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Boys Keep Swinging: Bongs, Bisexuality & Billy Idol

“My Uncle Jamal, he says he is trysexual. He will try anything sexual. What does that mean?”

Ali G, 1999

Guess what, readers? Bisexuality is very common, and I would say that after observing males for several decades from even the point of view of a straight male (Yes, I actually was one once. But there was something else always on my mind), that male bisexual behaviour is much more common than almost any straight person realises. 

She may be being spoofed by Sacha Baron Cohen’s cut-throat comedy character, but rigorous academic and campaigner Professor Sue Lees makes an interesting observation in the following about people wishing to be well-swung; admirably retaining her sang-froid as Ali G subjects her to a relentless tide of surreal questions about sexuality and feminism. She sadly died from cancer three years after this interview.

Bisexuality is the inbetweener that’s on so many people’s lips, except those lips seldom choose to make their swingorilliant ways public, usually for fear of being labelled confused or just plain greedy. But quite often those who swing both ways just don’t wish to be defined by their sexual behaviour, the key word here being sexual rather than emotional. It is a truism with bisexuals that most lean one way or another. Very few men with a bisexual orientation are completely 50-50 in their attractions – only 5% could be described that way. Furthermore, only 15% of men with a bisexual orientation lean gay. 80% lean straight, and 85% of bisexual men are maximally attracted to women. The horror, the horror.

It pains me to say it, but the great Oscar Wilde was wrong. It’s bisexuality, not homosexuality, that is the love that dare not speak its name. Take that bloke from Duran Duran who likes his hired help, for instance. Oh, no actually, on second thoughts let’s stick with the blond and beautiful Billy Idol in his Eighties heyday. My lawyers insist on it.

Born William Broad in November 1955, the spiky and spunky peroxided post-punk hunk was perfect photogenic fodder for MTV. Idol’s chiseled good looks and gift for bad-boy imagery made him a natural video star. And it’s those raunchy and often risqué promotional films that never gave the impression of his being anything other than resolutely and rampantly heterosexual. Billy, it was said, was a rum crumpeteer who had his thoroughly wicked way with thousands of women. That just made confused teens like me lust after him even more. And if I’m honest, seeing the bare-chested Idol skulk around that creepy castle with that sneer still has me swooning over 30 years later. I am of course talking about David Mallet’s video for the brilliant White Wedding. And we won’t even mention the clever homage to the director’s previous meisterwerk, the exploding kitchen of David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes. Oh, sorry.

Talking of New Romantics, as Billy was starting to make a name for himself as vocalist for Generation X, his Bromley Contingent gang headed by Siouxsie Sioux would often collide with the Blitz Kids, usually at Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s legendary London club nights of the early Eighties. But when that old gender bender Marilyn claimed on Facebook several years ago that he’d performed oral sex on a young Billy (“very blessed” in the trouser enthusiasts department, apparently) around that time I sort of dismissed it as one of those braggart non-stories from a one-hit wonder who often had a fleeting relationship with the truth. Now, it seems there was substance after all. And not just up their noses.

Lest we forget, with the success of Rebel Yell, Billy’s second LP, swiftly followed by the remix set Vital Idol, 1985 was the year Sir Billiam Idol – as the epochal pop mag Smash Hits monikered him – was at his biggest. So it stands to reason that moment in time would be when the deliciously dissolute rocker set new standards in debauchery.

William Broad & Peter Robinson AKA Billy Idol & Marilyn circa 1980

1985 also happened to be the year the achingly hip Mondrian Los Angeles Hotel opened for business in West Hollywood, California. Singer-guitarist Adam Bomb was summoned to Idol’s shiny and new suite that year, and got more than he bargained for. In his new book, 911 Is Disconnected… So This Is Rock & Roll, Bomb recalls Billy answering the door “butt naked except for a pair of cowboy boots.” Well, it must have been hot in the city, right?

Bomb, who’s performed – musically at least – with the late Chuck Berry and the former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, writes that Idol was partying with his manager Bill Aucoin, a real sleazy Uncle Disgusting who’d discovered Kiss. Also getting up to all sorts were half-dozen young boys “most likely picked up on Santa Monica Boulevard,” all wearing skimpy black leather underwear: “Aucoin had a silver briefcase full of nitrous oxide cartridges. He filled up balloons and gave them to the party boys,” the book says. Oh, and “they were passing around a plate with cocaine.”

Flesh for fantasy: hands that do dishes

Bomb decided to make his exit after Uncle Disgusting told him, “You need to have sex with somebody if you want to stick around.” As he made for the door, Bomb replied, matter of factly, “I’m not gay.” Well, guess what, neither was Billy Idol. Not that it stopped him dabbling on the downlow when he had the urge. 

Despite the cock-up, Billy still ended up singing at Bomb’s 1987 wedding to Claire O’Connor, a publicist for Chelsea Village’s Limelight club who died of cancer in 2011. In 1986, Idol parted ways with the openly gay Aucoin, who then died of surgical complications from prostate cancer in 2010. Four years later, the singer quietly alluded to his drug-fuelled swinging in his own illuminating autobiography, 2014’s Dancing With Myself.

“Usually, the manager acts as the voice of reason and keeps the artist cool, but in L.A. I saw Bill Aucoin run amok, and I did not hesi­tate to dive right in after him, ending up hopelessly wasted. After his unceremonious departure from my life, I had been descending into a state of virtual slavery to drugs.”

London, November 1984: BI being swingorilliant

Later in the book, Idol recounts how his drug and sex addiction got so bad in the 1980s at a time when the AIDS/HIV epidemic was in full flow, and he started to wonder about his own mortality. On one occasion Billy, struggling to complete his Cyberpunk project, was holed up in his Manhattan apartment, where his Barrow Street window overlooked the end of Christopher Street in the West Village, the centre of gay life in New York City and the location of the famous Stonewall Inn.

“Finally, after a couple more hits, I rise from my position and muse to myself that taking this shit is like diving from a board into empty space, guessing whether you’ll land or not. What fucking time is it? Is it day or night? I’ve no idea. I stagger to the window to open the deep royal red velvet drapes, standing on the black carpet. I steady myself as my head spins for a second, and when it clears, I pull the curtains back to see that it is night and there are ten thousand men marching down Christopher Street to the West Side Highway. They walk in unison in a silent candlelit march to mourn the dead and spread the fight against AIDS, all of it right beneath my window.”

“An entire way of life seems as if it is on the verge of extinction as a deadly disease strikes down mem­bers of the gay community. No one can anticipate how bad it might get. The world shakes. Who would be next? For the moment, we march and show our solidarity, according to the placards on display. After a while, the vigil continues and I shut the curtains, thinking about the living and the dead. I hear a voice inside my head—I’m waiting—and I forget the march, forget time, pathos, and empathy, and return to where I was sitting. I take another hit, as I know the pipe will have cooled.”

Adam Bomb’s sequel memoir will be amusingly titled Druggy Stardust & The Empress of Clubland: 911 is Disconnected Volume 2. So as a postscript, I thought I’d end on a bit of a Ziggy high. This is the statement Billy Idol put out upon news of David Bowie’s death last year:

BI and DB, Miami Arena, April 1990

“In this age of grand illusion you walked into my life out of my dreams.”

David Bowie was a beacon of light to young people in Britain’s socially disturbed & turbulent economy of the early 1970’s. He paved the way for Punk rock as he took an uncompromising stance against the conservative viewpoint of much of the intelligentsia of the day, and whether it was for gay rights or a fight for artistic freedom, or the right to state your case about the world, Bowie’s music led the way.

Not willing to be controlled by the artistic norms of the day he introduced many art forms into his world view…mime, dance, kabuki theater, film and character driven personas that broke new ground in rock music beset by others whose vision was limited to only one genre of music, art or film.

His sound & vision woke up this young Bromley boy & showed me that to strive for an artistic life was valuable & was a goal to reach & once attained, new vistas and new worlds would open up. Beyond a visionary, he was a prophet, and his influence will be felt as long as recorded music is still heard and many people’s struggle against social oppression is still being fought.

He was a giant on our scene engaged and genuinely interested in other artists reaching out in a way that made me, and I’m sure many others, feel like we were talking to a friend that cared deeply.

– Billy Idol

More idols than realities: “In the Seventies my style icon was David Bowie.” – no shit, Sherlock!

Steve Pafford

911 Is Disconnected… So This Is Rock & Roll is published April 10 by New Haven Publishing


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