Take me to the Pilot

"Juke" article from September 1983

From the outside, Gary Numan's secluded mansion in White Water promises the trappings of a pop star's country retreat - oak panelling, antique furniture, white shag carpet, log fires, goldfish in expensive aquariums.

In the back garden you'll find his black Ferrari and a Chevrolet Corvette, the latter jacked on a trailer due to axle trouble. Inside, however, you trip over miles of coiled wire. There's hardly any furniture. The entire downstairs is used as a rehearsal room, so the place looks more like a city rehearsal studio or synthesiser showroom.

"I've been here for three years" he says semi-apologetically, and I haven't had time to do anything with this place. I live here by myself and I only use the bedroom and kitchen, so the rest of it's been turned into a giant rehearsal room. I'm not good at housework....look at that!" he runs his finger distastefully over the glass top of his stereo system and lets me inspect the dust. "My girlfriend comes around occasionally and does some hoovering but that's about all."

Up in Gary's bedroom, there's a model of one of his planes, a teddy bear he bought for his girlfriend but which he decided to keep, and a large video system. In the cupboards and under the bed he keeps his collection of weapons. A loner who's suspicious by nature of people, his collection includes an air rifle, a Samurai sword, a hatchet, a machete and that famous baseball bat which got him in trouble with the law not too long ago.

At the foot of the stairs is a ferocious looking timber wolf - thankfully it's stuffed. He saw it in the lobby of Alaska airport and thought it should be showcased with dignity, so he bought it instantly and had it airfreighted here to Britain. He wants to have a special case made for it, to make it appear prowling through the woods; it may only be stuffed, he says with great satisfaction, but it's enough to deter any troublemakers. Not the media type, surely. "No, no, the nuts. I find I'm never comfortable in a room unless the door is closed. When I was living in Los Angeles I had a great gun collection but I can't get permission to bring them over, so all I have is a small gun with which I take potshots at dragonflies around the pond in the front drive. But I've had two death threats. The first was a phone call, the second was a letter which had a live .303 bullet enclosed. Now bullets like that aren't common, so I figure it's someone who's not kidding around."

A problem is that some fans have sussed out where he lives. On a number of occasions, Numan's heard some rustling in the bushes at night and rushed forth, baseball bat in hand, to find two cowering Numan fans who want to harmlessly souvenir his doormat or scoop out some of the goldfish in the pond.

"I think I'll have to move again soon, because civilization tends to be catching up. Mind you I'm not the survivalist type because although I live a very quiet life - no parties or anything like that - I like my comforts. I like my video and I don't eat fancy food, I prefer chips and sausages from the old microwave. So I'd still like to live in a civilized place, but I want to get further away because there seems to be more housing estates creeping nearer."

"I'm not a rich man", Numan insists. Four fifths of the money he made from his 'Are Friends Electric' / 'Cars' days has been ploughed back into his stage shows, notorious for their extravagance. The stage show for the upcoming British tour, for instance, is a three dimensional ruined city 25 feet high and 40 feet long, costing about A$500,000. (In the past, he says, he's lost almost A$1 million in touring). There'll also be a huge lighting rig, and his onstage actions will have to co-ordinate with the changing lighting pattern. Aside from it being his largest stage set yet, he and the band will come on in Mad Max leather costumes. Already he's been accused of looking like a prat.

"Well, I don't think it's stupid," he snaps back. "It's part of my themes from before. I like fantasy that's got a strong sense of reality about it. Like the early robotics, the idea seemed out of this world but at the same time you always knew one day it would be a practicality. So it is with these new costumes. The whole idea is functionalist where you have to fight to stay alive. It makes more sense when you see it in context with the ruined city sets, with electronically opened doors and gadgets and things. But it's not just some cheap attempt to cash in on the Mad Max success. I've got enough problems with being slagged off by the press as it is, without going out on a limb begging for it!"

Numan's new album Warriors is a change in direction; in the early days Numan was easily the plagiarist, superficial, copping licks and ideas from more talented folk and yet coming across as the Sound of the Eighties. Pretty soon, other copycats started to catch up and he looked (and sounded) average. The new LP, however, leaves the synth-drone behind to explore a world of funk with a strong overtone of jazz. The LP was produced by Bill Nelson, of Be Bop Deluxe and esoteric solo records fame.

"I didn't sit down and try to make a different sort of record. I wanted to make a dance record, and it's just that I've been listening to jazz over the last year or so. Plus we used outside people like Dick Morrisey and Tracey who used to be in Shakatak. I think if you went back and listened to my last album, that funk/jazz thing is definitely something I was moving into."

Was he dreading that some of the more nasty elements of the British press are gleefully waiting to carve up Warriors? "To this very day, I have absolutely no clue what I did or said for them to attack me the way they did. A lot of the criticisms were justified, maybe I was a bit stiff on stage, but some of it got so nasty. I'm sure there'll be people out there waiting to slash into the album, but I've psyched myself not to worry about it too much. I just want to get back on the road and do this tour, and see what the reaction is."

As a person, Gary Numan really doesn't like people very much. He's almost found talking to people a strain. So he's turned towards his world of emotionless machines, later losing himself in his music. In his world, power comes from gun collections and solo air flights. He says he got approval from his manager father for his aviation rather than musical achievements. Numan loves war movies and his closest friend is an old veteran called Dizzy who looks after his aeroplanes stored at nearby airfields. "I love war films - I'd love to star in one of those aerial flights spectacular flicks. I'd love to be a John Wayne figure, whooping the shit out of the Nazis!"

He was in America when the Falklands crisis started. What had his reaction been? "I wish I could have returned to England and gone and fought for the country. I was so sick to see all these so-called peaceniks saying that we shouldn't have got involved in the war. Of course you've got to protect something that you love. When I saw all these Argentinians with their flags, I used to drive around in my jeep with a British flag, and an Empire Strikes Back sticker."