Billy Idol wanted to show people that his music matters, so he decided to write something other than an album: a memoir. “There is an artist there, and there is someone who does love, who does care, who does believe, someone who loves music,” he says.
Earlier this month, the sneering singer released the book Dancing With Myself, his own wildly entertaining account of how the Londoner born William Broad came up through the British punk scene to transform into a mainstream rock singer who could live up to the name Billy Idol. Between stories behind hits like “Rebel Yell” and “White Wedding,” the vocalist opens up about his battles with drugs and alcohol, shares stories of what he describes as “sexual deviancy” (including one that landed him in court) and relives the harrowing 1990 motorcycle accident that put his career on pause.
Now that he has slowed down, Idol says he’s grateful to be able to talk about his exploits in the past tense. The experience even led to the singer’s first album of original music in nine years, Kings and Queens of the Underground, which comes out on October 21st. “It all began when we wrote the song ‘Kings and Queens of the Underground,'” he says. “It’s got a story, and it’s my story. It’s my story in song. It was a big song for us to write, and it took us down a certain road that led us to reinterpreting the sort of classic style song of mine for the 2014s. We had a new world in front of us again.”
In the song “Kings and Queens of the Underground,” you praise Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols for inspiring you. What do you remember about seeing the Pistols live?
Seeing the Sex Pistols back then was like a fucking, Christ, being St. Paul on the road to Damascus or something. You’re kind of getting a vision of what the new world is going to be like – the world with no future. Here was the answer, and here was Johnny showing us what we should do. We should get up off our asses and do something. When I saw the Sex Pistols, it just showed me, “These are guys who are the same age as me doing what I could do. If they can do it, there’s nothing stopping me doing it.”
Me and [Siouxsie and the Banshees guitarist] Steven Severin wanted to start our own group, and he and Siouxsie wanted to start their own group. I nearly was in Siouxsie and the Banshees at one point. Seeing the Pistols was a huge moment for all of us, for our disaffected youth at that time. We were disenfranchised youth on the scrapheap. We started by seeing the Pistols and then starting our own groups. It sort of snowballed, gradually.
Most recently, you’ve used that ethos to put out this record on your own label. I can guess what its name, “BFI,” stands for.
Yeah [laughs]. “Billy Flamin’ Idol.” “Billy Freaking Out of His Mind Idol.” You’ve met me before in that Rolling Stone interview for your cover. “Billy Idol’s out of his mind crazy.”