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SEXUAL IDENTITY (an irrelevant 'truth of essence')

In his autobiography, Praying to the Aliens, co-written with his manager Steve Malins, Gary Numan mentions an American who had said the song Cars, was about coming out as gay. (1)

(1) Gary Numan and Steve Malins: Praying to the Aliens, Andre Deutsch Ltd, 1998 (first ed 1997), p.73.

He is almost certainly referring to the musician and gender theorist, Terre Thaemlitz, aka D.J.Sprinkles. In 1999, Thaemlitz produced a record of very free piano interpretations of Gary Numan songs - Replicas Rubato - accompanied by an essay outlining Numan's importance in his own life. (2)

(2) Thaemlitz is, at least some of the time, a transvestite so there is a question about what pronoun to use. The Factmag account of his career ( consistently uses 'she' but Thaemlitz himself on his own Comatonse label, uses 'he' and 'she' alternately when talking about Terre Thaemlitz, but consistently uses 'he' when talking about D.J.Sprinkles. My understanding is that he is an 'anti-essentialist', i.e. whatever his taste in sexual activity or clothes might be, he doesn't see himself as being 'really' a woman, or 'really' a man, or indeed perhaps, 'really' gay, or 'really' a transvestite. I think therefore the choice of pronoun is free, and I, being a rather conventional, perhaps even a bit essentialist, sort of person, have chosen 'he'.

Terre Thaemlitz in action, presumably as D.J.Sprinkles
(Photo from the Comatonse website)

He describes how he first heard Numan's song 'Cars' when he was eleven years old and immediately had to have it (his first music purchase): 

'With some sleuthing I discovered that the song was not performed by The Cars, as I had first suspected, and eventually located a copy of Numan's record, The Pleasure Principle, in a Target discount store. The album was newly released and fully priced at $6.99, which was more money than I had saved for it. Without hesitation, I removed a fluorescent red "$3.99" tag from another record, covered the true price tag, and proceeded to buy it. And so my consumer relationship to music began with a lie at worst, an ambiguous half-truth at best, an exuberant deception in the name of self-fulfillment in any case. The Pleasure Principle.' (3)

(3) Terre Thaemlitz: 'Preface' to Replicas Rubato - Piano Interpretations of Gary Numan Titles Arranged & Performed by Terre Thaemlitz, accessible at Not all the pieces played come from Replicas. I heard and was impressed by his version of the Gary Numan/Paul Gardiner song Stormtrooper in drag, on Youtube. But Thaemlitz has tried to pull all his material off Youtube. Unfortunately it's sold out on the Comatonse website.

He continues:

'Throughout my teens I had an admittedly obsessive relationship with Numan's lyrics, spending hours at a time analysing and rewriting them, trying to map the sexual innuendoes and literary references which never seemed to coalesce into a single image. It was an obsession which led to my parents confiscating my records out of misguided concern for my mental well-being ...  

'Taken one song at a time, Numan's highly emotional and personal lyrics conveyed first-hand accounts of sexually deviant experiences. Grouped together, they contradicted one another's claims of sexual fixation and orientation, refusing traditional notions of the 'healthy individual' whose desires reflect a singular and stable personality. Numan's lyrics were also haunted by a reluctant awareness that this post-Glam schizophrenia of desire was conveniently fashionable, implicated in a music marketplace which both facilitated and undermined the sincerity of his first-person narratives ...  behind their thin veil of sci-fi robotics, the images portrayed in the narratives themselves provide informative documentation of Great Britain's policing of social deviance and Gay male desire during the late 1970s and early 1980s ...

'In particular, the visibility of Gay male sexuality and cruising in public parks became a target of violent police actions aimed at entrapping and arresting Gay men. The potential for seduction by undercover police officers sympathetically soliciting sex from other men was captured in the opening lines to the first track of Numan's premier, self-titled album with Tubeway Army:

'Flow my tears'
The new police song
The slogan of peace is

'You must live'
They've got me
And I'm one of them

Listen To The Sirens, Gary Numan (1978)

'Numan's use of "they" and "them" as terms of both association and opposition (which I associate with "police" and "Gay men" respectively) conveys an environment of suspicion, deceit and self-fear which for many men plagued all Gay interactions. The theme of police entrapment appears in several other songs as well, but perhaps none more overtly than the 1979 hit, Praying To The Aliens:

A random pol' check
'Do you ever think of women'?
They broke him down
Into a torn old queen
Living somewhere between
Dead and dying

There are no more
Do you begin to see?
The corner of my eye
Could give me away
Isn't it strange
How times change
I can't imagine
Living any other way

- Praying To The Aliens, Gary Numan (1979)'

And thence to Cars:

'Amidst the policing, however, there was one form of cruising which Numan favored as 'safest of all':

Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It's the only way to live
In cars

Here in my car
I can only receive
....Will you visit me please.
If I open my door
In cars

- Cars, Gary Numan (1979)'

Not exactly coming out as gay, but about gay cruising:

'much to my own disappointment and continued surprise, I have yet to encounter a thorough analysis of 'Cars' as a portrayal of soliciting a drive-by hand job (or blow job if you like) - territory for discussion which seems particularly fertile given the song's ascension into history through disco culture.'

Taking 'Cars' by itself that may seem a little farfetched and Numan himself gives a very different account:

'It was just about the fact I was nearly beaten up once. I was in traffic in London once and had a problem with some people in front. They tried to beat me up and get me out of the car. I locked the doors and eventually drove up on the pavement and got away from them, scattering people as I went so it’s kind of to do with that. It’s just about the fact that I like staying in cars rather than getting out of them and the fact that when you are in the car you can lock all your doors and drive away at a moments notice.' (4)

(4) Quoted in Paul Goodwin: Tracks, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012. I have it in the Kindle edition which doesn't give page references.

But that doesn't quite account for his invitation to visit him in his car. In a wider context there are several references in Numan's songs to cars and taxis as places in which sexual activity takes place:

'The driver wants to touch me
He mentions all the old cop bullshit
I try to back away
But he's so strong I just can't move
Maybe I don't want to anyway'

('It must have been years' from Replicas)

'Today it's in a taxi
By the station and it's raining
And I wonder how they all made it before'
('Do you need the service?' Bonus track on Replicas originally on the B-side of the 12" version of 'Are "Friends" Electric?')

'Boys watch from windows tonight
I'm not surprised to see you waiting here
You keep them in business just supplying you
Get in the car I've something to say.'
('Night Talk' from Dance)

'I remember one girl
She'd only make friends in expensive cars'
('Devious' from Metal Rhythm)

'I'm in a car
And I'm over you
I'm a passenger
And I'm over you'

('America' from Metal Rhythm)

'In a car
On the floor
Up against the wall
With a friend or two
Someone to watch it all'

('Young Heart' from Metal Rhythm)

'I like romance when it's in my car'

('My World Storm' from Outland)

Numan is generally anxious to downplay the homosexual content of his early work, or at least to dissociate it from his own feelings and experience. He describes how as a young Marc Bolan and Glam rock fan he liked to dress fancy, dye his hair, wear make-up and used to frequent gay clubs because that was where you were free to do such things. (5) But as Thaemlitz summarises it: 'Club owners, managers and ticket agents commonly attempted to solicit sexual favours from Numan and his friends in exchange for passage through the doors to self-expression, all of which framed his early days as a performer. As Numan recalls, "The seediness of those situations left an impression which I used in songs for years afterwards and certainly used on Replicas.... In the songs I exaggerated these experiences, invented some others, set them in a scary, futuristic scenario and wrote about them as if it was all based on first-hand knowledge."'

(5) Praying to the Aliens, pp.26-7

But Thaemlitz isn't trying to prove that Numan was 'gay'. He is after all an 'anti-essentialist': 'Numan's fascination with reinventing himself by stepping into various personas - Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Transgendered, Whore, John, Pimp, Dominatrix, Alien, Punker, Glammer, Femme and those ever so awkward attempts at Butch. Having spent my teens scouring his lyrics for some key that would unite these disparate identities in both his music and myself it would be years before I could comfortably consider that no such unification of identities was required ...'