GARY NUMAN: Asperger’s is my superpower – It was behind his hit singles
When Gary Numan says something is weird, you know it’s very weird. This is a man whose idea of a ‘pretty normal’ family life is to live in Los Angeles in a house that looks like a castle with trapdoors and secret passages, complete with a 20-foot bronze dragon in the yard where others might have a garden gnome. to have.
The pop icon talks about his second facelift in which his skin was so lifted to the sky that he had to shave behind his ear.
“I have to pull my ear forward a bit,” he demonstrates. So he’s got stubble in places it shouldn’t? ‘Yes. I didn’t shave today so I can feel it. Isn’t that weird?’
Stranger still, he says he’s “not that bothered” with cosmetic surgery, having only had two facelifts (and five hair transplants). It is his wife Gemma who is the real addict. She’s had, well, everything right down to full body lifts.
Gary Numan with his wife Gemma and their three daughters in the garden of their LA home
“Gemma’s good at it. She had everything done from her earlobe to her little toe. I had this lift done about half a year ago.
“Maybe I’ll have another one, but it gets a little crazy after a while. People tell me I don’t look 64, and I say, ‘It’s fake. It’s all fake!”’
Does it make him feel younger? “No,” he says. “You still growl when you get up.”
There was always something out of this world about Gary Numan. That was part of the appeal.
When he first appeared on the British pop scene in the late 1970s, the ‘godfather of synth’ appeared to have stepped out of an alien spaceship (although in fact he’d worked in a WH Smith near Heathrow before fame called to him) . He had bleached hair, heavy eyeliner (applied by his mother, but he didn’t yell about it), and his voice was once famously described as “between Gene Pitney and a Dalek.”
He had his first UK number one with Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, and at the age of 21 he was worth an estimated £6 million.
His army of fans called themselves Numanoids. He even married one. Gemma decided in school that she would become Mrs. Gary Numan when she grew up.
Gary in his heyday, performing at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco in 1980
They didn’t get together until she was 24, but they’ve been inseparable ever since.
“This is going to sound corny considering it’s been 30 years and four days since our first date, but I miss her even when she’s in a different part of the house,” he says. “She’s everything I’m not—and that’s most things, really.”
Gemma shields me from a world that is difficult for me to be a part of. She shields me from humanity
Then, in April 1981, at the height of his popularity, he announced his retirement. It was, he says today, “a terrible mistake — and one I’ve been trying to correct for 40 years.”
Within two years he had started a comeback. However, who knew it would be a 40-year comeback?
This year, he achieved an ambition he believed required almost superhuman obsession: a symbolic return to Wembley Arena (now renamed the OVO Arena Wembley), four decades after he last played there. In May, he took the stage again, but not before his wife had lured him in.
A new documentary tracking his progress captures footage of Gemma comforting him as he trembles backstage, nearly paralyzed with fear. “I was overwhelmed,” he admits today.
“I was losing it. She calmed me down, as she always did. I couldn’t have done it without her—none of that.’
Gary Numan Resurrection on Sky Arts is an extraordinary insight into an extraordinary man, recognized as an influence on stars such as Prince and Lady Gaga. The film gives the most moving account yet of what it means to live on planet Numan.
Much of it tells the story of his lifelong relationship with Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism), a condition that contributed to his expulsion from school, was a major factor in his retirement and to this day places him on at odds with the rest of the world.
How did he overcome it, or perhaps embracing would be a more accurate description? Easy, he says: he is married to Gemma.
“Gemma shields me from humanity. She is the buffer between me and the rest of the world. She shields me from a world that I can hardly be a part of.’
I went through young adulthood and thought the reason I didn’t have friends was because I was unattractive
Born Gary Webb in Hammersmith in 1958, the son of a British Airways bus driver at Heathrow, he was clearly a smart boy. He won a place in high school, but by his teenage years he had been identified as a troublemaker. His headteacher described him as the most disruptive student he had ever dealt with.
At age 14, he was referred to Dr. Eva Frommer, a psychiatrist who has controversially used drugs to treat depression in children.
She put Gary on Valium and Nardil, which he says left him in a “zombified” state. She also mentioned something called Asperger’s, but no formal diagnosis was made.
“I don’t know if I was ever officially diagnosed. Since then I have read that the diagnostic criteria were not definitively established until the 1980s.
“I think it was seen as something new back then. Frankly, I didn’t care. I just saw it as a nice day out in London with my mother.’
However, his parents were shocked and prevented him from seeing Dr. Frommer. ‘My mother objected to the Asperger’s because she saw it as a reflection of their upbringing.
“There was no more talk about that. Funnily enough, I never joined the dots until I met Gemma, who kind of knew about them because her brother had it.
“I went through young adulthood thinking I had no friends because I was unpleasant.”
He was always obsessed with things he was interested in: airplanes, sound, the point where sound became music. He would excel at it all, become famous as a pilot and form an aerobatic display team.
But it was his experimental electronic music that would make him famous. He did try the traditional band route, but his band members clearly found his behavior strange.
‘I was thrown out. They didn’t tell me. I just showed up and they had another singer. I started following them as a puppy, but they didn’t want to know.
“Things like that were traumatic, but I just came to the conclusion that I was rather unlikely.”
He began to channel his feelings into his music. But he wasn’t a poppy pop star, and when success beckoned, he struggled with the industry.
He was overwhelmed by features and had no idea how to talk to record company executives. He still doesn’t.
“I rarely go to venues now, but I am amazed. However, Gemma is brilliant.
“She can sit at any table all day and talk to anyone about anything. I learned the mechanics of communication from her.’
He’d seen Gemma at gigs for “years” before asking her out on a date, but the chances of them becoming a couple must have been slim? He nods.
“Being in a relationship with a fan is difficult because everything that fans see is carefully chosen. They have the poster where you look unbelievably handsome, but that’s the 300th photo taken and the other 299 make you look a little shabby.”
What about his ‘problems’? He says they were clear. ‘I have trouble communicating, talking to strangers, eating out.
“We’d go to a restaurant and I’d argue along the way, so we ended up going home. Finally she said, ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you so unhappy when we leave the house?”’
It sounds like she was the first girlfriend to question his behavior instead of running away. “She was the first to not attribute it to me being a moody bastard. She gave me coping mechanisms.
“She didn’t change my personality, she gave me the tools to express it. If I get Aspergersey, she’ll tell me.’
By the time they hooked up, Gary’s career was all but over and he was £600,000 in debt. He’s been making paybacks for decades, but he still feels their relationship is unbalanced.
“She gives me a lot more than I give her,” he says.
Their lifestyle sounds a bit ‘woowoo’ Los Angeles (they moved there in 2012) and she clearly has a complicated relationship with her body. It wasn’t the easiest marriage path either.
They have three daughters — Raven, 18, Persia, 16, and Echo, 15 — but had several rounds of IVF and lost a daughter prematurely. Gary wrote a song about that.
“I never write when I’m happy,” he says. So Gary Numan must be miserable? “No, but I have to worry.”
His Asperger’s is no longer one of those concerns. It has taken him all his adult life, but he has finally come to terms with his condition and even sounds quite attached to it.
“The positives far outweigh the negatives,” he says, arguing that he sees it as a “neuro diverse superpower,” as long as he has Gemma by his side. “Different,” he admits. “I would be lost.”
- Gary Numan Resurrection airs Saturday, August 13 at 9 p.m. on Sky Arts and NOW.