If nothing else, my return to record collecting has made things easier for Maura on the gift-giving front. No more struggling to decipher my ever-shifting set of interests or attempting to second-guess my penchant for instant gratification — just ask if there’s a specific album I’m looking for and let some online retailer handle the rest.
She kicked off this new present-shopping cycle in style, too, with a copy of Tubeway Army’s Replicas tucked in with the rest of my Christmas 2016 haul.
Though Gary Numan’s “Cars” loomed large in the short-lived burst of pre-MTV prominence that introduced my pre-teen self to the “new wave,” I didn’t bother seeking out his material during my early 1990s record collecting heyday.
For starters, his solo and Tubeway Army releases were nigh impossible to find in any my usual crate-digging haunts. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing copies of any of it anywhere during those years. I don’t know whether it was just a Boston thing or a wider phenomenon, but anyone who was still into Numan’s music by 1992 wasn’t the sort of person who’d part with it for pennies on the 1980 dollar.
That brings us to the other obstacle which kept me from embracing the man and his works in those days. Namely, every Gary Numan fan I knew in college — and there were a shocking number of them — was insufferable as fuck.
Imagine the highbrow snobbery associated with hardcore prog enthusiasts married to the adolescent pseudo-profundities of diehard Rush fans.
Then imagine them droning on about how it was “scientifically accurate” that female Dungeons & Dragons characters had a lower strength cap than their male counterparts.
Then — c’mon get your head out of the oven, I’m almost finished — imagine having those people closely associated with something that would otherwise be of interest to you.
It wasn’t until I was able to put that crowd behind me that I was able to listen to “Are Friends Electric” without wanting to hit somebody. A grainy VHS copy of Urgh! A Music War assisted the healing process, as it became a regular part of our lazy Sunday routine. We’d fast-forward through the tape to watch our favorite performances, adding some and skipping others from the rotation, while it slowly but surely shaped our music purchases over the course of a couple of years.
Numan’s performance of “Down in the Park” — conducted from a high-tech golf cart on a stage done up like a Close Encounters set — was one of the high points of the movie, and more than enough to blot out any past traumas involving the man and his music. It’s goofy as hell, but a conceptually pure — the perfect distillation of a moment where THE FUTURE was mapped out in phosphor dots and blip tones and the looming specter of nuclear annihilation.
Nostalgia and I have a complicated relationship, but when it comes to evoking a sensory overload of a dimly lit arcade or chilly synthesizer riffs, all bets are off.
After getting by with a greatest hits album (also a gift from Maura), I eventually graduated to CD reissues of Replicas and The Pleasure Principle during the early days of Amazon-dot-com. Both have seen a great deal of play over the past twenty years, making them obvious candidates for my “essential records” list. I opted for Replicas because it’s a bit more consistent and possesses a stronger postpunk vibe than its better known follow-up (which Maura prefers, mirroring our similar Seventeen Seconds/Pornography debate).
It has also weathered the churn pretty well over the thirteen months. Unlike many of my records, which have to be reserved for those times Maura isn’t around, Replicas is mutual fave and an easy default spin for pre-workday decompression or cooperative household projects. There hasn’t been a week since I got it that it hasn’t gotten at least a couple of plays.