Gary Numan Is Finally Earning His Props: ‘Thankfully, I’m Still Here’

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Lately, Gary Numan has been getting notable mentions as an inspiration and influence from a broad spectrum of stars, including Trent Reznor, David Bowie, Beck, Marilyn Mason, Battles, Queens of the Stone Age and Dave Grohl.

The electronic music innovator burst onto the scene with a trio of celebrated synth-pop singles, including the gold-selling “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” the gold-selling “Cars,” and the silver-selling “Complex.” The propulsively metallic “Cars” – released on September 7, 1979 as part of The Pleasure Principle – became something of a personal anthem, reaching No. 1 in the UK and Canada, and No. 9 in America.

Decades later, Numan’s star began to rise again, as Fear Factory covered “Cars” in 1999. Then, appearing as a special guest on stage with Nine Inch Nails at a 2009 concert at London’s 02 arena, Gary Numan was called a “vitally important and a huge inspiration” over the past two decades by Reznor. Then Numan sang backup on Battles’ “My Machines” from the 2011 project “Gloss Drop.”

“It’s a really lovely position to be in,” Gary Numan says, “to hear people saying you’ve been influential and to have lots of people covering your songs, it’s very, very cool.”

Huge hit singles, New Wave pioneer status, sweeping new street cred? Not bad for the son of a British Airways bus driver. Before he got into music, Numan (born Gary Anthony James Webb) had reportedly been employed as a fork lift truck driver, air conditioning-ventilator fitter and as a clerk in an accounts department. He took his stage name from an advertisement in the phone book.

“I don’t think you have that sort of thing on your mind when you’re starting out,” Gary Numan tells Counteract. “You just try to write the best songs you can at the time – just trying to sing the right bloody notes, if I’m honest.”

“I think your ambition is limited to just doing a good job of that moment, you know,” Numan adds. “Certainly, when I become successful, I think I’d just turned 21, and at that point I had no plans whatsoever. Hell, beyond the age of 30, I couldn’t imagine what people did with their lives. It just seemed so old, I mean, what do you do? All the good stuff’s done in your teens and your 20s – so when your 30, it’s all finished. I honestly didn’t think much about it, and then I got to 30 and I was still doing it and enjoying it, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ and just took life as it came, and thankfully I’m still here.”

More recently, Numan releases like Dead Son Rising emerged as smeared, squelchy outbursts of guitar noise, weird psychodrama, face-slap beats and visceral emotion — bringing in the attitude of his famous 1980s New Wave hit, but in a completely modern context. That’s perhaps best heard amongst the billowing noise of “The Fall,” a memorably hooky confluence of guitar and synth. It combines everything we once knew about Gary Numan (the proto-goth black-nailed dystopia, the herky-jerky synths, those piercingly empty eyes) with a smartly challenging next-gen edge.

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  • lilyboosh

    <3 Numan

  • Ragnar Danneskjöld

    “More recently, Numan releases like Dead Son Rising ” Not sure when this article was actually written, but it seems incomplete to not mention his latest album, Splinter. Also, what I personally think is his best ever, Jagged.