I think of Gary Numan as an icon of early 1980s new wave, so it was a really pleasant surprise to find out that not only does he have a new album and video out, but he’s been very active in the last 37 years since “Cars” hit the U.S. charts. Even better, those years look to have been really good to the man, creatively and otherwise. I admit that mentally I’ve had Numan kind of locked away, preserved in a lucite box where skinny ties and Moog synthesizers will always be cutting edge. Numan, apparently, wasn’t willing to stay in that box.
The new single is “My Name is Ruin,” and co-stars Numan’s 11-year-old daughter, Persia, doing backing vocals. I like Gary Numan’s androgynous android persona of the “Cars” era, but I find 59-year-old Numan much hotter and more charismatic. The classic Numan is chilly and mechanical, but “My Name is Ruin” plays up his weathered looks and intense gaze. Numan Classic was untouchable and invulnerable; Numan Modern has really been worn and shaped by the years, and looks all the better for it.
Of course, the video does that look up a little: Gary and Persia are standing in the middle of the Mojave and the harsh desert sunlight brings out the lines on Numan’s face. But it doesn’t make him look old; it makes him look like one of the only things that can thrive in the middle of a wasteland. Despite the title of the song, he looks like a force of life and growth, not one for destruction.
Surving Trump or Surviving the Righteous
Survival is a theme that’s heavy on my mind right now. I’m wondering what the chances really are of surviving the next few years. In a way, I don’t mind if I don’t survive. I’ve always been a little bit fatalistic. What really scares me is the idea of everything and everyone else not surviving. What keeps me up at night is the idea that Trump might really wipe everything decent and good out of this country. I wouldn’t mind if you told me that I’m not going to make it through the next few years. But I want to know that everything else survives. I want to know that there after this is all over, even if I don’t survive, there will still be the cultural soil to grow communities of queers, punk rockers, writers, artists, sex workers, and political radicals like the ones who inspired me to become who I am. Even when I haven’t been an active member of those communities, knowing that they were out there someplace has been a comfort to me.
As long as that part of America survives, I’d be okay knowing that as an individual, I won’t. My fear is that the naked cruelty and stupidity that we’ve seen on display will win out, and that we’ll lose everything for decades.
On Instagram, Numan explained his take on “My Name is Ruin,” and it’s not far off from my own vision of resistance. According to him, it’s about a man and his daughter who are attacked in the middle of the desert by “The Righteous.” He’s left for dead and the daughter kidnapped. In saying “My Name is Ruin,” he’s appropriating the identity that the Righteous imposed on him. The song is his declaration of resistance against the righteous as he tries to reclaim his life:
When I called you poison, you knew
When I called you shameful, you knew
When I called you a liar, you knew
I would always find my way to you
Gary Numan and the Autism Spectrum
While journeying down the Gary Numan rabbit hole, I also discovered that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, which kind of gives a whole new context for the themes of solitude and privacy in “Cars.”
But while a noted artist being on the spectrum isn’t unusual in itself, I’m also fascinated to discover how forthright Numan is about it. There’s might be a lot of people in the arts who are somewhere on the spectrum, but if they talk about it at all, it’s a fleeting mention that’s gone so quickly you’ll miss it if you’re not paying attention. Numan, on the other hand, not only talks about Asperger’s in most of his interviews, he’s incorporated it into his creative identity. In the clip below, he says “I see it as an absolute advantage” in songwriting. I kind of flinch when he says that he pities people who don’t have it, but generally, it’s a very interesting and thoughtful perspective to hear from an iconic artist.