Finally closing in on all the content for my book, Borg Like Me. Here is an excerpt from an essay about working with Billy Idol on his ill-fated Cyberpunk record. The piece is called “The Internet is Punk Rock!”
It’s the kind of bizarre life moment that makes reality suddenly go all funny round its edges. It had been a typical workday, and after a late morning and early afternoon of writing and doing administrative work on Beyond Cyberpunk!, I went to take a nap. When I got up, I wandered downstairs to find my wife Pam dusting. I stood at the landing and asked groggily: “Did I get any messages?” Not looking up, doing her level best to affect a posture of work-a-day detachment (when did we ever bother to dust, BTW?). She said: “Yeah. Just one. Billy Idol called.” She played it so straight, it was priceless, like she was telling me the shop had called and our car was ready. I tried to process what I’d just heard. “Wait… what?” She lowered her dust rag. And her cool. She began squealing, jumping up and down like a kid in a blow-up bouncy house. “Billy Idol called! He wants to use something you wrote in Mondo as lyrics on his next record! He’s calling back in twenty minutes!”
Almost exactly twenty minutes later, the phone rang, and sure enough, the snarly-lipped one was on the other end. And yes, he really did want to use something I’d written on his next record.
This was actually the second time I’d talked to Billy that day. He’d called earlier in the morning to order a copy of Beyond Cyberpunk! Giving his credit card info and address, he’d used his birth name, William Broad, which I hadn’t recognized. At the end of that first conversation, right before hanging up, he’d asked me my name. Turns out, he’d read what he called my “cyberpunk manifesto” in the new Mondo 2000 collection, the User’s Guide to the New Edge, and had been trying to track down its author. He wanted to use parts of it on his next record, a cyberpunk concept album called…. wait for it… Cyberpunk.
It was beyond surreal to be talking on the phone with him – Billy Idol! He told me that he had this idea of using my piece as the opening piece for the record. (The piece, called “Is There A Cyberpunk Movement?,” had actually started life as a post on The Well BBS, later getting reprinted in the Mondo book.) He wanted to read it over music, like “Late Lament,” the poem recited on the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin album.
The next thing I know, I have Billy Idol–Billy Fucking Idol–on the other end of the phone dramatically reciting my words back to me, in glorious “Breathe deep the gathering gloom” fashion. His reading was surprisingly sincere and powerful. I might have even teared up a bit. And, OK, I may have snickered some, too, not dismissively, but just because it was all so surreal. My brain had turned to cornmeal pudding.
I found Billy charming and instantly likable. He was funny, thoughtful, goofy, and self-deprecating. We talked about cyberpunk, virtual reality (which he was very taken by), Mondo 2000 and bOING bOING, and the ongoing traditions of DIY. “I’m so fucking into the internet,” he declared. “The internet is punk rock!” At the time, I found this a rather vacuous statement I didn’t really understand. But as I came to know Billy more and follow the whole trajectory of the recording, release, and touring of the record, I came to see what it meant to him, and why the discovery of the internet was so powerful and important to him. And I came to understand some of the sad truths about celebrity isolation. And what celebrities will do to break free of it.
You can pre-order Borg Like Me here. We should be shipping sometime in the Spring.