In the early days of the internet, a lot of fun things happened. Fun things like Billy Idol getting really into computers and naming his album “Cyberpunk” and deciding that the album should be a ridiculous concept story about a cyborg becoming a resistance fighter.
“I’m calling this album ‘Cyberpunk’ because we made it by joining together with computers. Man and machine,” Idol told MTV News a month before the album’s release in June 1993. Then there is B-roll of Idol, who claims to have produced the album entirely on computers, using a computer, like so:
As he fidgets in his chair, Idol continues: “This sort of modern-day technology sort of enabled me to go from, say, taking eight years to make two albums to 10 months to making one album.”
Why was he making two albums at the same time over eight years instead of one album in four years? Unclear. The point is computers help him make albums faster, and he no longer has to multitask.
And another typing shot.
A limited-edition of “Cyberpunk” included a (working) floppy disc that when inserted into a computer contained the album’s lyrics, “digi-art,” and concept liner notes.
In the next bit, Mark Frauenfelder, of Boing Boing and MAKE, gives away Billy Idol’s “internet address.” It’s “idol@wellsfcacus” where, if you have a computer and a modem, you can send him an email.
“If fans call me on it, it’s mainly just to talk about the album, just when it’s coming out, or, or how we did it,” Idol says discussing the emails he gets.
A music video was created for the song, and was set in a dystopian future controlled by Cyber-cops (referred to as such by director Brett Leonard.) It depicted an individual who records the Cyber-cops beating a man, only to be noticed and attacked himself. His camera is destroyed and the Cyber-cops leave him unconscious on the ground, as they are busy trying to put down a riot elsewhere in the city. Alone, his camera equipment lands on him and is absorbed into his body, causing him to dramatically morph into a cyborg. The cyborg then joins the riot, leading the rebels to victory.
It’s probably the most upbeat song about the 1992 L.A. Riots that samples glass breaking and guns being loaded.
The voiceover says that Idol plans to use the cyberpunk angle on tour in the summer but until then, he’ll be talking to the fans on the web. He tells one email to smile because they are currently on MTV.
“This means I can be in touch with millions of people, but on my own terms.”
Following the MTV News clip, we are transported to an episode of ABC In Concert, a 1990s TV series about music and musicians, as the beginning of music video for “Heroin” plays…
SMASH CUT: INT. DARK ROOM WITH FORMER HARVARD PROFESSOR AND LSD ADVOCATE TIMOTHY LEARY.
Why is Billy Idol wearing sunglasses while in a darkened room? Why did they keep the audio track of the song about trying to overdose on heroin playing softly in the background? No one can know for sure.
Dr. Leary then talks about how he’s been surfing the waves of “culture, new technology, new communication” these last 30 years and he noticed something while re-reading Billy Idol’s biography: they’ve been traveling the same waves!
“We’ve been inventing the wheel. The same time, over and over again,” Leary says. “How’d you get involved in this strange, curious future business, Billy?” he asks.
“I think I’ve been involved in it for a really long time without knowing it,” Idol replies.
The camera zooms in slowly, but it’s very dark so there’s not really any point.
Idol then claims to have inadvertantly invented the term “Generation X.”
Leary is excited about this because Generation X was “the hottest concept in PR and magazines, book covers” at the time.
The cameraman gets in on the fun by forgetting to keep the camera steady. Maybe he’s on heroin? Or LSD. Both would be on-brand.
Idol then says that “rock and roll music” reflects how society is feeling. Leary jumps on that thought and it’s a beautiful string of words.
It’s also your duty, my duty too, the stuff that I write, uh, McLuhan said it, ‘if you create the new language, if you create the new beef, it becomes your new reality. You’re literally designing reality, and you know, when you get ’em moving their hips, and moving their ass, you’re changing middle-class, robot society when you do it like you’ve been doing it.
Idol nods, “Yeah. Cool.”
This video is so weird and wonderful. 1993 was so weird and wonderful. Let’s go back there.
The full episode of “In Concert” can be viewed here.