Monday, November 12, 2007
Why Billy Idol is My Poster Boy
I bet you hate it when people tell you that "you had to be there." But YOU HAD TO.
When he left Generation X and went solo, Billy Idol became a huge international pop star in the process.
But what got Billy Idol in the forefront in the first place was his devotion to the music... as part of the Bromley Contingent, a group of kids known quite simply for being ardent Sex Pistols fans, Billy gained a spot on fan and media radar alike, as did Siouxsie Sioux and fellow Gen Xer, Tony James.
The Bromley contingent were fashion forward young people and the watchful eyes of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood took careful note of the self-designed outfits of the Bromley punks and turned them into Kings Road fashion with price tags to match.
However... some of their contemporaries, such as the esteemed journalist, Julie Burchill didn't see it as the Bromley Contingent being influential but rather a distraction to the music. She wrote in her book, The Boy Looked at Johnny that the Bromley Contingent were:
a posse of unrepentant poseurs, committed to attaining fame despite the paucity of talent other than being noticed; achieving their aim by displaying themselves in a manner meticulously calculated to kill.
Perhaps Siouxie's bared breasts in her fetish outer-wear bra was a bit over the top? It certainly influenced Madonna who would appropriate the look a decade later.
Say what one will about the Bromley Contingent... they made their mark on a culture where so many things are fleeting: values, trends, fashion, music, art... only punk rock culture does seem to have found a way to morph with the trends and keep asserting itself.
Billy Idol set the tone for the perfect punk rock hair. His perfectly ripped t-shirts rivaled Sid Vicious' and his overall look was a bookend for NY punk rock pioneer Richard Hell's own safety pinned clothes and spikey hair.
There's nothing wrong with singing on key, playing proficiently, recording with regard to fidelity and promoting your band... ostensibly, if you want to make records, you'd rather do that band thing as your day job than be on the dole or flipping burgers at Wimpy...
There's also a sentiment in punk rock that I hold dear, even though its antithetical to my whole mini-treatise on why I still love Billy Idol... and that is that a group of ne'er do wells who can't play can still be a band, make records, do shows and garner fans. It hearkens (for me, at least) to the sentiment in the pre-punk rock pub rock band Eddie & the Hot Rods and their smooth anthemic Do Anything You Wanna Do, which for me was just as much a punk anthem as Anarchy in the UK. Pub rock was the initial backlash movement to the phenomenon of the Mega Star (think Rod Stewart, who quit the UK in 1975 as punk rock seeds were being sown, to become a tax exile in the USA and to date movie stars like Britt Ekland... who would eventually marry another rock n roller with punk ethos... Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom. It was that bloated rock star tax exile phenomenon that lead to the pendulum swinging in favor of making heroic the kid on the dole in ripped clothes... and then some...)
So... why is Billy Idol my poster boy?
For all the reasons stated above and because in retrospect, I see the whole cycle of Postmodernism & its discontents played out in the existence of The Bromley Contingent, Sex Pistols, Generation X and ultimately, Billy IDOL's rise to fame and all the praise and criticism therein...
And because Billy Idol wrote and sang that "100 punks rule!"
And finally, because I am and have always been a photographer - a person who responds visually to stimuli... he was the perfect male animal at his peak in 1978... 23 years old and beautiful PLUS he was articulate, clever, knew a photo opportunity when he saw one and he took it! Because he was not too cool to flip through my record collection and play a record by Bruce Springsteen and because 29 years after we took all these pictures... he remembered every detail of every frame and the names of all the people in the photos with him.
I think he's grown up gracefully and continues to put on a great performance full of hit songs you recognize, and let's face it... you all know "White Wedding" just as much, if not more than "Ready Steady Go," don't you?