Rag Times

Article published some time in 1980.

22 year old Englishman GARY NUMAN is probably the hottest property in rock'n'roll right now. His spectacular show earned rave reviews throughout Australia. Philip Casey talked to the fragile, incredibly determined Gary and found that he didn't trust people too much, and wouldn't let them get too close. But Philip came away impressed with the star's candour, humour, directness and willingness to communicate.

Q: Gary, when you perform there seems almost a formal relationship between you and the audience. There doesn't seem much real contact. It's almost as though there's an invisible wall between you and the audience - you're up here and they are down there.
A: Apart from the fact that you talk to the audience and claim to be one of them, or admit that you're not one of them, which is why you're singing and they're not, and get on with it, which is what I've done.....I've very little to say to them. They know what the songs are I'd imagine. I really wouldn't want to tell them what the songs are before each number, there's no need to tell them what they are, because they already know. There really isn't much more to say - you can't have a conversation - it's very false with between two and four thousand people. I don't like being very close to the audience. I don't like standing gigs at all: I get very worried when they get near the front. I know it's very flattering that they rush the stage but it does worry me when they get that close. I like there to be a gap. I like theatres where there's an orchestra pit. It isn't that I don't want to talk to them, it's just that I don't feel safe with all those people trying to get there....

Q: Your show is very lavish. Is this a deliberate attempt to hide your uneasiness, your inexperience?
A: You mean to take the limelight away from me a bit? No, it's not really. To be honest, the show was put together to be something to look at. I merely thought that being new at it, I wouldn't be very interesting to look at for one and a quarter hours. I don't think I am: I can't do enough different things or look in enough different ways to keep people interested for that time - apart from the real diehards who'll gaze at me for hours. Obviously the majority of the audience isn't like that - especially at this early stage, a lot of them are just going to see what the fuss is all about.

Q: To me there was no hard or provocative element in your show. Most New Wave performers have this hard edge to their act. Are you trying to steer away from that?
A: I think I'm just taking it back to cabaret - showbiz for showbiz's sake more than anything, and use this as a visual expansion of our songs. To be honest I used to hate all that stuff (cabaret) but fairly recently I've got to really like Bing Crosby and now I like Frank Sinatra. I never did before, but the way he just breezes among his crowd as if they're in a circle and not on stage, and he's so relaxed.

Q: How did you feel about the punk movement 3 or 4 years ago when you were moving in the same sort of circles as the Sex Pistols and playing at venues like the Roxy?
A: I always thought it was a movement, especially so in the early days before it became fashionable. I don't think I'm doing what I'm doing now because of it, I think I'm doing what I do now quicker because of it, if you know what I mean. The business side of it changed; people got signed up, so I went out, crashed away for a few months, got a contract, and then away we went on our own tack. Which is because of punk, but I didn't get into it and evolve into what I'm doing now, I just simply used it.

Q: How do you mean you used it?
A: I used it solely as a means of getting a contract. I didn't see it as going anywhere, I don't think it has gone anywhere. I was excited by the thing as a whole, that all of a sudden there was something that was completely new - new fashion, new music. Hopefully when it got started, something really great would come out of it, but it sort of got destroyed by its own ideas. The anti-hero thing could never happen because England has always had the heroes, it always will do - I think it's a very English thing to make heroes.

Q: Gary, the lyrics in your songs seem to me to project a very depressing view of the future. is that an accurate interpretation?
A: It's an extreme view of the future...from what's happening now, but only one view. It's not necessarily the only one I have, the only view I think there could be - it's possibly the most interesting to write about. It's what I see around me. I'm obviously very affected by things - the violent side of human nature. Human nature itself is quite interesting to write about, if you take it to its extremes.

Q: Yes, I agree, but do you think they'll get more extreme over the next decade? And if so what can you see yourself doing?
A: Hopefully I'll have enough money, whatever, to get away from it.

Q: Wouldn't you try and do something even if it was merely banging your head against a brick wall?
A: I haven't got the interest to want to prevent it or stop it - I tend to be much more selfish and think how I can get out of it, rather than help other people out of it - that may change as I grow older and hopefully grow up a bit more. I know a lot of things I do are very selfish - there must be a stronger word than selfish to cover it.

Q: Gary, you are obviously very single minded about the things you do. You also have the reputation of an exceptionally acute business instinct. I know that you recently negotiated a terrific deal with WEA. Were you able to do this because you realised, perhaps, that you could dictate your own terms? Did it occur to you that, maybe, they neded you more than you needed them?
A: I think that's true, because we could go elsewhere, and they couldn't just go and nip out another number one.

Q: I guess your position is even stronger because of the current comparitive weakness of the music business.
A: No no. They need everyone they can get (laughs). WEA have got Rickie Lee Jones and...God knows...Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles....they're all right. They're doing quite well at the moment, but these people may not be going for another five years and they think I will.

Q: Gary, there's a story going round that you even scored a nice, new, shiny white American sports car in your deal with WEA. Is this true?
A: Yes. It's a toy for a little boy, to keep him happy, that's the feeling I get. It appeals to that side of me....'Oh wow!' that sort of thing. Also it's a good move on their part to make sure I didn't bugger off to CBS; it's a good little lever they had to make sure negotiations went on in a semi-friendly fashion. I found it flattering that they gave it to me, I don't think they've done anything like that in quite a while.
I was told that when they heard I'd been talking to CBS - it was only really to find out what the going rate was - it got back to WEA and they thought 'Oh my God, he's signed to CBS' and - this is what I've been told mind you, it's not me shooting off my own trumpet - I was told they said 'Get him whatever he wants, just make sure he doesn't go' - which is fair enough 'cos I suppose I make a lot of money for them. It's easier for me to dictate now than it was before....to say we want to do this, we want to do that. Before we used to have big arguments about it, now I sort of say, 'That's what we're doing,' and then make sure that they do it - but that's half the problem, to get them to do what they say they'll do because they say OK to keep you happy and then worm their way around it. They need constant watching. But...I don't know if this is true, but they seem to have a respect for my intuition, if you like, in what's to be done. I think they're realising I know more of where I'm going than anyone else does because they've no idea of what I'm going to do until I have. Problems haven't arisen.

Q: Gary, is 'Being A Star' what you always wanted?
A: Yes, very much so, that's why I went into it. It's the only thing I've wanted, you know, for such a long time. I....always thought I'd do it - looking back on the material I based that opinion on, I'm very surprised. It really is awful. That was when I was 15,16, hadn't even written a song, still thinking I was going to be a star. There was something about the atmosphere of the business that interested me - i can't really give a definite thing that gave that atmosphere, I just remember reading about it. I had a cousin about 7 years older than me who was really into it, and an uncle who played drums in a band and I just got the atmosphere really from when I was quite young. I thought: Well that's for me, even though I really didn't do anything constructive about it until I was 18.

Q: Can you tell me something about your school years?
A: I was sort of a loner. I wsn't bothered trying to meet other kids. It didn't bother me.....to meet other people and talk to them.

Q: You left school when?
A: At 16. I went to a grammar school, that's the one that sent me to a psychologist. I was expelled from there, eventually... I was a disturbing influence. They did try to help me, they were quite nice, they let me stay an extra year - they didn't expel me - even though I should have been. I went into the top class, the A stream. The next year I was demoted to the bottom class. (It turns out that Gary's problem was irrational fits of violence, which came on quite suddenly, without warning. In the next couple of years, he went from school to school).

Q: So when you eventually left school, what happened?
A: I had a talk with my dad who said (in Summertime Blues voice) 'You really need an education, son' (laughs), so off I went to technical college and.....it happened again. I had some really wierd experiences there... I was just sitting down, and all of a sudden you feel like a bubble forms and people's voices stop making sense. I couldn't understand what people were saying and I could feel myself actually moving back into it, and my head became the bubble and I was going inside that. It only happened about 3 times. It made me feel quite strange occasionally - it really did affect me quite a bit. I left college and went straight into work. In the daytime I put air conditioning into buildings. I was a driver, a clerk, really just everyday jobs, all the time planning as well as writing. I was always intending that it was just for now, so it was about bearable. It was enjoyable if I enjoyed the people I was with - one job i had, I was there exactly a year from birthday to birthday, and it was the worst time of my life - horrible. Horrible people. They hated me because I dyed my hair; they used to call me 'Wally Wanker' - that was my nickname.

Q: Is this one of the reasons why you tend to find it difficult to get close to people?
A: Well....er...obviously this is where...at various times I met people, particularly when I was younger, and I've taken it all in. Another thing that affected me a lot was when I split up with the girl - that was quite some time ago, about 2 years ago in September, or 3 years ago. It was very painful. That possibly affected me more than anything, particularly in terms of me getting close to people. It was the one and only time I've ever loved someone outside the family.

Q: Do you still have friends from those early days?
A: No, they dropped me long before I became famous. Quite some time ago. They got rid of me because....I was singing in a group and they didn't want me writing the songs any more, so I said, 'It really doesn't bother me' - I didn't intend at that time to become a big front-man pop-star anyway - I was just doing it to gain experience, but they weren't writing any songs. So I said, 'Well, write them then, I don't mind', but that wasn't very good. And so they got rid of me, then went out and did their own set - it took them about 6 months to write their set, and they had a couple of my songs in it anyway - there was only about a 30-minute set, and it really was awful. I was disgusted. And all my so-called friends at the time would follow them round religiously and pogo at every gig, it was like rent-a-crowd. And they dropped me completely from parties, from anything.

Q: You seem to have had a lot of unpleasant experiences in your life.
A: I don't think any more than most people, I just think that I take them badly (laughs). I find it hard to accept that and understand it - I find it very hard to understand human nature a lot of the time, which is part of the problem.

Q: You have been accused of being arrogant and aloof. Is that fair?
A: The image doesn't worry me. from an outsider's view, it's probably accurate. I think I'm quite strong-willed and know exactly what I'm doing - which is mistaken for arrogance. The 'aloof' bit is my wish not to get too close to the audience....which isn't being aloof. It's more survival really.

Q: How do you see your audience then?
A: It's very awkward - to be honest about it without giving the wrong impression, I don't feel any...I won't say loyalty, I don't feel that I owe them anything. I made the records and they bought them. They owe me as much as I owe them, so they cancel each other out really. I don't now have to make another album; I get very annoyed when I hear these things like, oh, people saying 'We made you'. They really didn't make anybody at all. We made ourselves, they simply bought the records.

Q: Obviously, you are a hero to a lot of people. How do you think they see you?
A: It's a bit difficult to answer. I think possible to a lot of people I'm a symbol of something new - I wouldn't venture any more than that. The...element is an image; they'll see that and then they'll go home and imitate it in a mirror and do G.Numan handclaps. That's thought out the same as the image is thought out, to give people something to latch on to. It's taken everything I did when I was young and when I was a fan - and using that, knowing that other people somewhere must be similar to me; I'd like them to do what I did to my heroes.

Q: Do you sometimes think you are treated as an object?
A: Completely. As a product, yes.

Q: You've become a big target for groupies. Does this bother you?
A: I find it very unnerving when people come back to the hotel because being a "rock'n'roll star" you're obviously expected to pull the lot - so you've got to come out with the smooth talk, and I'm just not like that. I don't chat people up at all. I find that, trying to get the role right - my 'position' - that what they expect me to do and what I want to do aren't the same. I find that possibly the most difficult part of it.

Q: Are there times when that has really freaked you out?
A: Well, there was one time recently when these two girls gained admittance to the hotel and settled in. They started harassing me and my assistant. So, finally, i just said, very loud, 'Get off my back', and just shrugged them off, walked away. And then I walked past this woman and she goes: 'Temper, temper' - and that was the last straw. I started slamming doors and throwing things. Then I calmed down a bit, but it then flared up again later on and I wrecked a radiator - threw a fire extinguisher and smashed a radiator - and a phone and a chair....then I was all right. I was completely calm.....