Is God as egotistical and violent as the devil? Did the 3 wise men rape Mary? Did the angels urinate on the graves of children? These are some of the dark themes and imagery running through Exile, the comeback album by 80s robo-pop star Gary Numan. He hastily explains that he doesn't necessarily believe this is what happened. "Just see it as a horror movie set to music, like a soundtrack to Friday The 13th or Hellraiser," says the man who came across as the Paranoid Android with hits such as Are Friends Electric?, Cars and Me! I Disconnect From You.|
"I have my beliefs but I don't want to offend anybody," Numan, who is a long-time atheist, says. "In fact, when I was 12, I argued with my school that I shouldn't have to attend religious studies because I didn't believe, and that I'd only be a disruptive influence in the classroom because I'd be questioning everything. They thought about it, and exempted me from the class.
"On Exile I created a horror movie fiction, where God and the Devil could be the same thing, in that God had the potential to be ambitious, evil and egotistical, and all those other elements that we associate with the darker side of humanity," he says.
Until last year, Gary Numan had not enjoyed a hit for 15 years. He spent more time as a pilot, with a fleet of World War II planes. He is one of a handful of qualified aerobatics instructors in Europe and teaches pilots to fly in formation. But in England , a beer company used Cars on a TV ad. It became a hit for the 3rd time. While fellow 80s pop stars Howard Jones, Culture Club, Human League and John Foxx try to re-enter the spotlight, Numan has enjoyed a definite resurgence of popularity. There has been a tribute album Random featuring bands such as Blur, St. Etienne and Republica. This year there was a best selling autobiography, a Best Of record that sold 60,000 copies, tours of Britain and Europe, and his first shows in America in 16 years. He plans to visit Australia early in 1999.
What helped the comeback was that the Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Blur, Beck and The Orb hailed him as a godstar. Liam Howlett from Prodigy and dance pioneers Tricky and Afrika Bambaataa want to work with him. "I'd like to think it was my wonderful songwriting talent that's caused this turnaround," Numan laughs with a typical lack of pretension, "but it's not, and I'm under no apprehension that it is. The Foo Fighters did one of my songs on the X-Files album, and then Marilyn Manson put one out as a single. It gave me a credibility as a songwriter that I never had."
In the late 70s, the prevalent images in rock were inspired by the themes in the futuristic book 1984. One of these was 20-year old Gary Anthony Webb. Changing his name to a pun on New Man, his electro-synth music abounded with references to robots, Big Brother and alienation. Numan formed Tubeway Army in 1978. Within 4 weeks of release, Are Friends Electric? topped the British charts. The Bowie clone, clad in black plastic jumpsuits and blue hair, made a tremendous impact on fans. The more obsessed call themselves Numanoids and meet 4 times a year. One follows Numan's diet (sausages and mash), sings in a Numan tribute band, spent $2000 to have his hairline surgically reshaped, and married a fellow Numanoid on the same day as Numan's wedding anniversary. A mother of 2 small children admits her hero worship destroyed her marriage. One fan, who was convinced she was married to Numan, threw acid on the face of a "rival" and was marched off to a mental asylum.
In 1981, having made $8 million, Numan retired from performing. He had more hits (altogether he's charted in Britain 30 times), but devoted his time and fortune to setting up a school for pilots. Today, he lives in a large country estate which is just minutes from Stanstead Airport. The house is full of cats and dogs. Photographs and models of planes are in every corner. Numan says he likes the thrill and danger of flying. "I tried other things. I ran an air tactics school, sponsored a racing car, ran a restaurant, had my own record company. But it's the music that's remained the most interesting."
"I'm glad I've got this support again. Film producers ask to use my music, "I've just done a bit part in a comedy, and TV shows are asking me on. But I've turned down two just this week because they were about retro-80s. I don't want to be tied to a bygone era. When Human League toured America with Culture Club, I told them it was a mistake. They said 'Yeah we know, but we need the money'. I want to be viable in the 90s."
Hmmm. One or two discredited stories are trotted out again here. Still, it's good to see Numan articles appearing in the Aussie media again.