Quick Review: DANCING WITH MYSELF by Billy Idol (Touchstone)

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“I am hopelessly divided between the dark and the good, the rebel and the saint, the sex maniac and the monk, the poet and the priest, the demagogue and the populist. Pen to paper, I’ve put it all down, every bit from the heart. I’m going out on a limb here, so watch my back.” — Billy Idol

An early architect of punk rock’s sound, style, and fury, whose lip-curling sneer and fist-pumping persona vaulted him into pop’s mainstream as one of MTV’s first megastars, Billy Idol remains, to this day, a true rock ‘n’ roll icon.

Now, in his long-awaited autobiography, Dancing with Myself, Idol delivers an electric, searingly honest account of his journey to fame — from his early days as front man of the pioneering UK punk band Generation X to the decadent life atop the dance-rock kingdom he ruled — delivered with the same in-your-face attitude and fire his fans have embraced for decades. Beyond adding his uniquely qualified perspective to the story of the evolution of rock, Idol is a brash, lively chronicler of his own career.

A survivor’s tale at its heart, this sometimes chilling and always riveting account of one man’s creative drive joining forces with unbridled human desire is unmistakably literary in its character and brave in its sheer willingness to tell. With it, Billy Idol is destined to emerge as one of the great writers among his musical peers.

Billy Idol’s music has been pretty much a constant in my life. His albums were among my father’s eclectic collection; “Dancing With Myself”, “Rebel Yell” and “Mony, Mony” were frequently on tapes he would put together for road trips. So, it was perhaps inevitable that Dancing With Myself caught my eye. It’s a great rock biography, one that charts the rise of not only the author, but punk in general. He was a pioneer of so many styles and quirks that we take for granted today. An essential read for all fans of his music, but also for anyone interested in the evolution of rock and punk music.

Idol’s music has never really disappeared — the Gen X song that shares the book’s title, for example, remains a great, groovy piece. “White Wedding” and especially “Rebel Yell” have been covered by so many varied rock bands — off the top of my head, and a really eclectic mix: Murderdolls, Drowning Pool, Children of Bodom and Black Veil Brides.

His latest album, Kings and Queens of the Underground is both faithful to the sound that made him a global rock star, while also modern. It’s really quite superb.

In this biography, the author gives us a quick intro to his childhood (and the influences that took root during his life in the US and UK), before moving on to a chronological-by-album recounting of his life in music. As someone who missed the coverage in magazines when he was first exploding onto the scene, it was a great opportunity to learn more about his music, influences, friends and colleagues, not to mention his hits and near-misses (seriously, Idol’s life has been a rollercoaster of rock ‘n’ roll excess and near-effortless cool). He is candid about his highs and lows — from enjoying a string of number one singles, to embarrassing himself in front of his idols (for example, the Rolling Stones), to the self-destructive behaviour that brought his long relationship to an end. And, of course, his copious substance abuse. He’s honest without sounding affected or contrived. Idol never allows the recollections of drug experiences to take over, as do Anthony Keidis in Scar Tissue and, apparently, Steven Tyler in Does the Noise in My Head Bother You — this means Idol’s story keeps moving forward. His prose is fast-paced and often lyrical, as one can probably expect.

Overall, this is a great memoir. A must for fans of the musician and his work, but also for general music enthusiasts. Very highly recommended.

*

Dancing With Myself is published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster – S&S Canada provided the review copy.

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