Dancing With Himself, as Only Billy Idol Can

Billy Idol exposes himself -- both literature-ly and literally -- in his raw new memoir.
Billy Idol exposes himself -- both literature-ly and literally -- in his raw new memoir.
Photo by Michael Muller/Touchstone

Dancing with Myself By Billy Idol Touchstone Books, 336 pp., $28

When a young, snotty, peroxide-headed English punk rocker needed a moniker more in touch with his current life than what his birth certificate said, he recalled what a chemistry professor had once written across the top of a school report: "William is IDLE."

But since the country already had a famous Idle (that would be Monty Python's Eric), and the lethargy of the word did not match his explosive lifestyle or stage presence, he repositioned a few letters -- and, by default, its meaning. Thus, William Broad became Billy Idol, one of the most reliable hitmakers and video stars of the '80s.

Dancing with Myself is more than half over by the time Idol gets to the part where he makes the video for "White Wedding" and his career goes into the stratosphere. That's fine, though, as he gives an amazing recounting of the late-'70s punk movement in England, which he was squarely part of; rubbing shoulders and sharing stages with members of the Clash, Sex Pistols, Damned, Pogues and Siousxie and the Banshees.

Idol's own group in which he was a guitarist and singer - Generation X - did not have the anger or stridency (or, honestly, cumulative talent) of any of those bands. But they did form a sort of bridge between punk and new wave with their more fun, danceable, but still hard-edged music that would also prove the basis for Idol's solo (and much more successful) career.

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Even in a literary genre where tales of debauchery are as common as dangling participles (though his is rarely dangling), Idol's tales that feature booze, drugs, or sex -- individually or as co-stars -- are pretty raw. In fact, Idol seems to have ingested as many substances as all four members of Motley Crue did in The Dirt.

By the time of his 1990 motorcycle crash that almost cost him a leg, Idol had been indulging in "booze, broads, and bikes" as well as a laundry list of drugs both soft and hard as a full-on addict for many years.

But it's Idol's tales of incessant sucking and fucking that are often the most flat-out amusing. As when he is fist-fucking a San Francisco admirer, only to get his hand literally caught in the nookie jar as the rest of him is jerked and dragged across the bed by his writhing paramour.

This is not the sort of stuff that happens to the history professor that Idol might have become had never picked up a guitar.

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Still, his proclamations of missing/loving/got-a-hole-in-my-heart for girlfriend (and mother of one of his children) Perri Lister all the time during this years-long FuckFest are the least convincing passages. Lister finally leaves Idol after hearing him make arrangements to meet a girlfriend -- over the broadcasting baby monitor in their newborn son's room.

Throughout, Idol writes in detail about his music as well, including his close collaborations with guitarist Steve Stevens. Also included are the stories behind some of his biggest hits: "Dancing with Myself" was about his observation of Japanese discogoers shimmying in front of mirrors. "Rebel Yell" was inspired by the brand of booze he saw the Rolling Stones chugging. And "Mony Mony" was a sort of musical payback -- the original version by Tommy James & the Shondells was playing when he lost his virginity.

While his pop-culture cachet has been most memorable in recent years for the highly-amusing cameo as himself in The Wedding Singer, Idol has this book and a new album, Kings & Queens of the Underground, out at the same time.

And, as he looks insanely more physically fit than he did 30 years ago and is in the midst of a large-scale tour, the 2014 version of William Broad is anything but Idle.

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