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Idol 'ware

One day in March of this year, I awoke from a nap to ask my wife (as I always do) if I got any calls while I was asleep.

"Yeah, just one," she said, nonchalantly. "Billy Idol called."

"'scuse me," I choked, "who?"

"Billy Idol called and he's calling you back in 20 minutes."

"What the fuck does Billy Idol want with me?!," I blurted, thinking this was some kind of a joke.

My wife dropped her cool and began to squeal, "He wants to use something that you wrote for the Mondo book as LYRICS on his next record!"

Exactly 20 minutes later the phone rang, and sure enough, the snarling-lipped one was on the other end of the phone, and sure enough, he did want to use words of mine on his next album. Billy had gotten my number earlier in the day when he had called to order Beyond Cyberpunk. He ordered as William Broad, which at the time I didn't recognize as Idol's legal name. At the end of the conversation, right before I hung up, he asked me my name. He had read my "manifesto" on cyberculture in the New Edge Guide and was looking for me to get permission to use parts of it.

It was so strange talking with him. He did a dramatic reading of my words and then asked permission to use them and to add a few statements of his own. I said I would be happy to let him use my words, FOR MONEY. He said the details could be worked out later with his manager and my agent (oh my Hollywood!).

We then went on to talk about the album and his newfound love for cyberpunk, cyberculture, Mondo, bOING bOING, and computers. He said that he realized how important all this was for a hopeful future and that he wanted to introduce his young fans to the new high-tech DIY. I was surprised at how lucid, friendly, and reasonable he was about everything. I liked him. I was more than happy to loan him a copy of my words, especially if I got paid a few month's rent in the bargain.

Billy called back several days later to say that he had received Beyond Cyberpunk! and was impressed. He wanted to know if we could do something like that for his record, as a promotional vehicle and as a limited collector's disk for hardcore fans. We sent him a bid, which was subsequently underbid by Jaime Levy, who also happened to live near Idol.

The disk Jaime created is very similar in look, feel, and sensibility to her Electronic Hollywood disks. Done in the Director program, the disk is divided into quadrants that present the album's concept (my words mutated by Idol), the lyrics (with some hypertext), a biography by Mark Frauenfelder, and a resource section by yours truly. There is also an animated sequence of Idol images and some other do-dads. The disk is colorful, fun, and makes good use of sound samples. Many of the images were grabbed from the videos Brett Leonard did for Billy's techno-dance cover of the Velvet's tune "Heroin" (here rendered as a bitter-sweet tale of VR/simstim addiction). Jaime's disk was released as part of the digital press kit for the album which included the first single "Shock to the System." The kit comes in a "digi-pak" CD folder which has a plastic panel that holds the floppy disk and one that holds the CDS. A limited edition of the full album will use the same digi-pak folder with cover graphics by our very own Mark Frauenfelder.

While recent coverage of rock and rollers getting into interactive multimedia (see Wired 1.3) has briefly mentioned the Idol/Levy disk, most of it has been focused on more high-end approaches. We at The Computer Lab think that this cheaper floppy-based alternative could also have a big future ahead of it.

(G. Branwyn)


"Billy Idol's Cyberpunk" (the disk)
Created by Jaime Levy/Electronic Hollywood
Available as part of a limited-edition CD
of Billy Idol's album "Cyberpunk"
For more information call (800)551-7200

Here is the TEXT POPUP for Idol 'ware:

Billy's public flaunting of cyberpunk and cyberculture has enraged certain segments of the computer underground. They feel as though Billy's "cooption" of their scene will render that scene meaningless.

It's amazing to have been in on the project from the inside (sort of) and to be able to see it from both sides now. I've learned a lot about how people insist on stuffing "celebrities" back into their boxes even when they want to break out. People on alt.cyberpunk and the Well (Idol's new virtual residence) are totally suspicious of every move he makes. They ask each other, like small town biddies gossiping over the fence: "Why do you think he chose the Well? I bet it was because it's suppose to be the hip place to be in cyberspace and he wants to look SO hip." The truth is, he expressed interest in learning more about on-line culture and Mark Frauenfelder and I said: "We can show you the Well, that's what we know." Most of the controversial moves he has made have similar casual or innocent origins. Billy is genuinely interested in and excited by cyberculture and, like all the rest of us, wants to factor that interest into his work, which happens to be pop music. Whether presenting cyberculture in that forum is ultimately a good thing or not is beside the point of Billy's right to bring it to that forum. After all, access to information should be free and total, right? Or at least that's how the mythology goes.

Someone posted the following message on alt.cyberpunk and the Well in addressing the "Idol" controversy. I think this about says it all:

"Every counter-culture is, for a brief initial period, the sole domain of a handful of founding elites who inevitably find a certain sense of
superiority in the exclusive nature of their undertaking. The 'cyberpunk' movement -- term used as loosely as it was intended to be -- takes a particularly hypocritical stance in this case since the principle messages of the movement have been aimed at a loosening, opening-up and liberating attitude toward information and the use of tech. One primary concept being that tech in the hands of the masses makes for a much more powerful populace which is less vulnerable to oppression.

"Yet, when the 'early adopter' cyberpunks find their turf invaded by a diverse and rapidly increasing population of interested explorers, all of these principles disappear in a puff of ego. They are no longer a unique few, where each individual has a significant voice in the formulation of opinion and credo. Instead, they feel that the purity of their private territory has been violated and immediately take steps to regain the sense of uniqueness they once had.

"Since the increasingly interested masses are never defeated, this conflict usually sends the founding elites scrambling as they abandon all the trappings of the movement and fleeing headlong into the latest undiscovered piece of exclusionary rebellion. And frequently this requires that they turn their backs on many of the ideals that the previous movement (now dying in their minds, as the concepts takes root in public consciousness and cause the change they claimed to be fighting for in the first place) and reprogram their value/belief system in order to conform to the new.

This kind of valuation of image over substance is exactly what so many of these people seem to be attacking."

- Gareth Branwyn

One of the other controversies is over Billy's insistence on publishing his e-mail address in all his articles and even on the print advertisements for the album. This has caused his Well mailbox to be choked with HUNDREDS of email messages. You can pile on if you want by writing:

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Gareth Branwyn -

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