False Nostalgia for the Unremembered 80s

Your new roomate, Gary Numan.The title of this post comes from an LCD Soundsystem song called “Losing My Edge,” and it seemed appropriate as I’ve started listening to Gary Numan from the 80s, a man who, for me, was mostly unremembered. And yet the sound, strangely, even though I had heard so few of his songs when I was younger, rekindles a certain vibe, a mood I had in the uber-optimistic 80s, when a boy with a Commodore PET and a modem could take over the world.

It all started in a record store in Hoboken. Walked in there and heard a synth track and thought to myself, Who is this? Some new artist? I really like the sound. Turns out it was Gary Numan & Tubeway Army, his Replicas album remixed and remastered into Replicas Redux. Now, this record store called Tunes is the last vestige of cool and culture remaining in this gentrified town of Hoboken, so I was hesitant to walk right up to the hipster clerk with his Buddy Holly glasses and black sideburns and purchase the album that was playing that moment. No, I was too cool for that. I knew what I wanted before I came there, so ha on him! But that didn’t stop me from sidling up to the little CD display stand and peeking askance at the album. Not new stuff, I saw, but old. Almost thirty years.

I came back of course and bought the CD (a different one was playing, so all was safe) then, as what happens with me when I get inspired by someone, I found myself seeking out his other works obsessively. All I knew were the songs, “Cars” and “I Dream of Wires,” the latter of which Robert Palmer of “Simply Irresistible” fame had covered excellently and is perhaps the most immersive and suggestive of the mood of the period. The lyrics go: “I am the final silence. The last electrician alive. And they called me the sparkle. I was the best, I worked them all. We opened doors by thinking. We went to sleep by dialing ‘o.’ We drove to work by proxy. I plugged my wife in, just for show.”

Nothing, for me, captures that science-fictional essence so perfectly in music. He’s not talking about a future to come. He’s talking about a future come and gone. Part of it, I suspect, comes from Numan’s supposed fascination with post-apocalyptic science fiction in his early career. That he comes from punk roots is not surprising. Punk has always been the music to challenge our perceptions.

So, my adventure with his music has just started. But one of the great things about him is that he wasn’t satisfied with being typecast as the godfather of synth, and has, in over thirty years of performance, created many varied and acclaimed works that are far from his original sound. Anyway, it’s cool to discover something that was there all along that you didn’t see before, or in this case, hear.

3 Replies to “False Nostalgia for the Unremembered 80s”

  1. I’ve been considering purchasing the special limited edition of that album that he has available through his website. I’ve slowly been converting my collection over from vinyl and there is enough extra material that it may just warrant a new copy of that one.

    Interestingly enough, a few of my Numan albums came from a little hole-in-the-wall music store in Hoboken. I was a great store with lots of imports and hard-to-find stuff, but that was 24 years ago. I doubt it’s still there now.

  2. It might have been. I think the last time I had been there they (1988?) they had moved up the street. I know they were on a side street off the road that leads to the train station from Stephens. A few blocks from the station.

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