Usually when I write songs, I use whatever recent turmoil there has been in my life as the source of inspiration. I’m the first to admit I have no talent for happy or uplifting songs, but I can turn out tunes to darker things with little problem. Luckily, or unluckily perhaps, life seems to throw more than enough rubbish in my direction for me to be rather prolific in these dark arts. So, it was quite a surprise to find, when it came time to start work on my new album Savage, that I had no turmoil to call upon. As a fairly recent immigrant arrival to California from the distant damp of England, life was actually rather good. So, what to do?
I decided to lift ideas from a novel I’ve been working on for some time. To be honest, “novel” is a rather grand term for what really amounts to little more than a collection of chaotic ideas I’ve been adding to for many years without ever really giving any form to a storyline. But, as a starting point for a collection of new songs, it would do.
Set in a distant future, the Earth has been devastated by global warming and is, for the most part, dry and desert-like. Water is so scarce it has become the only meaningful currency. The Eastern and Western cultural differences that we have today are long gone, or vaguely merged perhaps. Merged not through any new age of tolerance or understanding, but because simply surviving is difficult enough. No one has cared for a very long time about whose God is best, or has any memory of a book, any book, that would claim to guide us in how we should live, love and die. This is a savage, hostile world, filled with tribal societies and brutal characters, themselves as savage and hostile as the world they live in. Trust is not something given lightly. Treachery and cruelty are the way of the world and each day is a desperate fight to simply make it to the next. Not so unlike the world of today perhaps, but it’s all a question of degree.
The original concept for the book started to come together many years ago and was based on the idea that the world’s leaders had failed to stop the rising temperature of the planet until it became an unstoppable catastrophe. People died in the tens of millions and technology, over the next few generations, ceased to function entirely, fading to ruin and out of memory of those who remain. So far so unlikely? In the forming of these ideas I had watched a number of documentaries that moved and frightened me in equal measure, the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth hitting home particularly hard. But, with the signing of the Paris Climate Accord, it seemed the world had miraculously come together in an extraordinary display of good sense and sound judgement, and so we seemed to be stepping back from the brink, just in the nick of time. It seemed more like a Hollywood nail biting, near catastrophe ending than real life, and yet real it was, and it was beautiful. It felt as if the world had finally grown up and was being run by adults.
But then, just as I was starting the process of converting into songs my half-baked ideas lurking within the chaos of my scattered notes, Donald Trump lumbered over the horizon. At first I took little notice. I’m still a British citizen so I couldn’t vote anyway, and he seemed such a vulgar, spiteful, braggart of a man it was hard to imagine that the American people would allow him to progress one foot forward, let along become the Republican candidate. But, as his campaign gathered momentum and, to my great disappointment, vast numbers of supporters flocked to his rallies, I began to listen far more closely to what he was saying. I listened with increasing horror to his opinions on many things, but especially to his thoughts on climate change and the enormous, and very real, danger I believe with all my heart that we face. I couldn’t make out whether he really believed what he was saying, or whether he saw his outrageously divisive and ill-informed rhetoric hitting home with enough people for it to become a strategy, a path to power. Either way, it coincidentally had a real world relevance to what I was writing. What had started out as an almost silly, fantasy look into the future, suddenly started to become a vague possibility. Unlikely perhaps, but definitely possible. As he went from candidate, to president-elect, to President Trump, I began to realize, with an ever-growing sense of dread, that we were all living in a monumental moment in the history of the world. It could almost be exciting if it wasn’t so awful.
Within the context of my book storyline, and so the Savage album alongside it, the rise of Trump became the single most important thing that allowed the story, and the songs, to become science possibility rather than science fantasy. Could Trump be that moment, that one colossal mistake that tipped the world into the abyss, just as it seemed salvation was at hand? Withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, putting a climate denier in charge of the EPA, undoing so much good work with the flippant, arrogant stroke of a pen, creating division and hostility with every speech and rally. Would he, will he, go down in history, through his unparalleled ignorance, callousness and stupidity, as the man who started a chain of events that will destroy the world as we know it?
I think not. Not because I think he will change, not for a moment, but because I have to believe that saner minds in the Republican party, and there must surely be some hiding in there somewhere amongst the craven cowards that pop up on my TV each day, will somehow find a way to end to this most awful tragedy. If not them, then the American people will surely vote the world back on to a saner, kinder, more decent course in a few years’ time. I remain confident and hopeful that my dark horror story of a post-apocalyptic global warmed future will never come to be. Providing Trump doesn’t saber rattle us into a nuclear war with North Korea of course. But that’s another horror story entirely.
Gary Numan’s new album Savage (Songs from a Broken World) is out Sept. 15 and can be pre-ordered here.