Gary Numan and Asperger’s
Gary Numan has been at the forefront of the British music industry for 40 years – an innovator who found fame with his pioneering synthesiser sound at the very start of the new wave era.
After being diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome as a young man, the star has attributed much of his success to the fact that it makes him look at the world in a different way.
His positive outlook on his life and condition has been an inspiration to other people with Asperger’s, especially since he freely chats about how it has shaped his style and musical career for the better.
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of Numan’s first number one chart-topper, Are ‘Friends’ Electric? His song about a futuristic world, where androids – the ‘friends’ in the title – cater for people’s every need, was his fourth attempt at success with his band, Tubeway Army.
Signed to the Beggars Banquet record label in 1978, the band had already released three singles – That’s Too Bad, Bombers, and Down in the Park – showcasing Numan’s unique vocal style and black leather-clad stage persona. However, none of them had captured the record-buying public’s imagination.
Following his smash hit, Are ‘Friends’ Electric? in the summer of 1979, the Hammersmith-born singer’s future career was assured. The single sold one million copies and was the first of a multitude of hits spanning four decades, including 50 singles, 25 live albums, 21 studio albums and 13 EPs.
Now aged 60, Numan is still playing plenty of live gigs and recording new material. His most recent release was the single, My Name is Ruin, in 2017. Released in September 2017, his latest album, Savage (Songs from a Broken World) peaked at second place in the UK album charts. He also completed a lengthy European tour and won the Ivor Novello Inspiration Award.
Born Gary Webb on 8th March 1958, the singer attended grammar school and went on to join the Air Training Corps in his teens, but his real passion was music, further fuelled when his father bought him a Gibson Les Paul guitar at the age of 15.
He played in several bands, including Mean Street and the Lasers, but with little commercial success. His early songs related to being misunderstood and feeling alone – a theme he later attributed to being diagnosed with Asperger’s (a form of autism) as a young man.
Initially, in his early teens, he was diagnosed as suffering from depression and was prescribed anti-depressants when his mother took him to the doctor’s. The treatment was unsuccessful, and he was then taken to St Thomas’ Hospital in London to see a child psychiatrist at age 15.
The psychiatrist suggested he may have Asperger’s and prescribed Nardil and Valium. However, Numan said his mother hadn’t heard of Asperger’s and she felt it reflected on her parenting, rather than being a medical condition. As a result, she stopped her son from seeing the psychiatrist again and his condition was “brushed under the carpet”.
Like other autism profiles, Asperger’s is a lifelong condition that affects how people interact with others. They perceive the world around them in different ways and may have difficulties in understanding and processing language.
Some people with Asperger’s have feelings of anxiety because the world seems overwhelming. They commonly struggle to build a rapport with school friends, work colleagues and even their own family and they prefer their own company. There may be a limited ability to form friendships and difficulties with social interaction and communication.
Parents who have an undiagnosed Asperger’s child may think he or she is just behaving badly. Children who have Asperger’s may find it difficult to sleep at night, resulting in tiredness during the day and behavioural issues.
Numan described his Asperger’s as having a positive impact on his musical career and life in general. He used his unique take on the world to influence the songs he wrote for Tubeway Army, which he formed with his uncle, drummer Jess Lidyard, and bass guitarist Paul Gardiner.
After hearing the Minimoog (his first synthesiser) he knew this was the type of music for him and immediately started converting all of Tubeway Army’s guitar-based punk songs into electronic versions.
He had been fascinated with dystopian science fiction since his youth and this was the inspiration for “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”, which he had composed on a piano and transferred to a Polymoog synthesiser.
He said he had never regarded his Asperger’s as being detrimental to his life. He viewed it as an advantage, because it had given him “unusual gifts” that other people didn’t have, such as intense concentration.
As a result, when he first discovered electronic music, he threw himself into it 100%, learning everything he possibly could about all the equipment in the recording studios. He also said it allowed him to become more emotionally detached when the band received bad reviews, so they didn’t bother or deter him.
He has confessed that he was fine meeting and chatting to fans about his music, but less comfortable at official functions, where he had to talk about what he described as “normal” things to strangers. “I find social situations difficult,” the star admitted, “especially if I have to make small talk.”
He said it was difficult for him to read body language and understand the “nuances” that made up a conversation. However, he concluded, “I think having Asperger’s has been a good thing,” and added, “I’d never wish it away.”
Numan and Gemma O’Neill married in 1997. Her brother, Shane, also has Asperger’s, and Numan said she recognised straight away that he had the condition too. The couple have three daughters named Raven, Persia and Echo.
He says getting older doesn’t bother him, as he’s still too busy working to dwell on age.
To date, he has refused invitations to speak at events for the National Autistic Society, saying he feels “a fraud”, because he doesn’t think his level of Asperger’s is “a big deal”.
Kinderkey provides a range of safe sleeping solutions for people with Asperger’s and other conditions on the autism spectrum, including vulnerable children and adults. Please contact us for further details.