“Heroin” by Billy Idol
(Words/Music: Lou Reed, Album: Cyberpunk, Chrysalis 1993)
I will admit that when I first heard this song in 1999, I hated it. It reeked of everything I disliked about music and the music industry. It seemed like a contrived attempt by a once relevant artist to re-establish his street credibility by attaching himself to an eternally underground (no pun intended) song and artist. In addition, it also seemed to be an attempt to merge the legendary underground with new, hip underground movement of the cyberpunk off-shoot of science fiction writing and industrial/electronica music. That these things could all together at once seemed, well, contrived. The fact that I was not an “early adopter” of industrial or electronica music didn’t help the song’s case. Needless to say, this downloaded song would sit on my hard drive for years before I listened to it again.
As I became more versed in this particular musical style, I began to understand and appreciate what Idol was trying to do and his efforts to reinvent himself and begin a new stage in his career seemed more genuine to me. Not only was he paying homage to those who pushed the envelope before him like Lou Reed and Velvet Underground (and Patti Smith’s version of “Gloria” from which the “Jesus died for somebody’s ins but not mine” lines were taken), but he was bringing their legendary messages to a new genre and audience who would probably appreciate them. To put this album in context, it was released a year before Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral and two years before Moby’s Everything Is Wrong albums, both of which introduced their respective genres to the mainstream. Perhaps having first listened to Idol’s “Heroin” in 1999, six years after it was released, gave me a skewed perspective of its relevance. I believed the song to be taking advantage of the new underground musical styles, when in fact he was one of the first mainstream artists to embrace them.