Gary Numan's Life Beyond the "Long Shadow" of "Cars"
While his latest record, the dark and evocative Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) is giving him some of the best reviews of his 35-plus-year career, Gary Numan knows that many people associate him with one song: 1980's synth-heavy Top 10 hit "Cars."
The memorable song, and its equally memorable video, is like an instant time capsule, and is likely to be Numan's defining legacy in song. Which is both a blessing...and a curse.
"The blessing is that it's just gone from strength to strength," Numan writes via email while on a plane from London to L.A. "I don't think I'm being big-headed when I say it's probably one of the best-known songs in the world."
It's used constantly in ads, being covered or sampled, and has had the kind of success that most songwriters can only dream of. And therein lies the curse.
"It labels you, it becomes this three-minute sound bite that defines your entire career, very inaccurately to say the least," Numan adds. "It's cast a long shadow that's very difficult to escape, and I've tried."
Still, he says he is at "ease" with the song's legacy (and probably doesn't mind cashing those royalty checks either), but feels that Splinter might just be the record that helps him step out of that automotive shadow.
Since his 1978 debut recording with Tubeway Army through a discography bulleted with solo work and collaborations, Numan has long been at the forefront of electronic music.
And while he also plays frequent guitar, it's his keyboard and computer synth work that remains his hallmark, as his music evolves alongside as technology does.
But to those who feel electronic music doesn't have "soul," Numan's response is clear: Bugger Off.
"I believe the exact opposite is true," he offers. "With electronic music, you not only search for the melody and structure of a song, but for the very sound itself. No other genre allows you the same degree of sound design or to search for the sound that expresses the emotion you feel."
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And while he adds that he loves conventional instruments, the true "soul of music" comes from the people making it. Electronic musicians just have more instruments in their musical toy chest.
"The technology advances constantly, year upon year upon year," adds Numan. "We are not seeing huge strides forward, though. It's more of a constant stroll as software is refined and computers become more powerful. Compared to 30 years ago, though, it's another world entirely!"
For his current tour, Numan says he'll mix a lot of songs from Splinter, with a fair amount of tracks from his best-known records: The Pleasure Principle, Replicas and Telekon.
"I'm not really doing anything from the middle years," he adds, but promises that the entire experience will be "aggressive and heavy."
After the current tour (which will also include a lot of festivals), Numan will work on finishing a score for the upcoming animated film From Inside, and hopes to have the follow up to Splinter completed by spring of next year.
He also aims to write a novel and with his wife -- who he met while she was a member of his fan club and married in 1997; they have three daughters -- children's stories. Then there's updating his autobiography, Praying to the Aliens, which first came out in 1997.
Through it all, don't be surprised if Numan flies himself to some of these shows. An experienced pilot with a lifelong love of flying, he's also ready to serve in the air and wear the grey if the South should ever rise again.
"We've always had a great time playing Texas, and the crowds seem particularly enthusiastic," he says. "The first time I visited Texas was when I was flying around the world in my little airplane, back around 1981. If memory serves correctly, I also joined the Confederate Air Force!"
Gary Numan plays Fitzgerald's tonight with Big Black Delta and Roman Remains. Doors open at 8 p.m..
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