I was a teenage Numanoid
EVERY DAY I DIED…I was a teenage Numanoid
Gary Numan releases his latest album, Dead Son Rising on September 11th, coupled with a nationwide tour. Here, lifelong fan Simon Buckley, recounts his teenage years as a Numanoid in Bolton.
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard “Are Friend’s Electric?”Â, Gary Numan’s breakthrough hit under the guise of Tubeway Army. It was June, 1979. I was just 13, and on holiday in the Isle of Man with my pal, listening to a scratchy transistor radio, when those unmistakeable opening chords reached my ears for the first time.
Numan was already number 1when, back home in Bolton, I bought the single. After I saw him perform on Top Of The Pops, all stark and detached, I felt a bond as strong and instinctive as that of a duckling. I’m still not sure why. The haunting, swirling electronics certainly resonated with me and, being an only child, I probably had a loner personality lurking inside my adolescent body. It’s also possible I was simply a pretentious knob who enjoyed wearing make-up. Whatever the reason, a few months later my hair was bleached white, I wore only black and, much to my mum’s horror, I’d started wearing eye liner.
There weren’t many Numanoids, as we became known, in Bolton. Despite his phenomenal early success, Gary didn’t stay cool for long and my mates were all heavy metal fans, with “Hawkind”Â stitched across their denim jackets. I stood out as clearly as a cat in Battersea Dogs Home and it took a certain bloody mindedness and daring to wander the terraced streets dressed as a replicant. I was never beaten up, though. I like to believe that my pseudo-psychotic stare protected me. More likely, it was because other lads didn’t feel comfortable hitting a girl.
Somehow, we Numan fans found each other. We had to. There’s only so much time you can sit listening to Rush at the local church hall, waiting for “I Die: You Die”Â to come on, whilst avoiding the latent threat of Judas Priest fans. Mostly we gathered at the under-18 night at Cinderella Rockerfellas, or it was via word of mouth, like a secret resistance network. Each Saturday we clustered together on the bus into Manchester. Here there were more of us, and we posed about in the Market Centre, like robots on day release, buying bits of clothing to enhance our clone chic.
I was very bold about being dressed as Numan and I often favoured the jump suit and red shoulder belts from his Telekon era. I was dressed like this one Saturday when my friend, Phil, made me watch the horror film, Scanners on a video downstairs at HMV. It’s hard to affect a cool, machine image whilst seeing a man’s veins swell until his head explodes, and so, slightly light headed, I went upstairs. The next thing I know, I’m waking up, flat on my back surrounded by a concerned assistant and a group of girls, whose afternoon is now perfect, having witnessed a Numanoid faint next to the disco section.
I then went out with a girl called Karen. She said she loved me, and her mum used to cook me egg and chips at dinner time. To exorcise the shame now attached to the black flying suit I got Karen’s mum to make me a white version, which was the envy of my Numan mates. I finished with Karen not long after the outfit was finished. Apparently her dad put a hit out on me. No matter, drivers could now see me at night and I looked great under the fluorescent lights at clubs.
I clearly felt no shame when it came to parading around Bolton, dressed as someone else. Around the time of “Dance”Â (1981) I had a massive row with my mum. The newsagents had rung to complain as I’d turned up to do my paper round dressed in a full 1940s outfit, including a trilby hat. I thought the look on the girl’s face, as she handed over the sack of papers, was one of awe. My shrieking parent quickly set me right on that. Turned out the silver lipstick, eye shadow and blusher I was wearing had been so shocking I’d have to apologise or never work down Mornington Road again.
Undeterred, soon after, I persuaded a worker at WH Smiths into giving me a life sized cut-out of my hero. I’ve no idea how. Perhaps he feared me, thinking that anyone below 6ft and prepared to dress as a trans-sexual gangster was capable of great cruelty. Anyway, I got to walk away with it and proudly travelled home on the top deck of the bus, ignoring the other passengers, who seemed troubled by the sight of a cardboard Gary Numan being proudly clutched by the effete brother of Al Capone. Somehow, Phil persuaded me to swap this treasure for a bootleg tape of a concert in Canada. It was a terrible deal. Fraud, in fact. The tape was inaudible. I only forgave him because he later introduced me to a girl called Julie, who enjoyed taking her clothes off for Numanoids.
I’d like to say, that over the last 3 decades, I’ve gained some perspective. The truth is I still play Are Friend’s Electric at least once a week, I’m more than happy to belt out “Cars”Â in karaoke bars and my wife is constantly telling me to stop with the assassin’s glare, as it frightens the kids. Whatever Gary did all those years ago, it clearly worked.