When the city of New York decided to initiate a new campaign to prevent trucks and buses from idling, it knew it wasn’t exactly the sexiest or most-pressing issue New Yorkers face.
A new program unveiled Thursday encourages city residents to take cellphone footage of any idling vehicles and report them to the Department of Environmental Protection — and receive 25 percent of the fine as a reward.
But armed with a love of Eighties hits and puns, the department’s marketing team cold-called a representative for Billy Idol to see if the rocker and environmentalist would lend his name to the cause. The result: “Billy Never Idles. Neither Should You,” in which the “White Wedding” singer advocates for a cleaner (and snitchier) New York.
The singer’s likeness will appear on billboards and television and radio ads throughout the city, alongside social media posts. Idol joined Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference on Thursday to kick-start the city’s “War on Idling,” with the mayor quoting “Eyes Without a Face” and other Idol songs before the singer himself led the crowd in a “Billy never idles!” chant. We needed to learn more.
So besides the wordplay, how did this happen?
There was a lady in the DEP here in New York who was a fan. The mayor’s a fan. But I think it was the I-D-L-E and I-D-O-L that sparked the idea that we could have fun with that and at the same time make an important statement for New York and its healthy climate.
What’s the important statement?
For starters, I lived on Long Island when I was very young; those were my first memories of America. I came back to America in the Eighties and had my massive success coming out in New York. This city really means a lot to me, and the idea that I could give back in some way for such a good cause, it was such a great idea. Obviously, the air quality [in New York] is loads better than it was when I lived here, but car idling is a major contributor to air pollution and that’s just not healthy.
Was this even an issue when you lived here in the Eighties?
New York was bankrupt around 1979 and was starting to climb out of that by the late Eighties, and they were much more concerned with the finances of the city. They were just grappling with getting the city back up on its feet, so I can imagine a lot of these questions came into play after I left New York. I know they cleaned up the air to a certain degree, and I can understand wanting to take it further with the idling. And Billy never idles!
You live in Los Angeles, the epicenter of U.S. pollution. Why are you picking on us?
Well, that’s another reason it made sense to me. The traffic at certain times of the day doesn’t move. The amount of cars on the road has tripled since the Eighties; since I’ve been riding motorcycles, you really notice the density of the traffic. That many cars, in the end, has been the cause of massive problems.
Would you want to be a nationwide spokesperson for idling and/or wordplay?
If it made sense in the other cities, then yeah. It was great to give back to New York because this city has given me a lot. New York was always a rock & roll mecca. But whether it’s something I’d do beyond here, I’m not sure. It was more my love of New York.
Have you ever heard of the band Idles?
Yes, I have, yes.
Why are you a better spokesperson than them?
Well, I have lived in New York, and at one point, it was really the base of my solo career. I had my major success in New York. I don’t know if that’s so true of Idles [laughs]. They’re probably going to have massive success, and when that happens, they can do the “Idles Never Idle” campaign [laughs].
Mayor de Blasio quoted “Eyes Without a Face” and “White Wedding” at the press conference.
It was fun when he said it was a “nice day to start again.” You can always have a fresh start.
Do a lot of politicians quote your work?
[Laughs] No, not normally. It’s kind of fantastic.
But Generation X-era Billy would’ve told him to fuck off.
Yeah, maybe. That’s right [laughs].
Would you consider yourself the Greta Thunberg of parking violations?
[Laughs] Oh, no, I don’t know enough about scientific things to really be. … But I do think we’re helping the planet heat up a lot quicker than it should be and there are things we could do to try and stop that. It’s a lovely thing to use rock & roll music for something positive.