By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
A true '80s icon since his earliest days of chart-topping, lip-curling and heavy MTV rotation success, Billy Idol has always been a trendsetter who managed to tap into the future while keeping one black leather boot firmly planted in his punk past.
And that's truer than ever now, as Idol takes off on a world tour. At age 54, he's actively documenting his time on the road on his website, blogging and posting video footage, while infusing his current live show with pre-solo punk material from his band Generation X—some of which, Idol says, he hasn't performed in more than three decades.
But, of course, he's still playing plenty of those songs we all know and love—like "Dancing With Myself," "White Wedding" and "Rebel Yell." How could he not? After all, he knows what we want.
"They're all part of our lives," a reflective Idol says, referring to the collection of hits he's sweated out over the years. "I never would have thought about that years ago—like how that could happen, you know. That's not what you thought about in punk rock, when we started out. You were really just thinking about right then, that time, right there. You never thought about 30 years later."
He pauses, and laughs.
"I thought I'd be dead by now."
Instead, as evidenced by his energetic live shows, Idol's still very much alive. And he's just as much a part of pop culture now as he was when he burst on the MTV scene in the early '80s. Since rising to fame in the MTV heyday, Idol firmly grabbed audiences' attention and ran with it. From his music to his style to his don't-give-a-shit attitude, Idol has always been a trendsetter—so much so that even his early music videos paved the way for other musicians. And, lest you ever doubt as much, yes, Idol had a fair share of creative input on those clips.
"Most of the time, I had a personal input, especially in the early days, which kind of set the ball going, if you know what I mean," he says. "I don't think [the video for] 'White Wedding' would have been like that if it hadn't been for me. It wouldn't have been all gothic or whatever, and it wouldn't look like that."
Later in his career, Idol took that same creative initiative by aggressively looking at how emerging technology would and could affect the general public, and specifically pop culture.
Idol shaped his 1993 concept album, Cyberpunk, around pop music's expanding infatuation with modern technology and, in particular, human-computer interactions. While the album wasn't exactly a hit with critics, it's hard to deny that at the time, Idol was ahead of the curve.
"I was always very interested in the Internet," he says. "It was really all about the effects the Internet would have on us."
These days, he sees his own website as his old vision of the future becoming reality.
"I was really waiting for this to happen," he says. "Way back in the '90s. People didn't even think about computers back when I was a little kid. And now the whole world is a global village, for Christ's sake."
Earlier this month, the British icon kicked off the North American leg of his world tour with two new members—"the band sounds more like my records" he says—and with a few new tracks in tow.
"It's quite fantastic," Idol, never one to lack confidence, says of his current road show. "We're managing to do a number of things. There's something new, there's something old and there's something futuristic."
Sounds fitting, actually.