Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gary Numan, "Absolution"

I was sitting at my computer on Friday night, typing Important Stuff on FriendFeed and listening to, when a particular song bowled me over.

I've heard it a few times before, but for some reason the mood of the song captured my fancy on Friday night.

Here's a YouTube video that captures a portion of a live performance:

Of course, then we have the lyrics. A sample:

I would swim across oceans
Just to talk with you
I would climb a tall mountain
Just to look at you
Id give my soul to the devil
If you asked me to
I would walk out of heaven
Just to be with you

So why did he write this song? Numan discussed his "Exile" album in a 1998 interview:

After writing "Sacrifice" I received a number of complaints about the religious imagery that I had started to use on that album. Some of the people complaining were so fiercely protective of their faith, that I tried to write material with more of a middle ground religiously speaking.

The first song I wrote was about the dangers of blind faith. When I had looked at my own lack of faith, I had come up with the idea that God and the Devil might be the same thing. That being in Heaven or Hell was all a matter of prospective. By the time I got to the third song, it was obvious that the entire album was going to work along this theme. Oddly enough it was all sparked by the religious faithful who had complained to me about "Sacrifice".

"Exile" to me is one big horror story. Personally. I don't believe in God at all, but if I'm wrong and there is a God, what kind of god would it be who would give us the world we live in? It certainly cannot be a good deity. At best God would have to be cruel, selfish, and he would have to have a huge ego. "Thou shalt not worship any other gods before me." That is just one huge ego trip.

The more I wrote about this theme, the more fascinating it became and the more ways there became of saying the same thing. In my opinion, all nine songs on the album are saying the same thing.

In 2001, Matthew Roberts provided his take on the theme:

"Gary Numan: Having followed Gary's career 'religiously' and having had a few opportunities to chat to him, I'd like to try and sum up his position.

"He has stated very specifically on a number of occasions that he does not believe in God. His position is essentially based around the problem of evil. A general cynicism about the world and mankind leads him to deny that it could be the product of a benevolent god. He sees a number of personal experiences as strongly supporting this view.

"Your current article states that his 1997 album, Exile, focuses on his views on the subject. This is not strictly true. Exile was based on Gary's ideas about how a slightly skewed version of judeo-christian tradition might appear, with God actually being a force for evil. However, I would stress that it was always intended as a fictional work and that Gary does not actually believe in a god of any description. Unfortunately, some religious fans have used the lyrics as a device to argue that Gary actually is a believer, perhaps secretly or subconciously. The arguments are, in my experience, always laughable."

Presumably Numan was not impressed with the answer that God gave to Job.

Well, I personally have problems with this worldview, but it's an interesting conceit for a songwriter to pursue.
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