Preview Billy Idol’s Candid Memoir ‘Dancing With Myself’
Most rock stars use ghostwriters when it comes time to pen their memoirs, but Billy Idol knew the only way to properly tell his story was to write the thing himself. His new book Dancing With Myself — in stores on October 7th via Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster — tells the whole insane story, from watching the Sex Pistols rise out of filthy London clubs to starting his own punk band Generation X to becoming an MTV superstar. We have an exclusive excerpt of the 29th chapter, entitled Top of the World, Ma. It takes place in 1986, just as his fame is peaking and his life is completely falling apart due to drugs. Idol’s first new album in nearly 10 years, Kings & Queens of the Underground, is due October 21st on BFI Records. Fans can pre-order the book and album on Idol’s official website.
TOP OF THE WORLD, MA
West Village, New York City
After I returned to New York, Perri and I moved apartments. First to Jones Street, and then, due to fans hanging outside our front door, to Barrow Street near the West Side Highway, where our window overlooked the end of Christopher Street in the West Village. No one hung outside there because it was so far out of the way of everything. Barrow Street was the first place of my own that I had the money to decorate, so naturally, I bought a black couch, black carpet, and some red velvet drapes to go with the white walls and high ceilings. The black carpet proved to be a source of amusement, as I would sometimes drop a black T-shirt to the floor and it would remain “lost,” sometimes for weeks, until I opened the curtains and discovered it camouflaged in the darkness.
Unfortunately, our life together in that Barrow Street apartment wouldn’t last long. In the gray days of late winter 1986, Perri moved out, leaving me heartbroken, depressed, and alone. Our split was my own fault. My uncaring behavior drove her away. When I returned from the Rebel Yell tour, I carried on as if the tour had never ended, following my own desires, sexual and otherwise, when I should have been spending time with the love of my life.
Now, as I prepared to record my third solo album, eventually to be called Whiplash Smile, my songwriting was driven by the almost overwhelming loss of being separated from Perri. When I go back and listen to this album now, I can feel the aloneness in the very pores of the record. The eerie windswept echoes, the cold plate reverb, the brittle drum sounds, the lost voice echoing into oblivion.
My intent was to use my sadness over losing Perri to the album’s advantage. I tried to evoke some of the great ’50s spirits who took heartbreak and made it their own; legends like Elvis, Gene Vincent, and the late, great Johnnie Ray. My cover of Booker T. Jones and William Bell’s Memphis classic “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” which was the album’s first single, is all about saying how much I desperately needed someone.
I first heard “To Be a Lover” on a George Faith album of old soul songs given the reggae treatment by producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. Geoff Travis, who ran Rough Trade, an independent record store and groundbreaking label, turned me on to it back in 1977 in London. He knows his reggae, and years later I was still listening to my copy of it. The credits said that “To Be a Lover” was written by George Faith, although I later found out about the original, an early-’60s Stax Records recording by William Bell. While considering songs for my new album, I thought to myself, What if you sped it up double-time and gave it an R&B/rockabilly feel rather than the slow reggae groove? Keith got the idea right away. We went to work, realizing our gut feelings and creating something very special. With its electronic Juno bass and wild Richard Tee piano stylings, “To Be a Lover” was a definite statement that we were sticking with some of the R&B flavor we had previously used on “Hot in the City” and “Mony Mony.” The track was exciting, upbeat, and serious to dance to. Steve Stevens played great on this track and really delivered on the remix, putting a killer flag riff at the beginning that wasn’t on the single. He toughened up the remix, adding that extra ingredient that is a staple of Idol recordings.
After the “To Be a Lover” single came out, we played it at a party thrown by Dan Aykroyd’s brother Peter. At the party, a long-haired chap came up to me to tell me how much he enjoyed what we’d done with the song. It was legendary Stax Records guitarist Steve Cropper, who had played on the original version. He was a hero to all of us, so his liking our version was a great boost.