“I’ve been fighting with my demons so long, they’ve become my friends,” sings Billy Idol on “Cage,” the title track of his upcoming four-song EP.
Outside the realm of personal demonology and in the court of pop culture, Idol has a lot of other pals in 2022. You can hear his “Rebel Yell” on national TV spots for T-Mobile, and he licensed “Dancing with Myself” for the prime-time NBC competition show that borrows its title. Meanwhile, younger artists like Miley Cyrus are collaborating with Idol, bringing him to a whole new audience.
“Cage” is set for release in September on Dhani Harrison’s Dark Horse Records, preceded by a single dropping on Aug. 17. That label/artist matchup may be a surprising pairing, but Dhani says his father, George, would have approved: “My dad was a Billy Idol fan. One time we were watching ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ and they played ‘Dancing with Myself,’ and I remember my dad loving Billy and Beavis and Butt-head.”
The singer is revealing that a documentary is in the works with Grammy-winning Swedish music director Jonas Akerlund, of Madonna “Ray of Light” fame. With all these things in the hopper — plus an upcoming European tour with Television opening, and the resumption of a Las Vegas residency in late fall — Idol, who turns 67 in November, is far from the retiring type.
“The Cage EP” is the upbeat yin to last year’s dystopian four-track “The Roadside EP,” a rush of energy that comes with the lifting of the lockdown and the contributions of newcomers like co-producer Tommy English, Joe Janiak and Sam Hollander. It also marks the latest step in the four-decade long musical partnership between Idol and guitarist Steve Stevens, whose formula of combining punk energy with dance-floor beats goes back to their initial collaborations with Giorgio Moroder protégé Keith Forsey on songs like “Rebel Yell,” “Dancing With Myself” and “White Wedding.”
The EP’s four new songs are steeped in Idol’s past but firmly planted in the present, showing how the singer turns his own personal history into rocking anthems with strong hooks and choruses, from the epic, whisper-to-a-scream “Running from the Ghost,” a song about triumphing over his history of drug addiction, to the blues-rock of “Rebel Like You,” a tribute to his 2-year-old granddaughter, who recently dressed up like Idol circa “Dancing with Myself” to see him at his Las Vegas residency. The disc’s highlight may be the spoken-word rap/R&B/funk of “Miss Nobody,” where Billy once again embraces outsiders, in this case a feisty homeless woman he glimpsed outside the MacArthur Park studio where they were recording, and had him musing about how there but for the grace of God goes any one of us.
“These new songs are celebratory because Steve and I are enjoying ourselves,” says Billy. “It’s kind of wild to still be making music we’re excited about.”
“We both grew up on The Beatles,” adds Stevens, “where every song and album were completely different. Billy and I both see music as a bit of a journey. There’s a method to our madness, but at the same time, we throw away the formula and try other approaches. There are no rules. It’s just two guys with acoustic guitars and let’s see what we got.”
When he and his band toured at the end of last year, they were joined by Akerlund, who became intrigued with doing an Idol documentary — which is being produced by Live Nation Productions — after reading his 2015 biography, “Dancing With Myself,” and Idol’s own audiobook narrative.
“I told Billy, ‘This is a film… We need to tell this story,’” says Akerlund, who’s won three Grammys for his music films and videos with Madonna and Paul McCartney. “What incredible timing Billy has had in his career. He was there when punk-rock happened in London, then moved to New York just as MTV was exploding, and now he’s in Los Angeles. I personally love his story, the incredible events in his life. And the music has touched so many people.”
Idol was part of the famed Bromley Contingent, the group of fans which coalesced around the Sex Pistols — as captured in Danny Boyle’s recent FX series “Pistol,” which included a fleeting glimpse of a peroxide-blonde Billy causing havoc. Forty-five years later, the association cointinues. He’s been playing with ex-Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook – as well as Tony Levin, from his original ‘70s band, Generation X – in Generation Sex, which performs a mixture of Pistols and Gen X covers.
Idol liked Boyle’s FX series. “I really enjoyed Steve Jones’ book, which it was based on,” says Idol. “If this series informs young people about what these crazy kids did 45 years ago, when we were facing a time when the economy was not playing ball with us and adults were telling us there was no future, it will be a good thing. It’s very much what’s happening today. Our answer was doing what we loved, like playing and listening to music. It’s a good history lesson. We believed in music so much, we thought it could cause a revolution.”
Idol’s self-created persona – a combination of Elvis Presley’s sneer, punk-rock leather and a hellbent attitude – has been remarkably resilient, with the music sounding just as fresh and relevant today as it’s ever been. He’s always been influenced by a variety of different kinds of music, from the reggae-dub elements of Gen X to the crisp disco beat of “Dancing With Myself.”
“Billy is willing to try anything,” says Stevens. “He’ll go down the rabbit hole of some crazy concept, whereas a lot of established singers are stuck in their ways. Fortunately, Billy is not one of those guys.”
He and Idol will hit the road later this month with some west coast dates, then fly to South America for Rock in Rio and some shows supporting Green Day, then a headlining tour of the U.K. and Europe with legendary punk-rockers Television opening. He’ll also play five shows in November at the Cosmo in Las Vegas.
While hardly the retiring type, Idol did get a glimpse of what that might be like when the pandemic curtailed his touring activities. Idol was able to play the doting grandfather to his two granddaughters, ages two and seven months, from his daughter Bonnie Blue, one of his two kids (along with Willem Wolf Broad, his son by his former longtime companion Perri Lister). “It’s certainly been one of the pluses of the coronavirus, that I got to spend quality time with them. So it wasn’t that bad for me.” He expresses contentment within a four-year relationship with actor-model China Chow.
Idol’s longevity and current prominence in pop culture begs the question of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where contemporaries like Duran Duran and Eurythmics have been honored.
“If it happens, great,” says Stevens. “If not, what can you do?”
“My reward is the audience,” adds Idol. “But that would be fantastic — a great thing. If me and Steve could be inducted at the same time, it would be incredible. He deserves it.”