Sunday, August 14, 2016


Gary Numan was a gift in the late 70s. Punk had imploded and at that stage it was very difficult to find anything that was happening in its wake. Tubeway Army didn't try outdoing the rock onslaught of the first wave but came in through a different door. His crystal stare and awkward-boy voice rode the swell of tides of synthesisers that were tighter than the ones on Low and more intense than Krafwerk's. It was great pop that felt like a horror movie and it was exactly what I needed. I listened to Down in the Park in the heat of a Townsville spring and shivered.

After pushing pop music into a decidedly unrock few big years his fortunes plummeted and he fell from favour, releasing fewer and fewer records to a public that had forgotten him and were somewhat ungratefully drifting back into rockness in the alternative scenes. And this, three decades later, is where we find him, visibly older, married with kids, standing up to a life of Aspergers and depression, making a new album.

While the film is generous with backstage views of the creative process most of what we get here is the continued struggle and the clearly beneficial family setting. It's actually quite a relief when his wife and daughters are on screen (the quartet of them are joyous camera hogs) not because Numan is so dire (he's personable, self aware and carries his own charm) but because they remind us that he is no longer in the nadir that he fell to in the wake of his fame.

And that's what the concern is here, not the journey but the arrival. The time and strain are evident on his face which often fills the screen. If nothing else, his candour and the wrinkles and all approach serve as reminders of how unforgiving a public is when it comes to the ageing of its idols and the assumption that their natural state is the pursuit of fame until death. It troubles us to think that a creative life without this urge is possible as it means we lose control of them. But here it is, certainly motivated by the need to make a living but also, as it must be on some level, for its own sake. See also, Syd Barrett

This thoroughly enjoyable portrait is kept trim. The family life quotient is there as it should be and never feels like padding. It's not for the beginner, perhaps (there's just not enough early career material on screen) but it does offer a solid depiction of survival in an industry which doesn't even tolerate many first acts. You could instructively double bill it with The Sunnyboy ... but maybe empty all those depressants in the bathroom cupboard first.

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