The Human in Numan

"Juke" article from September 1982

"It's funny how people seem to think that my taking up flying is to escape from pressure and relax. It's anything but that! You get no freedom whatsoever out of it because you're concentrating 100% on what you're doing, and what the other planes are doing. It's all hard work! I don't really see flying as an escape or something to relax by. I'm not the sort of person who enjoys relaxing, I don't agree with it at all. I see it as an alternative. I'm not really into astrology but we Pisces are always searching for something new, and flying just happened to be that."

Gary Numan returned to England after a year. Sick of continual slagging from the press and other musicians, and pressurised by the demands of the music industry to keep putting out hits, he took a break. He lived as a tax exile in Los Angeles and has been in Jersey for the last five months writing and working out his future.

It must have been gratifying, given the fickleness of the pop audience (something he's always feared) that when he taxied his tiny Piper Navajo down the runway at Blackbush, a thousand fans swarmed around the aircraft. Gary Numan is still here. The called him a has-been when he was playing his three nights straight at London's Wembley Arena and a one-hit wonder even after five strong hits in the UK.

"I really thought a lot of that was unjustified. It wasn't just journalists. People like Phil Lynott and Mick Jagger who'd never met me were going on in interviews saying they didn't like me, without knowing what sort of bloke I was. David Bowie once ordered me off the set when we did the Kenny Everett Video Show, probably because he didn't want me to see what he was doing. That didn't change my opinion of him. I still think he's a genius, although a lot more ruthless. I think he was a little worried about me - everyone was telling him that I was going to be the next Bowie and he knew how quickly I pick up on things....he went on TV wearing a black jumpsuit.....he announced that he was giving up image and makeup and then I come along on the scene, and on his next album he's gone right back to all that..."

Gary Numan came from a very ordinary family. He did not smoke or drink or socialise much with the rock scene, and announced that his biggest vice was his moodiness. His parents looked after his business affairs. This alienated him from those taste makers who insist on pushing their (narrow-minded) views and concepts down everyone's throats. At a time when rock HAD to be politically motivated, Numan said that he was disgusted that audiences could blindly believe everything that a band like Clash throw at them and he didn't want to make statements, which incensed the taste makers even more.

"I'm not quite sure why I opted out. I always think it's a bit weak if someone says 'I can't handle it any more' but then you do get to that point where you really can't handle the pressure. Everything you do or say is deliberately misconstrued and exaggerated. The record company is breathing down your neck, virtually screaming 'give us a new album, give us a new record', you know. Maybe you learn to handle all this if you've been going around the traps for years, but I was quite naive. I'd never spent years on the road before I made it. Finally you think 'what an unpleasant business all of this is' and then you make your decision to get out."

To restore his self-esteem, he went on a world trip, flying his plane with a professional pilot. The press duly wrote about his crash landings in India (where he was promptly arrested as a spy) and another one on the M4 highway, but did not report the fact that he in fact successfully finished off his world flight.

"I'd hoped things would change then, where people would say 'what a brave person to continue flying after a crash like that' but no-one even wrote about it! But the experience was great for me. You become a man, not a boy. I don't mean it in a macho sense, although there's probably something in that as well. I'd always seen other people in desperate situations and wondered what I'd do in the same circumstances because I'm not a tough guy sort of person at all. But I discovered that I could face death coolly. We were flying from Greenland to Canada and somewhere over the Arctic Circle the right hand engine began to break up. The whole thing was falling around us, and you knew that with all the fuel we had lost, we'd soon be forced down into the icy sea somewhere. But I didn't panic, and it's something I'm very proud of because I'm sure a lot of so-called macho men have panicked when death seemed almost inevitable."

One of the reasons for his stay in Jersey was to pass a set of advanced flying examinations; he is now qualified where he can skilfully handle a flight at night during a thunderstorm over the ocean. The other part of the stay was to put together songs which he'll go into the studio this month with producer Bill Nelson. The theme of the LP is reputed to be about the first penal colony built on the Moon.

"It was quite easy to concentrate on writing in Jersey, because there's very little happening there, and you're not distracted. I just sit down and write the way I want to. I don't think I could ever sit down a consciously write a hit; that's the worst thing to expect from anybody who's writing songs. I didn't write 'Are Friends Electric' as a hit. I was fooling around on the keyboards and I hit the wrong note, which I liked, so I made millions out of a wrong note. I've got scraps of ideas on tape all over the place, waiting for me to work on them. Some of these ideas I'll develop, others I'll drop. Who cares? I'm in the business because I want to enjoy myself."

In September, he plans to start a world tour in the UK. This is a slight return to the music scene, but he is adamant that he won't be around for as long as Bowie has been. "It sounds really pompous but you see yourself as a martyr. You watch pop on the telly and think 'what a load of old rubbish' and you go back to doing it. Going out with a big bang at Wembley is not the place to do it. You ease out slowly, making less and less LPs until you're forgotten, and no-one startes bothering you to go back to making music. The trouble with the British pop music at the moment is that there are no characters, no personalities any more. Right from the 50s there's always been some great characters, they weren't bland, and they really disturbed you. I think the British are definitely eccentric, which is why we're so good on the stage."

How much did image play in bringing 'Friends' and 'Cars' into the charts? "The music obviously has something to do with it. An image brings the music to people's attention, but it's the music that has to sell itself. That's why videos are so important these days, but I don't think it overrides the importance of the music. The 'We Are Glass' video was a better production than the one for 'Cars' but it was 'Cars' that got to No. 1, so you really can't generalise about these things."

Was 'Remember I Was Vapour' his way of saying goodbye? "Yes, so is 'This Wreckage', 'Please Push no More' and 'The Joy Circuit'. The whole album was hinting about my wanting to get out of the music industry."

Did he once say he wanted to buy an island for himself? "If I had the money I would - about one and a half million pounds. Having your own island means you make your own laws, you can be silly, like having a gun or flying planes really low, and no-one can tell you to stop.