The Revenge Principles 1980
He stalks the motel corridors like a male Ophelia, a mechanical corpse. They turn to stare and he disappears in doorways. His pale English skin is deadened with chalk, the mouth sulks like a pubescent Dracula and the brooding eyes, sunk in kajal, jerk distrustfully from side to side. Prejudging disapproval, his eyes flash and he vanishes into his room. Me, I disconnect from you!
Gary Numan is 22 and abroad. A year and a half ago he was more or less nobody, now he's touring the world with a five-man band and a show so incredible that it cost $A100,000 to put together. He's had two successive number one albums in England, and numerous other successes....
It was all so fast. If there wasn't so much stubborn foresight involved in Gary Webb a.k.a. numan's rise to fame, you'd say it all fell into his lap.It was such a short time ago he played guitar in a punk band. Two years ago he taught himself how to play on a broken piano his mother bought, by asking his father where a "D" was - it was the one between the two black notes - and working out the rest from there. He scored a record contract with the unheard-of Beggar's Banquet by playing punk, and released two punk singles, which flopped. in the studio he began fooling around on a synthesiser and rediscovered the urge to write. When they sent him in to do an album, he emerged with this bizarre electronic stuff, and the record company hit the roof. He refused to record unless they let him continue. He cancelled a tour they'd booked, claiming it would be useless.
Sitting in an interview situation, the withdrawn young android of PR legend becomes a thoughtful, charming and responsive conversationalist. He is open and self-critical. He is deceptively "normal" - Gary Numan writes songs on his mother's piano and wishes he was taller - yet just below the surface lies a compressed package of raw nerve ends, jangling with the merest psychic breeze.
Well take a look at his diet! He lives on three or four Big Macs a day - just the beef patty and the bun, he doesn't like the trimmings - and vitamin pills, wheatgerm capsules and ginseng. This diet evolved gradually. A while back, he stopped eating vegetables. Then one day he realised he no longer wanted to order anything he saw on restaurant menus. Occasionally, he notices he has stopped eating altogether, and then he makes a point of getting to a MacDonalds before closing time. He is disturbed that the whole thing could end in starvation.
And Gary Numan is a great example of the Fame As Revenge principle. "I got expelled from one school at 16. I got expelled from another at 17, and I got expelled from a college when I was 18." He muses for a moment. "It's surprising really, because I was in the 'gifted children' - did you know that? Unusually high IQ, I got. They did this big survey.
They said I was a disturbin' influence. I just took advantage of the teachers, because I was young and silly. I wish I had an education, now. That was West London suburbs, just outside London. Where I live now. It's all the same area. I'll probably get a house about a hundred yards from the school. I liked being successful, because they always said I would never come to anything. I'll buy them a new school!
"They said I must have been raised in the gutter, and that's where I would end up. Because I read Mickey Spillane. Just recently, I drove past the school square, I pulled up outside it in the Corvette. (Numan's pride and joy is a white Corvette Stingray, used as a bribe to get him tio re-sign by Beggar's Banquet distributor, WEA Records.) "I just sat there lookin' in at the headmaster's office, 'cos you can do that from the gate, I just stared at it. Just thinkin'..." he laughs. "But I'm a bit like that...I like to gloat."
He recalls his original band, with bitterness. Those younger years must seem like one solid, sneering boot in the rear after another. "Remember that lot threw me out? They didn't want me around any more. They dropped me and all the people around them dropped me too. And they used to have all parties and I was never invited, silly things like that. And a little while ago, just before i went to America, I took the Corvette out at about 4 o'clock in the mornin'...And I went round all their houses and just pulled up outside each one, and just revved it up a bit. I stayed at each house for about two minutes, and then went on to the next one. I doubt if any of them saw me, but I just....I was gettin' me own back.
"And then the girl that left me, that I was gonna get married to at that time, I saw her. I pulled up in this high street and there was me and Russell" - Russell Bell, guitarist/synthesizer head - "in the Corvette. We were going to the studio and the top was down and it was all sunny. I was all in black, you know, the whole thing. And she walked past with this real gimp-looking boyfriend. She walked right round the front of the car and looked up, and it was me. Sittin' in it."
So these are the rewards of fame. gary Numan enjoys giving autographs when he's filling up at a garage, but he doesn't live for the hour or so spent on stage each night, it's just a job, and as for the rest....
"When I first started, I thought it was going to be all fast women and fast cars and glamorous parties and nightclubs; money falling out of your pockets like there was no tomorrow. And it is like that, if you want it to be. But I...I didn't like it. I went to all these parties, and I didn't like the people who were there, and I didn't like their reasons for being there. I didn't enjoy their company, I didn't enjoy the places, or anything about it...Well I've got the car. That's about it.
And so my entire reason for coming into music was the glamour of it. And I didn't like the glamour. So now I have to try and find out my reasons for stayin' in it. people keep sayin', why are you stayin' in it? I'm not too sure. I think it's because it's something I always wanted to do. And even though, having got it, it's not what I thought it would be, it's hard to actually not want to do it. Because your whole life so far has been built along the lines of being this."
At this point I could thrill about how the Gary Numan show would be a joy equally for viewers from kindergartens or retirement villages with its soaring sounds and entrancing moving walls of light. I could criticise Numan for pinching his stage movements from David Bowie. I could report how his last show in Sydney was the fiftieth with this band and set, and hint that his next set would be even more spectacular and oblique to rock'n'roll. I could tell you how the experiment of doing away with the electric guitar on Pleasure Principle he found only half-successful, and say that his new LP Telekon will be adding conventional instruments to the bass/drum/synthesisers line up, to add variation to the sound. I could add that gary made a friend in his Australian support, James Frued, and that he produced a single - Automatic Crazy for him in Australia and is taking the delighted James to London to produce an album for him in the coming months. But it's more interesting to let Gary muse on his fame dilemma.
Perhaps he could be happier, say, designing the whole thing around making films - with his music, and whatever he wanted to do with an image, in them?
"Well, I'm gonna do that, but I'll be doing it with video. Not long feature films, just little 10 minute ones. Say a film which just has the idea in it, and isn't dragged out to make a story, during which the ideas could suffer...I'm not very good at that, because i get bored. my stories run for just a few thousand words - what ideas i have, I just punch into them. It's all action, and then it's finished. So I'm more suited to short stories, and I think I'd be more suited to short films. Which is why I'd like to do video. What I'd like to do is every three or four months, put out ten of these short films on one cassette - and send it straight to the home market. Not through the picture houses, but on a mail order basis to the home market. Maybe set up shops so people could see them, and if they liked, to take them away. Or even libraries, so people could hire them if they're too expensive to buy."
"And I could go into that as a proper business, separate from music and probably instead of it. And get out of music! And then that whole - that getting caught up in the glamour and wanting to get out of it - that isn't there any more. And I wouldn't have been in it long enough to be addicted to it now...."