Billy Idol, Bodies, and an Upswell of Angst

Deirdre Coyle
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readJul 31, 2013

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I was 15 once

When I was fifteen, I went to see Billy Idol. First wave punk has been my go-to musical place since I was old enough to have a go-to musical place. Blame the fact that I pulled John Lydon’s autobiography Rotten from my dad’s bookshelf in the seventh grade, and then blame all the bands I discovered from reading it, and then blame the Joan Jett biopic I watched on VH1, and then blame Rob Sheffield calling Karen O “the Joanest Jett in town” in Rolling Stone, a line which made me think, I want that. I want to be that.

Unsurprisingly, aging punk rockers didn’t make it to suburban Virginia too often. So when I found out Billy Idol was playing an outdoor concert nearby, I freaked right out. Despite the disparaging remarks John Lydon made about Billy Idol in Rotten, I still cranked up “Cradle of Love” when alone with my headphones.

When my friend Meredith and I went to see Billy Idol in that field, I kept getting distracted. My mother had taken us to dinner beforehand, and somehow worked an awful story into the conversation. It happened so casually; it caught me off guard. “When [a male friend] date raped me,” says my mother, “there was blood on my underwear for weeks.” Maybe she registered the shock on our faces. “I thought I’d told you that story?” No, not at all. “I was in my thirties. It’s not as bad when you’re older, I think. It would have been worse if I were younger.” She told the story casually, not that I remember how it came up, how it got worked in between the baked potatoes and hamburgers at Wendy’s, and does a story like that ever really come up casually, when it’s a mother talking to a daughter? Let me answer that: it doesn’t. I knew on some level that she was purposefully putting me on edge — be careful, be careful, be careful — which my fifteen-year-old mind interpreted as don’t have fun, don’t interact with strangers (when everyone’s a stranger), and isn’t that top a little low?

Waiting in the ticket line, Meredith said, “Deirdre, if my mom had just told me that, I’d be crying.

I felt my face wrinkle with annoyance. I was upset, but it was an angst cocktail of sadness and brattiness and extreme irritation. Why did she tell me that story now?

Billy Idol was beautiful, still ripped in middle-age. Tiny punk girls with glue-spiked Mohawks reached for him across women in fall-toned sweaters, women who were actually alive when he recorded “Rebel Yell.”

The heart of the crowd made me feel itchy and mean. It was an ill-mixed company — old people who came because they camp out for the big-name concerts every weekend, and young punks who crawled out of their downtown tenements and drove or hitchhiked to the suburbs to see Billy.

Even though I was into it, I wasn’t focused. The kids kept trying to start mosh pits, and the older people kept giving them dirty looks because the usual shows at this venue are folksy and calm. The baby boomers were trying to reason with the teenagers pushing their way to the front. I wanted to say, don’t you know where you are? This isn’t the fucking beach!

A girl in a cherry print dress, box-framed glasses, and black underwear attempted to crowd-surf above us, but she kept stopping and starting, getting stuck without enough hands to hold her up: the girls didn’t want to touch her and the guys kept trying to touch her too long. She didn’t seem interested in the hands up her skirt, she smiled widely, cat-called, screamed “fuck you!” at a cop who tried to break something up, something she wasn’t even involved in.

I had rules about how I dressed at shows. No skirts or dresses, because I didn’t feel like getting fingered in the pit. Closed-toed shoes, because I didn’t feel like getting my feet smashed. Lessons learned through trial-and-error.

Halfway through the show, I took my hair down, removing parallel knots from the top of my head, letting the long stuff fall to my waist. I hadn’t cut it since I was nine. Meredith laughed when I shook my hair out like a wet dog, spilling bobby pins and making a mess.

Towards the end, Billy Idol jumped into the crowd, trailing wires, grabbed a girl and held her in a headlock, singing into her reddened cheek. The second he hit the ground, everyone surged closer, fingers grasping, trying to touch a sleeve, a bicep, a spike of hair. In the upswell, I was lifted off my feet, propelled inward, unable to control the movement of my body. And for awhile, I was not a person, and that is the feeling I always looked for in crowds. I dissolved.

Meredith and I hung around after the encore, straggling in the bristled grass, watching the roadies pack up. A girl milling nearby got handed the set list. An overweight man said to his friend, “Think we’ll get something?” The friend scoffed. “Like you’d get a setlist — you don’t have long blonde hair.” He was looking at me when he said it, but I hadn’t gotten anything, either.

I just kept thinking about Wendy’s before we came. Her austere baked potato sitting in front of her, untouched, as she picked at my fries and shrugged benignly.

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Deirdre Coyle
Human Parts

The New York Times called me “another writer.” Columnist at Unwinnable. Haute goth. http://deirdrecoyle.com