Why Billy Idol Is a Character in the Sex Pistols Miniseries
Billy Idol, who credits the Sex Pistols with helping him launch his career, will be portrayed by Zachary Goldman in the upcoming Hulu series Pistol.
"The Pistols' don't-give-a-shit attitude and their own extreme sense of style gave voice to what I was feeling and what I wanted out of life. They spoke to me," Idol wrote in his 2014 memoir, Dancing With Myself. He later followed the Pistols' lead and formed a band, Generation X, that released its self-titled debut album in March 1978.
Idol first saw Sex Pistols perform on March 30, 1976, at the 100 Club on London's Oxford Street and became an instant fan. "On that night, the Pistols onstage were unlike anything we'd ever seen before. Johnny Rotten, with orange, razor-cropped hair, was hunched over, holding a beer and staring bug-eyed out at the crowd through tiny, tinted square glasses," Idol recalled. "While hardly moving, John radiated a defiant intensity that demanded your attention."
Captivated by the Pistols' rebellious energy, Idol started attending their 100 Club shows every Tuesday with a group of musician friends that included photographer Simon "Six" Barker and Steve Severin and Siouxsie Sioux of the future influential post-punk group Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees. Journalist Caroline Coon would later dub the group "the Bromley Contingent," a nod to the town where some of them lived (and a label Severin later rejected).
The Pistols' Steve Jones noticed the budding stars among the band's growing following. "There were the Bromley people for a start, who we didn't think of as fans because they were totally cool and seemed on the same level as us," Jones said in his memoir, Lonely Boy: Tales From a Sex Pistol. "They weren't Johnny-come-latelys, they were Siouxsie-come-earlies," hinting at the fact that Sex Pistols helped spawn not only Idol's career but Siouxsie and the Banshees', too. "The most exciting time is always just before everyone knows what something is," added Jones, who said he considered the journey to the top more enjoyable than the peak itself.
As the London punk scene grew, Idol witnessed tension at an all-time high, spilling over on British TV on Dec. 1, 1976. Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees appeared with talk show host Bill Gundy, who encouraged the band members to behave controversially. "He was clearly egging on Johnny Rotten when the frustrated singer muttered 'shit' under his breath," Idol recounted in his memoir. "Provoked by the host to say it again, John obliged. When Grundy tried to incite Siouxsie by talking suggestively to her, Jonesy called him a 'dirty fucker.'" Britain reacted with outrage, and the story made the front page of every national newspaper, prompting disgust and hand-wringing "over what had become of England's youth." Gundy was eventually fired, and the Sex Pistols went on their way to becoming a national sensation.
The Pistols were active from 1975 to 1978, during which they released their landmark debut and only album, 1977's Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Jones stayed in London for several years after the band's dissolution, eventually leaving for the U.S. in 1982. One of his last musical endeavors before leaving for the States was laying down guitar tracks on "Dancing With Myself" by Idol's Generation X. "He was heading to America, too," Jones said of Idol, "but he was going to be a lot bigger there in the '80s than I was."
Pistol will dive into the band's wild, furious ride through the London music scene in the '70s, giving a 24-month glimpse into the band's quest to revolutionize the music industry and sociopolitical climate. "It’s two years, one album and 12 songs. That's it," director Danny Boyle told Esquire. The six-episode series will premiere on Hulu on May 31.