Talk about a man laid bare. With the UK leg of the 'Teletour' behind him Gary gives a candid interview to Melody Makers Editor-in-Chief, Ray Coleman. The interview is awkward, not surprising given the awkward nature of the interviewee. But clearly, in Ray Coleman, Numan identified a trustworthy quality that resulted in the former authoring the first Numan biography. It may have been that Melody Maker, always conservative in its opinion towards punk, would be the champion of Gary Numan's take on the music business, over Sounds and New Musical Express!
On the subject of punk, whilst a huge fan of Numan, I have never really agreed. Of course the accusation of 'sell out' can be directed towards a number of bands, but generally speaking the punk movement was a force of creative good. Aside from some of the greatest music to originate from these shores, punk provided the touch-paper for a veritable explosion in all branches of the creative arts, the seismic shock of what occurred in '76-'78, including Tubeway Army's contribution (of all the punk bands that I would have loved to have seen in the early days.... The Clash, The Jam, Adam and the Ants... Tubeway Army in 1978 are right up there!) changed this country for the better. Music (beyond the three chord constraints of punk, art, theatre and film all benefited from the freedoms that punk realised.
Anyway, back to this interview. Gary expresses some well versed (over the years) opinions and insecurities. Those opinions it has to be said sat very awkwardly side by side with the spirits of punk, new wave and post-punk of those extraordinary years. The music press of the day were more or less willing to accept the rock star dialogue from the likes of Messrs Bolan and Bowie, the rock demi-gods of the pre-punk era. The same stance from the new man Numan after the punk Year Zero was never going to be accepted.
See what you make of this interview, conducted at a pivotal stage in his then short career, retiring from stage performances with a renewed focus on studio albums and the new fangled video.
Melody Maker 18th October 1980
The Numan Who Fell To Earth
That morning, Gary Numan had a blazing row with his girl friend, Debbie. He stormed out of her home near Croydon, slammed the door, strapped himself into his £13,000 Stingray Corvette, and bombed up to Soho for our rendezvous.
He was visibly agitated. No amount of consolation or small talk, which was natural as this was our first meeting, was to divert his obsession for most of the day from that morning bust-up.
"What's happening to me?" he asked eventually. "One minute I reckon I've got complete control of everything, all around me. And the next I go to pieces with this violent temper and I can't handle myself, let alone a relationship.
"I'm really frightened of what I do, what I say, how I deal with people now. Is it the fame, the money, being a star? Sometimes, I feel my whole personality is out of control."
Two days earlier, Numan had made a riveting appearance on the BBC-TV children's Saturday programme, "Swap Shop." Palpably nervous, he fenced with innocent fans on the phone-in section of the show, and went all defensive when one young girl asked the most searing question ever put to him: why did he never smile?
He did, sometimes, he replied hesitantly. But his face hardly moved as he said it.
The programme had dealt also with Gary's threat to retire from concerts now that he had finished a British tour. After his current American visit and a trip to Japan, he was coming off the road for good, he declared. It was no fun. It was not satisfying. Too much aggravation. Anyway, he'd done it. Time to move on. He muttered something about getting into video.
Laughter and fun, it must be said, are easily words discarded when taking on Gary Numan. He’s 22, a failure at school, but perhaps the most brilliantly successful manipulator the opportunistic, wonderful world of pop and rock have experienced. He’s also a genuine star, a natural who will move on to more creativity if his tortuous, self questioning character allows him to do so before he burns himself out with nervous energy.
His electronic music is uncomfortable, brooding, and morose- but hypnotic. At the dawn of the bleak Eighties he was the perfect acnchot for the thousands of disillusioned young people wanting their fears articulated. He spoke for the New Depression.
Technically and musically, Numan releases simplistic records, but that has always been the case with the best pop music for the masses. He's a Buddy Holly for the Eighties; while Holly used a guitar and dainty love songs, Numan's all-black uniform matches the stark imagery of his message and perfectly catches the mood of today with the emphasis on synthesisers. His fans respond by dressing exactly like him.
If the Beatles spearheaded the optimism if the Sixties, and if Bowie and Bolan played a large part in the Seventies as mentors of the Glam-rock movement, Numan groomed himself to be heir to the throne at the start of the sombre Eighties.
The trouble is - he doesn't want the job.
Spending a day with Gary Numan was a daunting prospect. But having tuned into his bizarre sounds three years ago through his haunting record "Cars," and being fascinated with the chance to penetrate that iron and doom-laden facade, it seemed a gamble worth taking.
He suggested a few hours of driving, ending up at Virginia Water where he has just bought a mansion. Numan's white car contrasted vividly that day with his black mood, but he quickly warmed to the problem of talking about himself.
"It's everything to me, this car," he said. "It symbolises everything I ever wanted. Really, it's like me recognizing my own success, being able to drive it. I don't understand why people are so funny about having 'status symbols. This was my first and I love it and I'll be honest with you, I love showing it off.
"And yet," he said as we became ensnared in a Piccadilly Circus traffic jam and taxi drivers stared across at him, "people won't allow me to simply enjoy it. The car arouses people's jealousies. They shout nasty things. But I've developed a bit of a thick skin.
"I can take anything now. If my level of success meant that I'd not be able to drive my car around anywhere, and go' where I choose, I'd stop that level of success. That's not the reason I'm giving up touring, but I want to pack it in before I'm a sort of captive.
"This is a'powerful car. It would not be good for me to be in it if I lost my temper, and I find I lose my temper a lot in London. I hate London. Too much stopping at traffic lights, too many people, too busy and not enough trees.
"For the last couple of years I've been taking flying lessons and, I've done 40 hours down at Blackbushe. It's a problem finding the time to finish off my training. The feeling of flying is marvellous. One day I'll have my own plane and people can call me even more flash . Oh well, at least up there they won't be able to shout rude things across at me."
Numan's driving was fast but safe. His judgment, particularly as he was driving a left-hand drive American motor, was excellent and his concentration was steely. Cars and planes and houses seemed to obsess him. What was he trying to prove with them?
"I'm out to prove to myself and those around me that I'm a success at what I set out to do," he answered frankly. " It's quite simple. I had a plan. I wanted to be rich and famous and be a star and sign autographs and have enough money to be free.
"Now I've done it, and it's time for the next chapter in my life, and that doesn’t include touring. This last tour of this country cost me £100,000. That's a ridiculous amount of money"
" I might be prepared to carry on doing it in the future, even at a smaller loss if I enjoyed it. But who’s going to tell me it' fun? I don't need it and I want other things. Buying the house and that tour have cleaned me out of cash.”
And so, after America and Japan, he would probably pIan a farewell appearance at his beloved Wembley Arena next April, and that would be the end. Nor would he change his mind. What could be more boring than declaring a retirement and then later making a comeback?
The fans, he said, deserved to know properly, and he was telling the truth. Wasn't he, then, seeking a kind of new power as a former star who could use his position in another way for two or three more years?
"No, I don't want that power even if it's there for me to take. Look, I can hardly handle myself, let alone be a leader. Right now, I'm trying to build a proper relationship with my girlfriend so that we can get married and have children, and I'm so worried about my own personalty that that's the next job after the tour.
"Get myself straight - I can't seem to get to grips with whether it's all the rock star thing that's messed me up or whether I was going this way all along."
Time after time, through the day, Gary would return to this worry about himself; we pursued the theme because it seemed important. After all, if this worryand self doubt was at the end of a rock ‘n’ roll rainbow for a meteorite who was cascading to earth at the age of 22, there was something wrong with either him or the star system or both.
Numan didn’t pretend to have the answers. But the staggering story of his method of reaching his current pinnacle must rank as the most brazenly successful piece of planning which the recording industry has experienced.
We went for a walk in the woods near his home, and the peaceful countryside relaxed him sufficiently to reflect and put himself in perspective.
Four years ago, as a Bowie and Bolan worshipper, Gary Numan watched the punk explosion and he mourned the passing of the superstar era.
"No matter how many new bands came up, I saw that every one had a singer or a guitarist the fans latched on to, but nobody behaved like a star.
They were all shouting about their attitudes and they were all saying how they didn't like this and that, but whatever band there was, the fans were desperate for just one person to get hold of. But nobody wanted to act the part.
"Well - I did. I saw the gap and went straight in and worked at it. I came on like a star, didn't say much so the fans could make up their own minds - unlike the punk bands who were all mouth - and it was so obvious to me that I was going to do it.
"I'm not saying this now to sound big-headed, and I'm sure that's how it might sound, but I just planned it. I had this band, Tubeway Army, and we went to the record company like hundreds of other young hopefuls and we got a contract through a bit of luck and the music was, in the early days, based on the guitar sound that was fashionable.
"That was just to get a contract the record companies were signing anything that moved with a guitar. "But when we signed, I decided t change the style to contrast with the other bands, and we concentrated on the synthesiser sound. By now, it, was too late for the record company to drop us. They'd put so much money behind us, I knew they'd have to go along with my music. They didn't like it, but they put the record out." The record was "Cars."
There was a grand plan, Numan agreed. "There was a desperate need for a solo star, and I also thought it was time for a change from the guitar. Bowie had done sex, Bolan had done the wizard and occult bit, and the rest of Seventies rock history was all good music based on guitar sounds and what was it called, progressive rock. So I had to come up with something that wasn't necessarily based on the guitar and which also pushed me as an individual.
"I decided it was going to be machines. I thought: 'Right, the Eighties. Machines.' Synthesisers - and as
it happens, I was no good on guitar and the synthesiser was dead easy to play. So I went and learned how to push synthesisers and it was simple.
"I also felt the kids would identify with me if I came on as a kind of sharp seer who said the right things and looked good.
"It was the whole rock star thing, plain and simple, working out a gap in the market and seeing it through. You call it manipulation? I call it a campaign . . . working out what people hadn't got and getting something right for the market. I got it right for a period of time.
"I wanted to be rich and famous and ever since I was 11 years old I dreamed of being a rock 'n' roll star. The only thing I misjudged was not important: I thought people needed someone who was a bit of a prophet, but as it turned out I got famous long before I needed to say anything."
He allowed himself a half smile of self-satisfaction.
So now, I teased him, having made the strategy work, and before the lifespan of a pop star meant that the public spat him out after chewing him up, he planned to ditch the public first.
Too harsh, said Numan. He had extremely strong views on a rock star's relationship with his audience. The fans had a basic right to say they made him, "but if I hadn't been up there on stage, or in the recording studios in the first place, they couldn't have made me.
"It's a funny way of looking at it, but I don't think they owe me anything and I don't feel l owe them anything. They took me because I decided to offer myself. It was a two-way agreement. I understand what it's like being a fan, because I was one myself.
"I grew up dancing and playing to my heroes as a kid, who were Dave Clark and Hank Marvin. But I don't recall thinking they owed me anything. I took them because they were there."
"You make shopping for a rock star sound like a visit to a supermarket," I said .
"I had my eye on the Eighties," he said crushingly. "I saw this opening in the market and the sound had to be machines."
If all this makes Gary Numan sound like a robot who exploited a situation, that would be only partly true. He's much more vulnerable than his moody public exterior allows, and he says that although he's not sentimental he fights back the tears sometimes.
Because people didn't feel like making the effort to understand his approach to rock, he had suffered jibes of abuse for music, his earring and face make-up, his mere success.
This had penetrated his iron mask. He didn't want a lot of praise, he said, just recognition for having achieved something, and for giving I good few thousands of fans a bit of pleasure.
Where was the tolerance, he wanted to know? Why were so many people down on him for making it? Even if they didn't like his music, why did they criticise him for what he was, in view of the fact that a lot of people liked him?
That hailstorm of jeering had taken the fun out of making it, for him. "Not long ago, a guy came up to me and said he assumed I would attack the likes of Genesis and Yes because I seemed to him to represent everything those bands weren't. I said no, I had no intention of criticising all those bands.
"I said I wasn't about to have a go at anything that had gone before me because they obviously had something going for them, and it wasn't up to me. It was up to the fans to judge.
"Genesis and Yes and Led Zeppelin must be doing something right if they have all those people going to their concerts and buying all those records. What gave me the right to slag them off just because I was in a different style?
"This guy persists. He says those older bands are ripping people off. They're charging too much for concert tickets, he says, and how come they can afford to live in these great mansions.
"Ah, now we have it. I now see what he's driving at. He's one of those idealists, and I can't stand idealists. You can't be into the rock 'n' roll thing, which is a lot to do with being free and feeling great and having a good time, and be an idealist. Rock 'n roll is a lot to do with live-and-Iet-live. That's where the punk thing was totally wrong. Well, not so much wrong as not sincere.
"Most of the musicians were saying one thing and doing another. I've nothing against the ones who set out to be famous and make a fortune, but why didn't they admit it? The bands that have survived have turned out to be the biggest capitalists the rock world's ever had.
"I looked at all these punk bands saying they didn't want to follow in the ways of those old bands like Genesis and Yes, didn't want to be rich, and I wondered who they thought they were kidding.
"Can anybody from that scene tell me they would rather drive a Mini than this Stingray Corvette? Who wouldn't prefer my house to a little flat somewhere? There are lots of things wrong with fame, which I'm finding out pretty fast, but the benefits like cars and money aren't exactly a hindrance to my life.
"I enjoy hearing the fans scream my name. I enjoy signing autographs and having a good seat in a restaurant and all the pleasures that being well-known bring, and there are quite a lot.
"But now I've come to the end of that part of the story of my life and I know it's got to end because when a tour starts, I can't wait for it to end - even though I'm going to enjoy the concerts."
Still, in a couple of days' time, he was off to America, and flying Concorde. That was something “another dream come true.”
The Numan operation is a family affair. His father, Tony, was a British Airways transport driver at Heathrow before becoming Gary's manager; "He's taking to it like a duck to water. It's as if he's been in the music business all his life. He knows exactly when to turn nasty - and believe me, it's a real jungle."
Gary's mother, Beryl, also goes on the road, and takes care of the band's wardrobe. "She has to sign autographs - she's almost as popular as me. I'll have to watch it," said Numan.
Lunch was taken at a Schooner Inn in Virginia Water. A drink? No, just Coke, of which he drank a lot. He had never drunk or smoked, although Debbie had tried to persuade him to try a little champagne - without success.
The waitress, who eventually plucked up courage to ask for his autograph, twice, asked whether he wanted French fries or a jacket potato with his steak. "Chips, please," said Gary. "McDonald's hamburgers are my favourite food, really, although I had a really nice Wimpey the other day," he confided.
"I don't like anything fancy. I have the chance to sit around all night getting stoned out of my head, but for what? I drink what I like, and that's Coke." A night on the town for him often means a visit to Legends, the showbiz restaurant/disco in Mayfair, which is where he met his lady.
The name of that haunt seemed particularly inappropriate to his surprising decision to surrender his status.
"A legend? I don't think I could ever be that. I never intended even to 'take the Eighties,' let alone be a legend. I remember always wanting to be famous, that's all. I had the talent for putting myself up for something at the right time, and I don't think that makes me a legend.
"I want a life; and even the past few years have made it frightening for me. I hadn't the talent to write the atmospheric songs needed on a guitar, so I went for the synthesiser which doesn't need so much.
"So my only talent musically is as an= arranger of noises. And my second album went to number one! I learned to play piano by watching a man at college it was as simple as that. In the last couple of years I've been learning more about keyboards, but they're just a means to an end for me." He cannot, of course, read music.
Numan was an educationalists nightmare. Born in Chiswick, West London but brought up mostly in Wraysbury a few miles from Heathrow, Gary Webb was the joker in his class at Ashford Grammar School. He would sit at the back of the room and disrupt lessons by telling jokes and generally playing up, " making mischief."
"I'm intelligent, " he said modestly. "I was told I had an usually high IQ when I went through a ‘gifted children' survey, and although I haven't got any O-Ievels, I'm quick to pick things up. I was expelled from grammar school.
"I went to Stanwell Secondary School for a year and then to Brooklands College in Weybridge but I didn't put in enough hours to qualify for a second term. I left there just before my 17th birthday.
"They said at grammar school that I was unstable, disturbed or something. I don't know about that, but I do know that I wouldn't recommend to any kid that they don't work at school like I didn't. I chucked away a natural ability to do well - and it's no good saying I made it to fame and fortune in the end.
"I'm just lucky. I was stupid not to take advantage of myself. Sometimes now, I miss not having worked hard at school" He was self-conscious, for example, about his poor ability to speak grammatically.
"The child psychologist called it 'star tensions' or something. I don't think it was that, just plain stupid behaviour. I only got the chance to learn properly at that period of my life and I blew it." He left college and drifted through jobs like air conditioning, driving, clerical work - writing as he went, and getting picked on by colleagues for having dyed-hair.
It all came back, he ventured, to his failure to cope with situations. Right now he wanted to plan some stability in his future - a big house, a wife, children and a determined move into making video films on subjects which inspired him from reading books. But the new, ratty, short-tempered side to his personality was frightening him.
He'd always been on a short fuse, but never this badly and it was affecting his relationship with Debbie.
It infuriated him and yet he couldn't control his frayed edges properly. If he couldn't control himself, how could he enter the next serious phase of his life - and that worry had contributed to the decision to stop touring.
"Also, if I'm going to get married and have children, I don't want them to grow 'up as the son of a rockstar. It's no way for children to live, with people all the time recognising who they are through their father . No child should have to suffer that” Mine certainly won' t.
"I want to have leisure and enjoy myself."I never wanted to tour, but you have to do so to become a rock 'n' roll star . Having become one, I'm frightened about staying one.
"So I'm stopping."
His mother thought he was crazy. His father suspected so, too, but took the view that Gary had been right all along so far, so his judgement and timing should be respected.
"It's not the fun I thought it would be and the nasties have spoiled it for me," he said finally. "Put it this way: what I'm doing is like committing suicide before someone kills me."
While Numan is plainly serious about retiring from the stage, he will continue to make albums. "The madness is at the moment that planning records and making them has to be fitted in between tours, as if the record-making is a hobby," he explained: "I want the records to be the thing, that and video."
Had it all happened too early in his life? "No, the fans had to be able to see a person of their age. If I'd left it until now, the right time would have passed, I think. By the time I'm 28, or 30, I want to be out of the limelight , anyway - I'm probably going to be one of those people everybody despises, who goes around in a flashy car and does nothing I'd love that."
But he would, one suspects, be keeping an eye on his royalties. He confessed to "watching the markets" in America on the eve of his tour there, and was proud of the fact that in Canada they were playing 9,000 seater arenas.
And the age of the Numan audience was maturing. There were now people of his age, dammit, and that was encouraging because he had begun by appealing mostly to the very young.
It was good textbook stuff, we agreed, but growing old with his audience was something he was not equipped to do. He was not sufficiently interested in advancing his music or adapting like, say, Yes or Genesis. He did not like jazz .. so influences from that area were out. Folk music was "too feminine."
Japanese and Indian music interested him and there might be scope in adapting some Eastern sounds into Western rhythms, but who knew? His mind was a whirlpool of problems and the future seemed a long way off.
"I'm not one of those writers or players who write songs that are simply excuses to solo. You can't say it's bad, because so many people like it, but I'm more interested in making a point with a song, fairly quickly.
"The new Yes album is great, by the way. They've changed from their last thing, and they obviously have something fresh in their minds, musically. 'I'm not that musical." For the record, he has about 60 albums, with the emphasis on Bowie/Bolan/Lou Reed and Bebop Deluxe; the newer artists are represented in his collection by Human League, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Simple Minds and Ultravox.
The synthesiser, he insists, is just beginning as an instrument, and would make great strides, just as the guitar took a long time to become electrified.
But he didn't particularly want to be a part of its evolution: "I used it just like I used everything else," he said candidly. "Whatever you're doing in life, you should use the latest technology. I did that - I have no real love of the synthesiser as an instrument, but I like the noise it makes."
The drive back to London was punctuated by more self-analysis and concern on how he was going to reapproach Debbie. Motoring through Wraybury, Numan reflects on his family and old friends who were pleased to acknowledge his success now but had been sceptical, in his early days, of his dyed hair and whole star trip.
"A lot of people would say you n't do this and you'll never make that, but it was all much simpler to me, and I looked on the thing like a child looks at something. Children come out with the most original things because they have nothing else to ' judge it by . . . I was that child."
Had I been to see Frank Sinatra's recent London concerts, Numan suddenly asked as we drove into Knightsbridge. I said it was odd to reflect on a creature of the Eighties being even mildly interested in a 64 year old ballad singer from such a different era.
"I'd like to have seen him because he seems to have a lot of style," Gary said simply. But Sinatra sings chiefly songs about love and human encounters, totally removed from the cheerless, dark imagery of Gary Numan and his self-confessed machine music.
His music was designed to meet a national mood, he said. And this was where we came in.
Popular music at its most powerful always reflects the people, the society, the environment around which it created. Numan got it right in one, at the dawn of 1980, with his elementary, sinister, ethereal synchionisation of daunting haunting keyboard based songs that ingrained themselves into a nation's sub-consciousness. Uncomfortable sounds for a neurotic age, Numan's messages are, whether he aspires. to notoriety, or not in the long term, anthems to mirror our world of computers and calculators and multistory car parks, advanced technology, self-service petrol and two million on the dole.
And then, he got his image right to sell it correctly. He was a loner who rarely smiled, and that was a help.
"FLOWERSl" he said ,quietly as we neared Soho again. "I'll send her some flowers. Always works."
Paradoxically the machine proved human. For that, and his burning determination, for his candour and doggedness, and for a whole lot more which boils down to honesty, it was impossible not to warm to him. He's a speedy child of our time, the kid down the street who had a dream that came true. Before pop got too clever by half, Gary Numan was what it was all about, and for some of us, he still is.