Several people are asking me about the “Gary Numan In Conversation” event that I was lucky to attend, so here’s my take on it.
I’ve been a Numan fan (“Numanoid”) since I was 9yrs old, but I’d never heard him speak at length before. His stage persona in the early years was been aloof and alienating, (part of the mystique?), so I was surprised that he could talk the hind legs of a donkey! The host was Steve Malins, (a longstanding friend of Numan,) so the conversation flowed freely. Gary said he was more comfortable to talk about himself than any other topic, he said he was shy in everyday conversations to strangers, linking this to Aspergers syndrome.
Growing up idolising Gary Numan, I had that teenage thing where I’d found a voice that ‘spoke to me’, a sympathetic voice. It creates a bond. He continues to ‘speak to’ his fans in this way, with subjects that the ageing fan base can relate to: losing a child, career blips, hope , ruin, marriage, survival, depression, and every aspect of the mid-life crisis. But hearing him talk so casually, and intimately, it lost some of the magic for me. He really is just a normal bloke and not a god after all.
He is known for being ‘humble’ about his success. He’s often shrugged the mantle of “electronic music pioneer”, and in the interview he said there were others before him working with synths, but it was his method of combining synth with guitar music, that made it palatable for the record-buying public. He talked about that chance-finding of a Moog synth in the corner of a studio, without which he might not have become famous. There’s me in the audience trying to glean what tips I can from my role model, and really he is giving it the “right time, right place” story. That is kind of depressing. Or was fate at work, giving him the notoriety he deserves?
There must be other artists who cite lucky incidents that propelled them on a trajectory towards stardom. I can’t think of any of the top of my head, can you? Maybe they keep quiet about them!
Numan spoke of how after that initial whirlwind success he had a downward spiral and almost hit rock bottom. He said that it was like starting again on the bottom rung (where I am starting out I suppose) and from there it was a lot of hard graft that gradually led to the recent chart successes of Splinter and Savage.
He spoke of his childhood; getting kicked out of grammar school for bad behaviour. It sounded like his parents and teachers were very attentive, he got sent to a doctor/psychologist before things like “aspergers” were widely recognised he said. He talked about little counting rituals he had – at this point I thought – ‘is this so unusual?’ He talked about tapping on his knees and counting to numbers – I’m sure a lot of us do this don’t we? I have little rhythms that I’ve been tapping out since a tiny child on desks and knees and things. I think people don’t talk much about these kind of things, but I think we all do them. If anything they are self-comforting, or beat-making games, brain exercises perhaps like sudoku, I wouldn’t label them as Aspergers (but I’m no expert, and allegedly women cover-up autism better than men). Music is basically all about counting, when and where things come in, its about patterns. I may have been tapping on tables as an infant but as soon as I had a guitar I was tapping on that . Do you do counting/tapping? I’m not belittling Aspergers here, there is autism in my family and it’s wonderful that a celebrity is speaking out about it.
Another thing he cited was the support of his family. It made me think he was a ‘golden boy’. Even when he set fire to his curtains by accident, he fibbed about it , pretending it was an accident and his dad forgave him. His dad bought him his guitar when he was about 14, and his parents supported him on tour in the early days as managers of sorts. At this point I recalled my parents picking me up from my band’s gig when I was a teenager, they sat at the back for the last song with their fingers in their ears. My dad reluctantly bought me a guitar for my 18th birthday after I badgered him consitantly. At that time I knew no girls or women whatsoever with guitars. How different today with Fender reporting that 50% of new guitars are sold to women! One of the questions aimed at Numan was, if his house was on fire, what 1 item would he save, he answered his 1st guitar. That guitar still appears on his recordings and performances. Mine too! You just can’t underestimate the importance of that first instrument – its like a ticket to another realm.
He talked about family a lot. He adores his wife Gemma and she is instrumental in his success, without her he couldn’t do it he said. One of his 3 daughters sings in his band! (as do mine!) and he is helping her make an album this year.
He said something about how he “loved machines because they never [deliberately] let you down”. Having suffered a Mac dying and a hacking incident last year I am not sure I agree with him on that one. But machines are fascinating and enthralling – I will give him that. Along with every other tech nerd I know, I find that machines are satisfying. You can build a synth or a radio ad its finite, much harder to get to that point with a song.
It’s hard for us fans to imagine an idol ever retiring. But Numan estimated that he had 2 more albums and tours in him. He said something along the lines of ‘a 70yr old leaping around on stage is just ridiculous.’ But look at the Rolling Stones… Being an older musician myself, I don’t like hearing about age barriers. He also implied he would consider cosmetic surgery to preserve his looks when he is older – please no Gary, none of us care about that. Perhaps that’s a bit of LA culture rubbing off on him. The whole audience there enjoy his warm and genuine personality, and his genuine music! Perhaps that’s something to do with the Aspergers, you can tell he is speaking out directly (and very eloquently) with no airs and graces. He could put his foot in it at minute, but he speaks from the heart.
He spoke about being on anti-depressants for a period of time which numbed him, his wife labelled it as his “Benny Hill” period. He described how the highs and lows were reduced by the drugs, and while people were trying to have a serious conversation with him, he was just thinking about kittens. He weaned himself off, and came back to a place where he could write music about that dark period. I can really imagine those highs and lows returning and inspiring his recent albums. I hate to say it, but as writers it helps to go through that shit so we can express passionately to others.