist-pumping his way through music videos for his rock/dance hybrid songs including “Dancing With Myself,” “White Wedding,” and “Eyes Without A Face,” Idol became a lead artist in the new, MTV-driven, Second British Invasion, taking America by storm and cementing himself as a household name.

Moving to LA, Idol was involved in a motorbike accident In 1990 while riding his Harley Davidson in the Hollywood Hills, which almost took his life, leaving him in a wheelchair, and forcing him to give up major roles in James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” He subsequently took on a smaller part in that film, followed by playing an unforgettable cameo in 1998’s “The Wedding Singer,” with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.

A father and now a granddad, Idol isn’t sitting still. Having recently released an EP, “The Cage,” last September, he performed at the Roxy in LA, the world-famous Sunset Strip club, which marked the 40th anniversary of his first performance there. In January he was given a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an honor bestowed upon him for his iconic contribution to the music industry. Now Idol is setting out on a sold-out N. American, 21 city tour. He is raring to go, saying, “I’m so excited. I have a killer band who have been consistently together now for over seven years, including of course Steve Stevens on lead guitar. We are all really played-in together and sound really great. It’s the first time we’re able to play the songs from “The Cage EP” in most American cities, so I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.” Idol is no stranger to breaking the conventional norm and when I ask him what fans can look forward to experiencing, he says, “We’re playing several of the new songs we’ve recorded in the last few years and they’ll be mixed with the Idol classics, so you should get it all. It’ll be a great mixture. We usually play a song from my 1970s punk band Generation X on tour as well.”

A national tour is a physically demanding endeavor and based on Idol’s punk persona, I have to wonder what a typical day on the road looks like for him? Is it still old school rock and roll energy, or is it now new-age, healthy, mediation, yoga and tofu vibes? He thoughtfully responds, “I exercise and keep a healthy diet. But really the focus these days on the road is all on the gig. It’s lovely to be able to go out and sightsee in any given place, but I like to save all my energy for the stage. You have to maximize your energy for the stage. Once you do that, you have all the energy you need. I build it up through exercise and a general focus on my overall wellness, so the energy is there, thankfully.”

Obviously Idol’s attention to his wellness and energy is paying off and after a busy year with his Vegas residency, UK tour, releasing his EP, "The Cage," as well as getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one might assume he’ll be taking it easy at home being grandpa. However, this is not the case and after he wraps touring the U.S. this year he’s got big plans, telling me, “I’ll be touring through May with the Billy Idol band and then it’s off to the UK and Europe for some shows with Generation Sex this summer. This is the band we’ve formed recently with Tony James from Generation X and Steve Jones and Paul Cook from Sex Pistols. This will be our first tour and we couldn’t be more excited to play some festivals and other gigs in June and July.” Continuing to make new music, his passion to be in the creative process is evident. “Steve Stevens and I are also working on new Billy Idol music. We love playing the classics, and we always will, but writing, recording and performing new music is truly our lifeblood all these years after we started,” he enthusiastically says. Having chosen the moniker of Idol after a chemistry teacher had labeled him I-D-L-E on his third form school report, and not wanting to be confused with Monty Python’s Eric Idle, he participated in an environmental awareness program in NYC in 2020 with the New York Department of Environmental Protection and Mayor Bill de Blasio. utilizing the play on words with the campaign, “Billy Never Idles.” Encouraging NYC drivers to turn off their engines instead of idling, Idol was featured on multi-media platforms encouraging New Yorkers to shoot phone videos of commercial vehicles spotted idling in the streets while parked, and polluting the air. The goal to reduce idling would have the environmental impact of taking 20,000 cars off the streets of New York every day, but why was he inspired to get involved? He responds, “I’ve lived in cities for almost my entire life, in particular New York and Los Angeles, and the anti-idling campaign I partnered with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in 2020 was certainly very enlightening and inspiring. When it comes to simple ways each of us can help the environment, avoiding sitting in a parked vehicle with the engine running, even for a short time, is something that would make a big difference for our air quality if everyone made a point to avoid it. I certainly avoid it. Finding ways to reduce air pollution in today’s world is crucial for the health of all living things, not to mention singers,” he cheekily quips.

In 2021 Idol performed alongside Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins at the See.Hear.Now Music Festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The music fest's mission is to raise awareness to environmental issues including the global plastic waste crisis. Sustainability is obviously something that matters to him as he tells me, “I’m aware of how my own personal behaviors can contribute in some small way to helping our planet. Whether it’s being conscious of the energy I consume - and food and vegetables - or simply trying to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in my routines.”

A rebel with a cause when it comes to sustainability, it seems that Billy Idol is anything but idle.

Photography credits:

Michael Muller - cover image

Steven Sebring - article images


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