Las Vegas Sun

November 27, 2021

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The John Wayne of punk rock

Billy Idol identifies with his new song about icon

White Wedding

Event Calendar

Beyond the Sun

When punk rock icon Billy Idol brings his “best of” tour to the Hard Rock Hotel on Friday, he’ll certainly perform “White Wedding” and “Rebel Yell.”

But he’ll also sing a couple of new songs, “John Wayne” and “New Future Weapon.”

Those were mixed with the 18-record tracks of classic Idol on his latest album, “The Very Best of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself.” The new tunes were produced by Josh Abraham, whose credits include Velvet Revolver, 30 Seconds to Mars, Staind, Limp Bizkit and Courtney Love.

Idol’s rise to stardom began in England with the punk rock bands Siouxsie and the Banshees, Chelsea and Generation X. He moved to New York in 1981 and became an MTV favorite with such hits as “White Wedding” and “Dancing With Myself.” His second solo album, “Rebel Yell,” established him as a punk superstar.

Idol recently talked to the Sun from his home in Los Angeles.

How did you gravitate to the punk rock scene in the late ’70s?

England itself was a country where there weren’t really any jobs, whether you were a college graduate or garbage man. There weren’t any jobs. You had to do something and one of the things we did was say, “OK, if there aren’t any jobs we’re just gonna do the thing we love.” In my case it was music. Other people did art or clothes or some kind of expression.

It just happened at the time that music had gotten so big. They had become arena or stadium acts. It had got a long way aways from just a few kids in England who were feeling disaffected. So we had to create our own music, create our own scene, and that’s really what we did. It kind of fueled everything else that I’ve done, the energy from that time. I gravitated toward music that was rhythm- and rock-based — it was always club music. It’s amazing it got so big. It was a long shot. Thank God people got into it. Thirty years later and it’s still going strong. We thought we were just doing it for ourselves.

Tell us about the upcoming concert at the Hard Rock.

It’s a greatest hits tour kind of thing. I always end with “Rebel Yell.” We do a great version of “White Wedding.” We play it sort of acoustic style and then go right into hard rock, into electric. It’s really exciting. We do a few things like that — the same songs we did over the years, but we did something with the arrangements to make them really exciting.

Did you find it hard to find an audience for punk music in Vegas?

I expect so. But time took care of that. Time changed the audience. I think the audience began listening to different music in Vegas, but it took a bit of time for the old guard to change. I saw Frank Sinatra at the Sands when he was 84, and he was fantastic. Some great music has happened in Vegas.

Your latest album, “Idolize Yourself,” is mostly your older hits, but includes two new songs. What are they about?

“John Wayne” is not really about John Wayne the person. It’s more about John Wayne the character in the movies, especially the Howard Hawks and John Ford movies where he sort of is this man who overcomes. In his characters he usually has a fatal flaw or some sort of flaw in his character or some flaw in his past he has to overcome, and by the end of the movie he’s done it. That’s what the character in the song is saying. He wishes he could reach out of himself and grasp the iconic legend and the magic, the power and the mystery of iconic legend that John Wayne had. It’s such a wild American kind of thing. It’s kind of the ordinary guy suffering, dreaming that he could have the power and charisma kind of thing. It’s about a sad person, really. I really identify with that. With my own persona, I’ve done that a bit. You’ve got to reach outside of yourself to get somewhere, to break the bonds of Earth kind of thing. That’s sort of the imaginative nature of the song. Kind of saying, take on superpowers of the icon of John Wayne.

And “New Future Weapon”?

It’s really about flying around in the F-22 Raptor, this new stealth plane. I saw this program on television. They were talking to the Raptor pilot. The plane is more dangerous to the pilot than to anybody else. It does all these ridiculous things that planes can’t do except with all the computers. They can now do these ridiculous moves that the human body can’t take. It’s a wild superplane, dangerous to pilots. I just thought it was such a trippy idea — flying one of those things. It’s a bit of a fun song about riding around in the Raptor and the power they have, the maniacal power they could have.

A lot has been said about the new technology, about how fans get their music. Some musicians like it, some hate it. What’s your opinion?

It is the sort of punk rock ideology that everybody should be able to make music, which is what the Internet has made possible. So it’s very hard for a punk to say that’s not a good thing. But at the same time there is something great about getting on a label that has a name. That’s what people are drawn to. That’s a cool thing. That still needs to happen in music. But homemade music is what punk was all about so I’m totally for it. That’s where it starts, at home. Everybody’s in the garage.

Who do you like on the scene today?

I don’t know, at the moment. I really don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. I’ve been sort of in my own world. In a moment I’ll stick my head up and have a look around.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I listen to everything. I don’t sit there listening necessarily to rock ’n’ roll. I listen to a lot of reggae. I don’t always listen to hard rock or something.

Lawrence Welk?

I don’t listen to that. I don’t go that far.

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