Sometimes it’s the people no-one imagines anything of who do the things no-one imagines.
Gary Numan : Telekon
The Final Sparkle:
40 years later? There is nothing final in Gary Numan’s opus Telekon. But in 1980, via a spectrum of disillusionment, he saw the world through a different prism. And within all the pain and paranoia he created his masterpiece. There is no pleasure without pain. The glory of 1979 left the 22 year old abundant in both. Bruised in immaturity and unprepared for the assault of fame, Numan retreated inwards to find expression. Who could ever have known the torture of another’s struggles could find such creative melody on vinyl. Filtering his emotions through an armour of electronic sound, Telekon became His Master’s Voice. Its echo in 2020 does not reverbate it back into the 80s but holds the album aloft as a standout achievement defying time and technology, making it Numan’s prize possession…… Through the eyes of despair he stumbles into an unknown category of industrial sound. Outside. Alone. Frightened. Forlorn. A rage that would not find expression until 2000’s Pure album, Numan passively lashes out in 1980. Still pretty enough to be commercial, Telekon holds the No 1 slot in Britain for a month. The most inaccessible album playing in living rooms across the land to an audience who did not see beyond the face, Telekon is the antithesis of popular. As black as night contrasting with the red intersections of passion, Numan found himself, finally. His sound. And for all the angst behind its conception he created a galaxy of colour. Oh the glorious deception of the dark!
And what if God’s dead:
Or what if he’s not? Agnostic to reason Telekon’s opening is the first hallway entrance to his departure. This Wreckage. Immediately setting the tone for a heavy laiden, laboured venture into dark electronica, Numan replicates the mood in the UK in 1980. A country on its knees, strangled by industrial unrest, the reign of Thatcherism saw unemployment at its highest and political tensions at their most fraught. Musically, the sense of anticipation towards the dawning of the 80s felt in late 1979 had almost quenched, such was the mood of the land. Telekon has often been referenced as a signature of the depressive tone of the era, with journalists comparing its success as a stark reminder of a desolate era. The sense of escapism captured in Replicas and the excitement of a new sound on The Pleasure Principle captured the imagination and hearts of the public. But as Numan plunges into the downbeaten tone of This Wreckage the listener is acutely aware from the first note that something is very wrong. With Gary Numan! Arguably, Telekon is the album that divided the pacts. It is easy to speculate how Dance (in 1981) may have been the beginning of the dispersion of the masses of fans as the singer ventures into new terrains of sound and vision, but by ’81 the damage may have been done already. It is difficult to sit with depression, and harder to be in another’s. This Wreckage is like the diary of a broken man. “Wipe off my face, erase me” are not the words of a young man enjoying himself. The fantasy of fame had not translated into reality. Freud classified fantasy as an ‘illusionary production’ which cannot be sustained when confronted by the ‘correct apprehension of reality.’ A chilling axis. Be careful what you wish for! Numan had achieved his teenage ambition. The fantasy of fame and fortune quickly deteriorated from feast to a personal famine as he sat alone in his black bedroom wondering what had happened. Empty. Broken. And afraid. It was no surprise he wondered at God’s existence. Quite an experience to live in fear. Isn’t it? As paranoid feelings generate from some degree of truth, the vague sense of uncertainty felt in ‘Complex’ was a fitting abstract to the story that would unfold. A victim of his creativity, Numan divided the public and united the press against him. Telekon is his journal of disillusionment. An emotion easily identified by anyone who felt outside. For an album inaccessible to the many it became a bible to the few. It’s identity embraced the loneliness often experienced in the struggles with life. But loneliness written to music is as cathartic to the listener as it is for the writer. For all its heavy tones of self reflection, anger and disappointment, Telekon struck a cord. Perhaps it is easier to embrace sadness than happiness. Perhaps our higher senses drive us to constantly seek out happiness externally to fulfill the void inside. The complexity of the human form. As the heavy synth intro marches This Wreckage into its battle of the soul, it still awakens a thunderous applause of happiness forty years later. A song that had no place sitting in the Christmas charts in the winter of 1980, is today a relished reminder of when things were great. An iconic Numan sound delivered through iconic Numan vocals, 1980 may have looked bleak but the memory is pure bliss.
Re – consider: Fame
“Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame that burns your change, to keep you insane.” Bowie’s musing on the fragility of stardom resonates across Telekon. On Remind me to Smile Numan throws caution to the wind as he recounts his own breakdown under pressure. Ironically delivered through an infectious melody that could easily have carried the tune into the top 5 of the singles chart. A song from a broken mind, the link cited between Telekon and 2013’s Splinter is occasionally comparative although the agenda are completely different. And the music a different species. The rich textures of sound on the 1980 offering would be the apex of Numan’s creativity as a musician and producer. Organically rich, the arrangements on Telekon surpass all that came before it and after it. The in studio craftsmanship of man and musicians working together is palpable throughout. A reflection of its time, the introduction of technology and plug ins as the decades passed erases the magic of commradery in making music. On We Are Glass the formation of melody uplifts even the most desolate lyrics of discontent, as synth and guitar weave together against a processed drum rhythm built to raise arms in the air in handclap synchronisation. An unforgettable moment in a legacy of moments, Numan’s preoccupation with glass is effectively symbolic to the vulnerability he was feeling. The fatality of fame. Gone as soon as its gotten. Despite his relentless success in a 12 month period Numan’s awareness that the party was over is acutely felt. The metaphorical prison bars of incarceration depict him as feeling trapped in his own success. Vilified by the press for his genius, he would pay a high cost for being misunderstood. On I Die : You Die his childish attempts to retialiate may have fallen on deaf ears to his enemies, but his anger only evidenced stronger his ability to master a melodic milestone in his career. The hypnotic gentle opening riff explodes onto a forcing track that climaxes into a chorus of revenge. Powerful enough to land the single into the national chart at no 8, the song was destined to endure. The image of Numan crawling in a bank of dry ice dressed in black leather with red stripes and matching hair accessory was enough to solidify his admirers. Those who stayed with the Telekon era would never jump ship. Entirely. For all its imprisoned imagery of desperation Telekon was the key to escape for its disenfranchised audience.
Remember, I could end all this:
Telekon is a cry for help, from beginning to end. A fate which easily befalls any star. The transition from the ordinary guy on the street to an extraordinary example to adoration and hatred are not the things that dreams are made of. There is little known of the graduation to celebrity status, but much is written of sacrifice to fame. Numan was instantly disliked by the media who saw him as an impostor, trespassing on Bowie’s land, and soiling the grandeur of Kraftwerk. Both arguments equally disqualified as Telekon is so remote from the mechanical rigidity of the Germans’ style of sound they may easily have existed on different planets. Although the red stripes were inspired from a section of autobahn intersection seen while travelling Germany, Numan’s only frame of reference to influence was the John Foxx led Ultravox. Every creature of art had been touched by Bowie in some form. It would be deterring to suggest Numan did not draw on this inspiration, but rather than emulate Bowie he adapted from his influence and progressed it. Arguably, Bowie was influenced by Numan to such degree it send shivers of obsession down his spine. Fear of succession. Bowie’s response to his fear resulted in 1980’s Scary Monsters album, a comeback that personified his survival. As New Wave was preparing to pave the way for New Romantics, Telekon’s only rival was Scary Monsters. John Foxx, now a solo artist looked more influenced by Numan on the cover of Metamatic while the machine led music within lacked the passion of warmth to make it commercially successful. The twisting roads of irony in “where do you begin and I end?” is an ever debatable topic in music landscapes. Are we not all influenced and influencing? Somewhere in America a teenage Trent Reznor was looking for influence. A signpost to find direction for his ‘would be’ Nine Inch Nails depository. Listening to Telekon, Reznor found inspiration. A salute that would be reciprocated many decades later, the fate of influence floats like vapour. Inhaled and exhaled from person to person like a virus, spreading across the creative minds to germinate something new. The influence of Gary Numan may never fully be appreciated between 1979 to 1980.
So that was love:
Telekon smells of regret. On Please Push No More, Numan is pleading for solitude. Standing behind a glass protector, his fear of fans becomes visible. The unlikely task of being someone for everyone is unattainable, even for the strongest of minds. Numan spent his formative years isolated and rejected. Unknown. Outcast. Socially clumsy. Atypical. Disordered. Not ideal qualities to qualify for stardom, cast into public perception, the subject to desire and attention ( in all its varying forms) everyone wanting something from you. How can you give what you do not possess? The poignancy in the track is decorated within the beautiful simplicity of its arrangement. The warmth of piano against the despondent vocal folds the song into something heartfelt as the opulent synth breaks softens the melody further in melodramatic success. Enough to silence any crowded theater when performed live, Numan demonstrates a mastery of emotional composition that soothes yet speaks. The gentleness of Telekon is later illustrated on Trois Gymnopedies the rendition of Erik Satie’s classical piece, the piano instrumental of Down in the Park, Photograph and a Game called Echo all focus the attention onto the gentle submission of defeat. Uncomplicated, uncompromising, the quite repose within the reflective period the young artist found himself trapped in. Flawlessly executed, Numan’s sophisticated style of Gymnopedies (first movement) was used as the intro and credit roll for the critically acclaimed 2018 Gaspar Noe movie Climax, winner of the Arts Cinema Award at that year’s Cannes film Festival. While the piano introduction to Down in the Park during the accompanying 1980 Teletour amounted to the most climatic delivery of the classic heavy synthesized track, every performed by the artist. Its position on the Living Ornaments ’80 live box set released the following year remains immortalized. Ceremoniously. If this is not love, Its difficult to know what is!
And they called me the Sparkle :
Amidst the pain and passion Telekon leaves room for Numan’s love of Sci fi. His reverence for William Burroughs is felt acutely on The Joy Circuit. A track so full of musical fluidity it’s essence is fully appreciated when performed live. Swathed in violins, soft piano breaks, echoic synths and urging guitars bass and drums Numan and his band sound euphoric as the tracks climbs a crescendo of waves delivering the most combined closure as sounds dance together in celebration. A Wembley performance featuring the now deceased Nash the Slash pacing the stage in frantic musicianship, bandaged head to toe is not spinal tap. This is showmanship. On I’m a Agent, Numan misses a single release opportunity as the song showcases his ability to mix instruments creating a new type of electronic music. With a fog horn alarm call intro, the track explodes from the speakers bringing the guitars frontline complementing the pace of the machines. Ced Sharpley’s drumming is furiously impeccable, processed into sound, as Numan’s vocal soars across the layers of arrangements creating a masterpiece moment. This is not a sparkle, this is fireworks. Colorful enough to brighten the darkest sky. Triumphantly teleporting Telekon to a new dimension. With contributions from Simple Minds and Australia’s James Freud in the background the album caught the attention of The 6th’s Stephen Merrit who Numan would collaborate with years later on the Sailor in love with the Sea, and Robert Palmer who invited Numan to his Barbados studios. While working on his Clues album, Palmer and Numan Co wrote Found you now and Palmer covered I dream of Wires for his 1980 release. While Palmer misses the target with Wires, on Telekon Numan is master of his craft. Initially intended to be the lead single, perhaps the fear of further gay inferences shied Numan away, keeping the track confined within the album. A track treasured by all Numan fans, he takes science fiction and throws every fragment onto its head with such ease, he sounds safe in his dying moments of the man machine phase. The end of the Trinity feels lamenting as the song conjures up moments that can only be measured individually. A superior episode. On a superior album. The title track follows the abstract of Burroughs’ imagination as distorted piano clammer against ominous Prophet – 5 ARP and Jupiter – 4 machines sounds, delivering an industrial styled formula to the track. The edge of the 80’s captured on a No 1 commercially successful album may have been enough to scare away his awestruck female teenage fan base, but for those who remained Telekon was the ordination of devotion. Numan’s predominantly male following possibly owes its origins here on Telekon, despite its tender moments. The legions of many narrowed throughout the decade but the devotion became so profound his fans became as identifiable as their hero. The birth of the Numanoids. Their legacy in itself is a story not yet told.
Replay- The End:
Buying Telekon on its release date in 1980 was a memorable experience. Proudly holding the vinyl edition with its stark black cover and vibrant red stripes, together with the free 7″ live single featuring the infamous performance of the Drifters On Broadway and Numan’s 1979 penned Remember I was Vapour, Telekon felt like a Ray of Light. But it confused many on first hearing with the exclusion of We are Glass and I Die: You Die the young fans didn’t fully appreciate their hero was giving them value for money. His prolific output creatively in his early career was unrelenting. Overflowing with ideas, his impatience was also his misadventure. On the recorded version of Vapour here in its parent’s cradle, Numan reflects the fragility he felt having achieved his life ambition the previous year. A track built around an emotion of loneliness as the instrumentation echoes the solitude within the singers head. “There’s nothing here but us” closes out to “nothing here but me ” signalling things were about to change. The delicate but complex layers of synths in the break uplift the track to safe ground. Perfectly produced, the use of effect on the track separates Numan into new territory. Distorting sounds cannot disturb the quite reserve of the arrangement. However, on The Aircrash Bureau he displays his ability best. Synthesized vocals against an array of sounds gently recalling tales of aviation with enough musical melodrama to seduce the listener to submission. Avoiding any chorus, he drives the electronica to the front soaring heavenly above the track, elevating and descending like a plane in formation. A place he feels safest of all, here in the skies. A place he would disappear to following Wembley as he replaces his passion for music with planes. A place even his devoted fans would follow to watch the man soar above them in aircraft they knew nothing of. Telekon would be the last of its kind for many fans who misunderstood his retirement. On Sleep by Windows memories of “We are just sound we are just noise” supposes the inevitability of the end. The disposal of the magic of science fiction fantasy felt like a knife in the heart to the thousands who witnessed Numan saying goodbye on stage at the Wembley farewell shows. “Thank you, these have been the greatest 3 years of my life” was enough to reduce even the most masculine follower to tears. The show was over.
This dark facade ends:
And just like that he was gone. The assassination of the man in black. The machine phase. Everything has its sell by date so Numan choose wisely, a choice never forgiven by the few who sought eternal solace in the somber shadows of their hero. But Telekon ideally could never be followed up. The signature of the Trinity era, 3 consecutive No 1 albums had to end dramatically. Unable to handle the pressure the 23 year old Numan walked off the stage at Wembley into an unknown fate. While the press hated him for being famous, they were like wolves waiting for what had yet to come. The middle years saga, cited ad nauseum, delivered a decade of destitute and abandonment of the energy he once possessed. Replicas, The Pleasure Principle and Telekon are relics of an era when things were changing so fast nobody noticed the impact. Telekon has matured out of 1980 into a defining creature unclassified and unassimilable. A torturous affair on first listen after the accessible simplicity of its predecessor, Numan had created his bravest sound during his darkest hour. An accomplishment he would never achieve again. The urgent disorganization in his planning may as much be part of his spectrum qualities of impatience or his spectra for being able to see sound in different colours regardless of their comparability together. Numan may have been in a dark place, but here in the black he can, for once see clearly.
Or maybe it was just show business.