Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tubeway Army

"I moved to L.A. from England when I was 7 years old, at the end of 1979. I was becoming cognizant of pop culture and music, just barely. Two songs which instantly teleport me back (still!) to queueing at Gatwick are ELO's 'Don't Bring Me Down' and Gary Numan's 'Cars'... funny how the mind works. For Christmas that year I received a cassette copy of the K-TEL compilation Rock 80, the lead track on which was 'Cars'. That cassette was in heavy rotation for what now seems like years. I don't remember actually seeing a picture of Numan until a couple of years later, by the time I was about 10 or so. I'd ride my bike to MusicPlus in Sherman Oaks to fondle, and occasionally buy, Journey cassettes and those miniature Beatles 'albums' that came with a pink record-shaped disc of Pepto Bismol-tasting chewing gum. While I was there, I'd flip through the racks and racks of fantastic-looking LPs by bands I'd never heard of: the Plasmatics, the Clash, Blue Oyster Cult. MusicPlus was one of those '70s relics I really miss now, all knotted wood-panel interiors, display cases full of badges, racks and racks and racks of vinyl. I remember it was there that I fixated on the cover of Numan's The Pleasure Principle, easily one of the most inexplicable things my 10-year-old mind had encountered: a pasty-looky guy in eyeliner and a tailored suit staring intently at a glowing pyramid on the table beside him. The pleasure principal? This didn't look like that much fun, but I was intrigued. Back then, there was a cheesy Top 40 station in L.A. called KIQQ. I'd waste away the endless hours of summertime boredom calling their request line, feigning my now-faded English accent in hopes of charming whoever answered enough into actually getting my request played on the air. As I recall, I was successful once and once only - getting them to play 'Cars' at something like 2:00 pm on a Sunday. Why I didn't just listen to the cassette, I don't know. I suppose influencing radio airplay is a pretty major deal when you're 10.

I 'rediscovered' Numan, and his truly inspiring Tubeway Army, in the mid-'90s. The fact that the band had started out as, essentially, a hard-rock trio and then almost instantly morphed into flagbearers for the burgeoning synth-pop movement in the UK had obvious parallels to what we in The VSS felt we were doing within the confines of DIY hardcore. That Numan did it with such obvious and undeniable style was awe-inspiring. He made it seem effortless, and he never seemed to break a sweat or show any emotion whatsoever. I was - and still am - fascinated by his asexual, almost android-like image, as if he'd arrived on this planet fully-formed with a Beggars Banquet contract under his arm. His voice is so bizarre, and yet so perfect - monotonous and yet hauntingly complex. His performance in Urgh! A Music War - driving a miniature 'space car' around a stage full of revolving pyramids - is nothing less than mindblowing. Here was a dude who just didn't give a shit about what a pop star is supposed to look like, sound like, or do. Then there's the added paradox of the peripheral details -- find me another celebrity of this magnitude (and yes, he was genuinely mega in the UK) who readily admits to his mother designing and sewing his stage clothes! That he eventually 'retired' from pop to pilot small planes simply affirms his greatness (though not before committing some serious musical blunders starting with album #5 and continuing for... well, far too long. But I digress). Though I care little for what came after 1980's Telekon, I can say without any doubt that he was, and shall always be, one of the great icons of pop culture to me, and a very serious influence on my own artistic expression."

--Sonny Kay

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Tubeway Army.

Replicas (Beggars Banquet)
1. Me! I Disconnect from You
2. Are 'Friends' Electric?
3. The Machman
4. Praying to the Aliens
5. Down in the Park
6. You Are in My Vision
7. Replicas
8. It Must Have Been Years
9. When the Machines Rock
10. I Nearly Married a Human

1 comment:

Arthur Rambo said...

I've always though of Numan's robotic persona and appearance as being borrowed, very liberally, from Kraftwerk. Some people will disagree, and this is more an observation than an accusation as the quality of the music really does speak for itself, but everything about those early years just screams Man Machine to me