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December 31, 2011 9:20 AM   Subscribe

"It's 1993, I better wake up and be part of it. I'm sitting there, a 1977 punk watching Courtney Love talk about punk, watching Nirvana talk about punk, and this is my reply."

Billy Idol's 1993 album Cyberpunk was groundbreaking in the degree to which it saw a mainstream artist embrace digital music production, promotion and distribution. It was not, however, a great popular or critical success.

Of it's four singles – "Shock to the System" (above), "Adam in Chains, "Wasteland," and "Heroin" (called "one of the worst covers ever recorded" by Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic), not one made a significant splash.

Idol was heavily personally invested in the album, producing it in his home studio so as to have complete creative control. Having become a recent but fervent convert to science fiction literature, Idol began posting on alt.cyberpunk and The WELL. He also retained Gareth Branwyn and Mark Frauenfelder as consultants.

But, as poorly as Cyberpunk was received among critics ("Least Essential Concept Album of the 1990s" - The AV Club), it was panned even worse by the cyberpunk community. To this day, the alt.cyberpunk FAQ has an entry dedicated to disowning the album.

William Gibson said:
A London journalist told me when Billy did his Cyberpunk press junket over there, he made it a condition of getting an interview with him, that every journalist had to have read "Neuromancer"... Anyway, they all did but when they met with Billy, the first thing that became really apparent was that Billy hadn't read it. So they called him on it, and he said he didn't need to..he just absorbed it through a kinda osmosis. I don't know. I had lunch with Billy years ago in Hollywood and we were talking about the possiblilty of his acting in a film that someone was trying to make based on some piece of ficton of mine, and I thought he was a very likeable guy. He had a sense of humour about what he was doing that is not apparent in the product he puts out. If I run into him again, we can have a good laugh about what he's doing now!
And Bruce Bethke, who coined the term "cyberpunk," dismissed Idol as well:
This really needs to be said. While working on the story, I was having trouble visualizing one character: Rayno. I mean, I had a basic take on him; he was stylish and flashy, with hair peroxided to within an Angstrom unit of its life.

But the essence of his character was that he was a fraud. Rayno was a parasite, living off the skills of other people: a creature composed entirely of style, attitude, and image, with no actual talent to back it up.

As I said, I was having trouble visualizing him -- up until the moment I chanced to catch some early music video footage of Billy Idol. Then I jumped up, pointed at the TV, and shouted out, "That's him!"
Billy Idol did not record another album for 13 years after the failure of Cyberpunk.
posted by 256 (89 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I LOVED THIS ALBUM, still do.
posted by NiteMayr at 9:31 AM on December 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's the first time I've seen that video or heard of that album. I suddenly can't stop thinking of Vanilla Ice for some reason.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 9:32 AM on December 31, 2011


Cyberpunk is definitely cringe-worthy. Watching those videos, you just want to take him aside and tell him he's embarrassing himself. That being said, Bethke's criticism is crazy. His self titled and Rebel Yell albums are great, not to mention Generation X.
posted by Roman Graves at 9:34 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


For whatever reason, I listened to a long radio show (that I can only hope is archived somewhere online, though it easily couldn't be) in which Billy Idol discussed the then-newly-released album with the hosts and with call-ins. Idol seemed to be having a lot of fun; at one point they played a song from the album called "Venus," which had a chorus about touching the titular Venus, and when they faded back into the studio Idol was singing along with, "I'm touching my penis" and cackling. Like: He was parodying his own song from the album that he was ostensibly there to promote. What I remember best, though, is that someone called in and was berating him for appropriating cyberpunk culture, and Idol started being all like "blah-blah-blah" and essentially said hey dude, why don't you clamber up out of your mom's basement and take a trip to "my world." Which? Stuck with me, kind of, being about the right age to be so spoken to, as it seemed to me what the nerd community -- any nerd community -- really needed was some don't dream it, be it, generally speaking. It's probably too bad the album wasn't a little better.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:36 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had managed to forget this album, which I think is the most merciful outcome possible for it. I mean, good for him for trying something, right? But surely there was some moment late in the project where he listened to the almost completed album and thought, "Uh oh..."
posted by Forktine at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2011


Billy Idol on Usenet? I never would have guessed. Are there other Real Life Famous people we can say that about?

I was the right age, I guess, for the album to be a guilty pleasure of mine. I never thought it was High Art or anything, but neither was any other artifact of Cyberpunk culture. I enjoyed it all the same.

And I have no urge to give it a listen now.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2011


This was around the same time as he nearly killed himself on his motorbike and showed in Oliver Stone's The Doors movie on crutches, right?

I'd put it down to being one-third Hollywood, one-third mid-life crisis, and one-third straight up turd.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2011


I like to pretend Billy Idol died right after the first Generation X album, which is still awesome.
posted by davebush at 9:44 AM on December 31, 2011


I'm pretty sure he died before he recorded this.

no i will not stop linking that hilariously awful cover
posted by FatherDagon at 9:51 AM on December 31, 2011 [14 favorites]


Holy fuck dude
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:57 AM on December 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


And wow, having finished watching that first link for 'Shock to the System' video... did he really create a video reaction to the Rodney King beating by way of 'Tetsuo the Iron Man'?
posted by FatherDagon at 10:00 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


[H]e made it a condition of getting an interview with him, that every journalist had to have read "Neuromancer"... Anyway, they all did but when they met with Billy, the first thing that became really apparent was that Billy hadn't read it.

Q. What do you call an interview with Cyberpunk-era Billy Idol?
A. Replies Without a Case
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:00 AM on December 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


At the time the album was released, I too was "heavily invested" in the cyberpunk, um, I guess "scene" would be the word. "Nerd fantasy"? "Worldview"? Whatever. I was young and stupid.

I remember being thoroughly outraged that Billy Idol of all people would dare to try and co-opt my movement this way. Furious! Just furious!

Over the years since, whenever the topic of his album comes up, I genuinely feel a little bit bad. Like if I ever met him at a party, I would apologize for having said such mean things about him back then.

Because seriously, 20-Years-Ago-Erika, chill out. A) it's not that big a deal, and B) it's clear that he was genuinely into all that stuff, even if he hadn't done as much homework as his posturing might have indicated.

(But cyberpunk was nothing BUT posture, really, so if you think about it, it's actually quite fitting.)
posted by ErikaB at 10:05 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


That Shock to the System video is still several times better than the Johnny Mnemonic movie. Dear god that hasn't aged well, it's like an episode of some sci-fi anthology tv show in how it's shot and directed. (not to mention acted)

I remember seeing footage a couple years ago of footage from early Sex Pistols shows, and in the crowd were Billy Idol and Siouxsie Sioux. Ever since then when i listen to either of them, i hear their influences and how they each kind of sound like they are similar but took their own angles to where they ended up.

Frankly i don't get the Billy Idol hate, rock stars aren't their personas, and they rarely have a lot of control over the music videos. There is a whole team, usually led by the director, and label, more so when the budget gets higher.

But surely there was some moment late in the project where he listened to the almost completed album and thought, "Uh oh..."

Ever work on something for an extended amount of time? (weeks or months on that one thing) Early on you start to feel that way about everything, it's like repeating the same word over and over until it sounds weird. Odds are he did feel that way, but those around him (studio, label, etc) were either kissing his ass, lying to him, didn't care, or actually liked it (shocker, i know, but i don't find it that bad either, just dated now).
posted by usagizero at 10:10 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I met Billy in the elevator of a hotel I worked at (1989). We said nothing, just stared forward. Then he offered me a stick of japanese licorice caffeine gum (BlackBlack I think).
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 10:16 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did you take it?
posted by stinkycheese at 10:17 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know what the punk rock equivalent of jumping the shark is, but Billy Idol went from John Doe to ... to, well fuck, Billy Idol I guess, in nothing flat.

Seriously, the revulsion that literally every punk I knew had for that guy was just absolute. And the animosity was stoked even further by the fact that he was in a band with such promise as Generation X. That seemed to somehow double the fall.
posted by Relay at 10:18 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, it was nice. Made my mouth tingle and I became addicted to the stuff.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 10:19 AM on December 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


I should say that when Cyberpunk first came out, I absolutely loved it. I had just discovered Gibson, Sterling and Stephenson and was delighted that the literature had already expanded into the realm of music.

I was suddenly reminded of the existence of the album this morning while listening to Freezepop. Going back and listening to the singles now, I am unable to like it or dislike it, but rather I simply find it nostalgic. I was quite surprised, while putting this post together to discover that Mark Frauenfelder had not only been involved in the album but designed its cover art.
posted by 256 at 10:21 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Frankly i don't get the Billy Idol hate, rock stars aren't their personas,

Well, it's the persona we hate. Case in point, Billy Asshole, as we called him back in the day. The guy took basically the most facetious/obnoxious aspects of punk, stripped everything else away and built a career out of it. It was sufferable for a while but around the 9,000th time I heard Rebel Yell, I had nothing left for the guy but hate ... and for what it's worth, I'm sure he felt the same about me -- his persona that is.
posted by philip-random at 10:21 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should say that when Cyberpunk first came out, I absolutely loved it.

i was underwhelmed - neil had already gone a lot father and better with it, years ago
posted by pyramid termite at 10:24 AM on December 31, 2011


farther - grrrrr
posted by pyramid termite at 10:24 AM on December 31, 2011


one-third

You assume Mr. Idol was a complex man. Please allow me to further simply that as 50/50 Hollywood Turd.

It still surprises me that an entire genre of music was virtually wiped out and replaced by another circa 1991. It's as if nobody in the LA music scene even saw it coming and kept their heads down churning out the same shite that they had the entire previous decade. No sales data, no radio play, no obvious press or other data samples by wich to forecast the business one year out. Either that or the powers that be entirely misunderstood their own business. That entire industry is really just an incompetent parasite who survives off of the skills and ignorane of others.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:29 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wait, Billy Idol was punk?

Jeez, he never read that way to me. He seemed to be MTV-Eurosynthpop-Glam right out of the gate, at least as far as my awareness of him went.

In high school we mostly laughed about his hair and his sneer, and danced to his music. There wasn't much hate for him at all. He wasn't hugely admired, but he was part of the weave of music culture at the time.

I remember when Cyberpunk was released, and was impressed that he was 1) actually involved on the internet on the same level I was at the time, and 2) that he had done the whole thing himself in his home studio.

In some alternate universe, he became a sneering, high-haired whatever-he-was version of Thomas Dolby. In this universe, however, he just kind of vanished until his appearance in The Wedding Singer.
posted by hippybear at 10:30 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have not heard Rebel Yell 9000 times. I have heard it a few dozen times and I like it. I would be very interested in reading a post from somebody who has listened to this Cyberpunk CD start to finish and liked it. Surely there is one such person out there?

I didn't watch the posted videos as that is usually not adequate for a fair listen/ evaluation.
posted by bukvich at 10:34 AM on December 31, 2011


Did you know Billy Idol was almost the T-1000?
posted by stinkycheese at 10:36 AM on December 31, 2011


It still surprises me that an entire genre of music was virtually wiped out and replaced by another circa 1991. It's as if nobody in the LA music scene even saw it coming and kept their heads down churning out the same shite that they had the entire previous decade.

That's not surprising at all. Seattle is a long way from LA, the music scenes at the time were completely different (see the documentary Pearl Jam Twenty for information about how the bands in Seattle were interdependent and working toward a common goal vs. LA's competitive and rivalry-fueled music scene), and there was a lot of local stuff happening in the Seattle grunge scene which was very very local and it wasn't until it exploded outwards that anyone had even heard of it before.

The extent to which it made immediate inroads into the national music scene really indicated that people were hungry from something other than what they had been fed up until that point, but until someone offers you a steak, how can you know there's anything to eat other than chicken?
posted by hippybear at 10:37 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is this the new Rickroll for 2012?
posted by acheekymonkey at 10:48 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the music biz in 1991 (the year that punk finally broke in the Americas) is best thought of as a situation where the adults had gotten sloppy with their supervision and not just let the kids get their hands on matches, but had left huge vats of gasoline and the like just lying around. The explosion was inevitable. The initial match may have been ignited in Seattle somewhere but the gasoline was all over the place in the form of all the variant forms of indie (note the small "i") slash+burn punkRock/hardcore/whatever bands that had been slowly getting a foothold through the 80s -- mostly working underground, not getting much radio or TV time as that was being hogged by the likes of Billy Asshole (and the big money behind him that insisted on shoving him down our throats).
posted by philip-random at 10:48 AM on December 31, 2011


Wait, Billy Idol was punk?

Well, a lot of the animosity that I heard for Billy Idol was that his old band, Generation X, most certainly was punk and that he did the most unforgivable of punk sins: He sold out.

There was this whole air about Idol post-GenX that he appropriated things like "Kiss Me Deadly" from his old band-mates, grabbed all the credit for his last band, said that it was all because of him etc etc etc ... and that pissed a lot of people off.
posted by Relay at 10:55 AM on December 31, 2011


Wikipedia: In the 2002 NRL Grand Final in Sydney, Idol entered the playing field for the post-match entertainment on a hovercraft-type stage to the intro of "White Wedding", when he managed to sing only two words before a power failure ended the performance.

"Hey little..."
posted by stinkycheese at 10:55 AM on December 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Billy Idol struck me as anti-punk.
posted by telstar at 10:58 AM on December 31, 2011


"The initial match may have been ignited in Seattle somewhere ... "

That somewhere would have been a swath from Georgetown to Belltown, from The Graven Image Gallery to Galleria Potato Head ... right after that, it went from somewhere to everywhere seemingly overnight.
posted by Relay at 10:59 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


All I know is that I heard a cover of "White Wedding" by Sleepy Pete and Melissa May (the band tag in my iTunes library is "the harvey girls") and I have been listening to it for the past three weeks NONSTOP.

You can find it here, and I trust you will do the same.

I liked Billy Idol when I was a young little geek and I didn't know any better, and I've liked him when I've seen him in interviews and stuff . . . a likable jerk, I think.

Never really thought of him as "punk" though-- too polished, too produced. Too . . . shiny with his leather and hair. Too sharp.

Punk is sloppy, raw, unadorned.

Ok but seriously, listen to that link above. Amazing.
posted by exlotuseater at 11:10 AM on December 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


For those expressing bewilderment that Idol was ever considered punk, here's Generation X playing "Kleenex" (from Don Letts' The Punk Rock Movie).
posted by stinkycheese at 11:12 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was into cyberpunk at the time, it's funny how Billy Idol immediately registered as fake. There was interesting music being made at the time though, and it all played with a cynical larger than life, made-for-media vibe, but somehow Idol managed to be EARNESTLY fake.

Some sounds from that time that somehow looked/sounded like they were really from the future: PWEI, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Information Society and the holy trifecta of Acid House '88: Bomb the Bass, M.A.R.R.S. and S-Express
posted by Tom-B at 11:17 AM on December 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Sigue Sigue Sputnik was from 1986, not from 1993 when the Billy Idol Cyberpunk album was released. That's basically a lifetime when it comes to music such as this.
posted by hippybear at 11:20 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nice to see a nod to Sigue Sigue Sputnik here...Tony James (of Generation X bass-player fame) had the cyberpunk look and sound down with that project years before Billy Idol even started on this album (which frankly, never registered with me at the time).
posted by Hutch at 11:24 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


AFFORDABLE FIREPOWER
posted by stinkycheese at 11:25 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, in retrospect maybe that's why it registered as fake: too little, too late.
posted by Tom-B at 11:27 AM on December 31, 2011


Some sounds from that time that somehow looked/sounded like they were really from the future:

And a cool sounding future it was ... with Sigue Sigue Sputnik officially ahead of those who were ahead of their time. They even got covered by PWEI.

I'd add Cold Cut to the list, and Hip-Hop in general. Public Enemy obviously.
posted by philip-random at 11:28 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


maybe that's why it registered as fake: too little, too late.

Like the middle-aged guy who shows up at a teenage party and tries to prove he's still got it. The word pathos comes to mind.
posted by philip-random at 11:30 AM on December 31, 2011


They even got covered by PWEI.

What the hey, why was I not informed of this previously!?? (stomps off to chew out friends)
posted by Hutch at 11:31 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


"As we get set to address a new millennium, science and technology are becoming the new weapons of change, and who better to arm you for the future battle than BILLY IDOL." -- Chrysalis press release for Cyberpunk
posted by user92371 at 11:32 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ss-stu-stu-stu-studio-line.

That's the legacy of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Selling ads between the tracks of their album.

Compared to them Idol is a piker.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:32 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's the legacy of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Selling ads between the tracks of their album.

Agreed, great concepts, visuals, hair and outfits, and one good song.
posted by Hutch at 11:39 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Atari Baby?
posted by stinkycheese at 11:44 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I kid, that whole album is great. Though, in fairness, The Who beat them to the ads between songs thing.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:45 AM on December 31, 2011


What the hey, why was I not informed of this previously!?? (stomps off to chew out friends)

Same here. I have no idea how I haven't heard of this.

...except maybe because PWEI's cover is pretty forgettable and low energy compared to both the original from SSS and PWEI's more manic stuff.

Also in retrospect I'm realizing that all I really liked about the original Love Missile F1-11 is the spacey dub delay effects and random beeping noises. The bad coked up drum machine programming and singing/yodeling don't do anything for me anymore.

As for Billy Idol? Man, he's always been uncomfortably square. White, stiff and precise to the point of alluding to being secretly fascist. (Not an uncommon theme among 80s punk rockers, really.)

But, really? The whole concept of "punk" as a fashion and lifestyle choice was a sell-out from the very beginning. Never mind the Sex Pistols, go buy some ridiculous plaid bondage pants. Buy some Manic Panic and dye your hair. Buy lots of safety pins and tear up your concert t-shirts and then pin them back together again.

Sometimes I wonder if Idol was just taking the piss out of all of that, and making his own tidy piece of profit by selling nu-rockabilly or whatever as radio-friendly punk rock.
posted by loquacious at 11:45 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


White, stiff and precise

Heh heh heh.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2011


Billy Idol on Usenet? I never would have guessed. Are there other Real Life Famous people we can say that about?

When I started comedy in 1999, tons of great comedians were on alt.comedy.standup -- Louis CK, for example, Doug Stanhope (later the host of the Man Show), Jimmy Pardo, Steve Marmel (who later did The Fairly OddParents and So Random for kids TV). They were very cool to a newb, too. There was a beautiful year or two, we even did a showcase at the Hollywood Improv all together that Marmel set up, before spam and trolls ruined it all.
posted by msalt at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't really remember the SSS album, but I can recite those ads verbatim. And I can picture the photos on the cover. That doesn't say anything good about the music... I'll have to go listen to it again.

I always saw Gen X as a much less talented version of The Buzzcocks.
posted by Huck500 at 11:58 AM on December 31, 2011


There was more to post Gen X than Billy Idol. Empire had members Mark Laff andBob "Derwood" Andrews. Mood Control Expensive Sound
posted by Sailormom at 12:00 PM on December 31, 2011


SSS was produced by Giorgio Moroder, one of my favorite Love Missile F1-11 versions is the Westbam remix that's on the Moroder tribute album
posted by Tom-B at 12:01 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gen X will always have a place in my heart as "Kiss Me Deadly" was the first non "children's music" tape I ever had of my own. Ironically, received as a Christmas present from my very conservative aunt (I think she got them from a discount bin or as a freebie from someone she knew in the music biz).
posted by Hutch at 12:02 PM on December 31, 2011


SSS was produced by Giorgio Moroder

Suddenly everything is clear to me. My love of arpeggiators continues to this day.
posted by Hutch at 12:04 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's why I bought the SSS album. I was overly fond of Moroder's Metropolis soundtrack when it came out, and it may have been the first time I was aware of producers as shapers of sound.
posted by hippybear at 12:07 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a 1977 generation British punk I can confirm that Idol and Gen X were always seen as a joke and an embarrassment. Idol was like your clueless kid brother trying to copy the cool kids.
posted by Decani at 12:10 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember when he tried his hand on #hack. He got rolled right up back to his dialup. Those were good times. I have no idea what kind of street cred he thought he'd get out of it, but it was pretty darn funny.
posted by graftole at 12:16 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I kind of halfway remember Billy Idol being on Usenet, or some other BBS type network. The thing I remember is he'd announced he was there and would respond to each and every message he got in some channel or forum. I think he lasted a couple of hours and I only noticed it when others were making fun of him for chickening out. I never particularly liked Billy Idol, but I never hated him either. Shock To The System doesn't sound like a really bad song to me. It just sounds like a Billy Idol song.
posted by lordrunningclam at 12:56 PM on December 31, 2011


Billy's Cyberpunk is a romp! It's the '90s incarnation of Shatner's "The Transformed Man". If you can make it past the initial cringeworthiness of a man crashing obliviously into the limits of his own talents, the earnestness of the whole thing begins to shine through. To say that the album version of Heroin is "one of the worst covers ever recorded" is to fail to appreciate it for what it is. It's like criticizing the Shaggs for being off-key.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 12:58 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I FLAMED ME OWN DAD
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:59 PM on December 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


Cripes, how did this get by me? I was getting all the major releases and reading all the reviews in 1993. This must've gotten swept under the rug mighty quick.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:47 PM on December 31, 2011


I FLAMED ME OWN DAD

I read through this thread just to check whether that Achewood link had been posted.
posted by ripley_ at 1:53 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't be be surprised if Billy revisits this project, glues some gears on it and calls it "Steampunk" (previously)

Also...

Metafilter: until someone offers you a steak, how can you know there's anything to eat other than chicken?
posted by spoobnooble at 2:01 PM on December 31, 2011


If you can make it past the initial cringeworthiness of a man crashing obliviously into the limits of his own talents, the earnestness of the whole thing begins to shine through. To say that the album version of Heroin is "one of the worst covers ever recorded" is to fail to appreciate it for what it is. It's like criticizing the Shaggs for being off-key.

The Shaggs brought an other world innocence to their music that gives it a haunting asymmetry which grows on the listener, becomes beautiful over time. Billy Idol's Heroin on the other hand is merely very, very bad.

I've heard it said that a great cover is either A. a more or less faithful rendition of a song that most of us have either forgotten or never heard in the first place, or B. a reinvention of a song that most of us are rather tired of. Idol's Heroin is so far from either that the only possible value it could have is marking some kind of boundary of awfulness. But Styx's Mr. Roboto already did that years before (nothing's ever been worse, before or since). So we're left with Idol's Heroin -- merely bad, bad, very bad.
posted by philip-random at 2:06 PM on December 31, 2011


This still remains awesome though... (weird watching it without Max Headroom popping up now and then)
posted by Artw at 2:06 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


/downs a Quatro.
posted by Artw at 2:07 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


That being said, Bethke's criticism is crazy. His self titled and Rebel Yell albums are great, not to mention Generation X.

You probably need the rest of that quote for the actual "critisism" bit...
Which makes it, to me, absolutely hysterical that in the 1990's the "real" Billy
Idol went to great lengths to adopt the cyberpunk identity, even going so far as
to title an album that. If he only knew the real story....

You think we should tell him?
posted by Artw at 2:18 PM on December 31, 2011


I had a friend in high school who described Billy Idol as "everything your dad imagines punk to be", and for a long time that made sense to me. Until I learned about Generation X, and became thoroughly confused.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:30 PM on December 31, 2011


I'll admit that I didn't hate his "hilariously awful" version of Jingle Bell rock (linked to above). Seemed like a perfectly competent version of the song to me. The only way in which I see it as perhaps "hilarious" is that it's such a deviation from what most people think of when they think "Billy Idol", and that in and of itself is not enough to make me think that it's "hilariously awful". If you didn't see the video and didn't know it was Billy Idol, I think most people would basically think it's fine, not having strong feelings about it one way or the other.

In fact, I kind of like the "Billy Idol?!" aspect of it. Frankly, from the video, it looks to me like he was doing it in a semi-self deprecating, tongue-in-cheek manner. Starting at about ten seconds in, and going to about twelve, he quickly goes through a few facial expressions that, to me, seem like "Wait a minute, what the hell am I doing in a song like this?!" followed by "Hey, screw it, this is pretty fun!".

I guess the total lack of "Gotta keep my image" from a guy who is often perceived as all image is what leads people to make fun of it, but I don't know, I find it somewhat charming, actually.
posted by Flunkie at 2:30 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Billy Idol's Heroin on the other hand is merely very, very bad.

it's weird - if he'd written his own words to it - and he may as well have, as he sure as hell doesn't follow the original melody - it would have been a fair track

but no, he had to make this into a cover of "heroin" and appropriate patti smith for the chorus

strange decision, i think
posted by pyramid termite at 2:31 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel as though that video could use some cutaways to Biff's Pleasure Palace.
posted by Beardman at 2:37 PM on December 31, 2011


Ever since my "musical maturity" I've been drawn to music that sounds or tries to sound like it's from the future. Idol certainly had a few singles that sounded good to me, but most of his stuff was punk-pop munge to my ears, and not the future sound I was seeking: Dance-able, singable, and definitely catchy. I found myself buying some of the long plays of his hits, even.

When Cyberpunk came out, I couldn't really get into it. While I understood that he was working with completely digital equipment, and that the process behind the scenes was meaningful to the title, the nature of the music didn't resonate with the vision I'd gotten off of reading Gibson, Shirley, and the other distopia masters.

1993 saw the release of new albums from Orbital, Aphex Twin, Bjork and Matthew Sweet, all of whom had arguably a better grasp on a "futuristic sound." Nowadays, electronic music is really all my children listen to, and I spend some time combing the playlists for the latest dubstep that will fuel my coding process while I slip on the noise-cancelling headphones.

For me, at least, memories of Billy Idol are relegated to the 1980s: Dancing with Myself, Money Money, White Wedding...maybe even Blue Highway. ...and that's about where we still part as friends.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:58 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I didn't hate his "hilariously awful" version of Jingle Bell rock (linked to above). Seemed like a perfectly competent version of the song to me. The only way in which I see it as perhaps "hilarious" is that it's such a deviation from what most people think of when they think "Billy Idol", and that in and of itself is not enough to make me think that it's "hilariously awful".

I think a more fitting description would be "hilariously awesome," or even "awesomely awful." Self-parody looks like a destination he's delighted to have finally arrived at.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:09 PM on December 31, 2011


It still surprises me that an entire genre of music was virtually wiped out and replaced by another circa 1991.

Nothing was wiped out; it was added to. A lot of people -- even in my suburban PA part of the world -- had been listening to Janes Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins, and Chili Peppers for years.

But suddenly in '91 radio stations actually started playing that stuff (and the Athens bands like REM and Matthew Sweet) along with everything else that was popular.

It took another 3 years before radio turned to absolute shit, Clear Channel began their plan of world mediocrity, and suddenly everything became one-dimensional again. Also, when Cobain (who nobody really cared about where I was -- this new stuff was meant to be a reaction against the cult of personality) died in '94, the record companies who thought they might be ceding control to indy labels saw their opportunity to manufacture are martyr, and suddenly everything had to have some level of pretend indy influence (even bands with zero indy cred).

It was a great time to be in college, but it didn't last long.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:22 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Self-parody looks like a destination he's delighted to have finally arrived at.

Get him together with David Lee Roth. Give them a sitcom. Two aging lovable assholes (one's a little punk, the other's a little rawk) who have to pretend to be gay so they don't get booted from their subsidized housing.
posted by philip-random at 4:33 PM on December 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


Wait, there's subsidized housing based on sexual preference? Talk about a violation of equal housing laws! I'm calling my congressman.
posted by hippybear at 4:37 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


who have to pretend to be gay so they don't get booted from their subsidized housing

This would be a great premise for any kind of sitcom, Roth and Idol involved or not. Seems like it would be on the other end of the spectrum from Bosom Buddies. What a weird show that was.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:52 PM on December 31, 2011


This would be a great premise for any kind of sitcom

It was horrible and embarrassing when Adam Sandler and Kevin James did something similar for that awful movie they made about losing health benefits unless they pretended to be gay.

It's a delicate line to walk. If you don't do it right, it's all about stereotypes and stupid gay panic moments. If it were done right, it could be deeply insightful into the human condition. I doubt the ability of either Hollywood or the TV industry to be able to do that.
posted by hippybear at 4:59 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The first mistake was involving Adam Sandler. But yes, you're totally right.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:22 PM on December 31, 2011


Mr. Idol's videos never caught my attention much, but I'll say this: anyone willing to spend 10 months making an album with 1992 versions of Mac, Vision and Pro tools had incredible determination and tolerance for pain.

But was that Mr. Idol? I've gotta suspect that the whole mess wound up being thrown at an unnamed techie to sort out in a month in an anonymous studio while Mr. Idol got his aspirations raised and his costumry foofed.
posted by Twang at 9:51 PM on December 31, 2011


If it were done right, it could be deeply insightful into the human condition.

Hey, Adam Sandler brought a great deal of gravitas to the part.

And in 2012, I resolve to watch better films.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:23 PM on December 31, 2011


I can't say I feel that strongly about Billy Idol. Meh. But just as fuel for discussion, I'm surprised nobody has posted the Billy Idol muppet singing The Rebel L.
posted by jonp72 at 10:01 AM on January 1, 2012


Get him together with David Lee Roth. Give them a sitcom. Two aging lovable assholes (one's a little punk, the other's a little rawk) who have to pretend to be gay so they don't get booted from their subsidized housing.

And make their next-door neighbours Hall and Oates, who are—wait for it—Satanists.
posted by acb at 1:18 PM on January 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thought Billy Idol was one of the goofiest things on MTV back when I watched MTV. That lopsided sneer -- so silly.


All I know is that I heard a cover of "White Wedding" by Sleepy Pete and Melissa May (the band tag in my iTunes library is "the harvey girls") and I have been listening to it for the past three weeks NONSTOP.

That, however, is awesome. Thanks.
posted by straight at 2:39 PM on January 1, 2012


Did you know Billy Idol was almost the T-1000?

More like Todd, the T-1000.
posted by straight at 2:41 PM on January 1, 2012


You know, I don't want to seem like I'm sticking up for this undeniably corny guy - but the most strikingly diverse crowd I ever saw at a big rock show was for Billy Idol (May 26 1987, at the CNE Grandstand with The Cult opening; this was pretty much the height of both bands fame). There were preppies, punks, new wavers, bikers, bat cavers (remember them?), proper longhaired rock fans, weirdos, 'normal people'. It was pretty strange to see a lot of folks who would probably be fighting anywhere else all getting along, digging the same concert.

I also remember these two giant prop female legs onstage, set up along either side so that the band appeared to be playing where they connected (in this giant woman's crotch). The legs ran all the way to the front of the stage and I think they wore red pumps, if memory serves. Billy Idol kept running behind the female keyboard player and grinding her and grabbing her boobs too. As a teenage boy, that fairly blew my mind.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:17 PM on January 1, 2012


I would be very interested in reading a post from somebody who has listened to this Cyberpunk CD start to finish and liked it. Surely there is one such person out there?

That would be me.

I bought Cyberpunk in 1993 and have loved it and listened to it regularly for 18 years now.

Back then, I knew next-to-nothing about Billy Idol or cyberpunk. This continues to be true to this day. Perhaps that is the key to enjoying this album.

For me in 1993, the internet was still 3 years away. Until 1996, I had never heard of it. I relied upon the broadest media (e.g. the local newspaper and Rolling Stone magazine) for information about pop culture. If I remember correctly, virtual reality was the big thing back in 1993. I remember going to some sort of an expo and putting on a helmet for an immersive gaming experience.

Browsing in a local music store one day in 1993, I saw the Cyberpunk CD on display, and was immediately attracted by its futuristic sheen. We were still in the thick of grunge at that point, with its grim, muddy reality, so Cyberpunk really stood out to me. I opened up the inlay, and it was filled with computer-modified artwork. Song titles beckoned - 'Wasteland', 'Tomorrow People', 'Neuromancer', 'Heroin'.

I will pause here to also point out that I had never heard of William Gibson, or his book Neuromancer, and I had probably never even heard of the Velvet Underground. I certainly had never heard the original version of 'Heroin'. Patti Smith, too, was a mystery to me.

Anyway, I asked to listen to the CD there in the shop, and sampled a few tracks. It was amazing! Again, you have to take into account my context. Surrounded by grunge with its exclusively guitar/bass/drums setup, Cyberpunk with its synthesizers and electronic beats was a breath of fresh air. I had only begun paying attention to pop culture in 1991, and where I lived, grunge just dominated everything during the period 1991-1995.

So anyway, no doubt you're sensing a pattern. To enjoy this album, perhaps you have to have come to it with a relatively clean slate. I listened to Cyberpunk a lot when I first got it, and I can still listen to it happily now, even though my cultural perspective has broadened immeasurably in the intervening years.

I read Neuromancer and got into reading sci-fi because of the Billy Idol song Neuromancer. I sought out the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith because of the Billy Idol song 'Heroin'. I think Idol's version of 'Heroin' is fantastic. I also think the VU original is fantastic. There's room for both. Idol took his version somewhere else, applying it to the concept at hand.

I better understand Idol's position in the rock pantheon now, and see that he's regarded as a bit of an all-round embarrassment. I wouldn't know. I haven't listened to any of his other stuff, apart from the usual stuff that pops up on the radio and film soundtracks. I understand, too, that this album is likewise regarded as an embarrassment, an attempt by a has-been to cash in on the cutting edge. Eh, whatever. It always rang true to my (perhaps naive, little) mind.

Idol seemed genuinely enthused by cyberpunk, virtual reality and the technologies of the future. So what if he was uncool? At least he gave it a go. If he had just continued with his usual radio-friendly fare, no doubt he would continue to have been treated dismissively by the cutting edge. But all the cool kids piled onto him for having the nerve to touch their precious subculture, and he backed away, warned against branching out beyond what people considered appropriate for Billy Idol.

Anyway, I love this album. Not just like, or tolerate. I love it. And I say that as someone who since 1993 has delved right back through the history of pop music since the 60s, and has (I think, warily) a fairly nuanced appreciation for pretty much every genre between 1962 and 2001 (after which I kinda stopped paying attention to new music). There's so much to love on this album, if you just listen to it without prejudice. Idol has a very strong voice, which he uses to great effect throughout the album. The songwriting is varied, as is the production - the album is a rollercoaster of styles, albeit permeated with a late-night, futuristic sheen.

So there you go. I am a Cyberpunk fan. Uncool? Yes. But happy.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 8:25 PM on January 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


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