So, just what is the correct etiquette for acknowledging the birthday of someone who is no longer with us? Is there a handy self-help book for such things, I wonder? Are we supposed to mark the occasion in a sombre fashion, with heads bowed, no sense of even the faintest flicker of a smile daring to touch our lips? Is that the appropriate thing to do? Or, should we embrace the joy and happiness they brought into our lives, and heartily celebrate the day in the way which they would, doubtless, want us to? I fervently believe in the latter……
Like the majority of people reading this blog, I didn’t actually know Mick Karn; so I am clueless when it comes to knowing how he might have spent the day of his 57th birthday, were he still here. But I do feel that today, of all days, we should be celebrating the musical and artistic legacy he has left us with, rather than grieving for his loss. So, with this in mind, I am handing today’s blog over to the collective cluster of ‘team Mick Karn’ (TMK); that fine body of fans whose aim is to ensure that Mick’s memory is never forgotten, and who continue to promote his music and art, wherever they go.
The aim of today’s post is to keep things ‘short, simple and sweet’ – those were the three words of advice that Steve gave me, when I approached him about starting the blog last year. Obviously, I didn’t really take heed of his words, (you may have noticed that brevity and I do not good bed-fellows make?) but fortunately, the good folk of TMK have stuck to this mantra. I asked them to choose their favourite photo of Mick, as taken by Steve, and simply say why they liked it. And rather than try to create a post which flows chronologically, I have chosen to place the photos and comments in the order in which I received them – this is TMK’s ’24/7′ blog and I didn’t want to over-edit the sentiment.
First up is the wonderful Steve Kelley – TMK’s antipodean representative. He chose a recently revealed image of Mick, which Steve published on his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr earlier this year; taken at Foel Studios in Wales during the recording of JBK’s ‘_ism’:
“The picture of Mick I’ve chosen really stands out as something different. Why?… because it is raw. We all know Mick would easily stand out in a crowd with his polished look.. hair, clothes and the odd bit of make-up. Mick’s image was a very colourful one; indeed perhaps even extravagant and unique…much the same as his bass playing. However in this pic there is none of that. What you see here is the real Mick Karn… there is nothing to deflect from his face… not even long or coloured hair.This is Mick the person. He’s looking a bit serious but ever so confident in his look and stance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another picture of him with a 3 day growth!”
Anna Weston Sekera provides the first of our trans-Atlantic entries: she chose another recently published image, but one from 20 years earlier than the JBK one……
“Looking at Mick here brings back my first memories of Japan. The long magenta hair, his beautifully sad eyes, all screaming to be perceived as different, relevant and unique. To see this picture now as a glimpse to the past is comforting, familiar and for all of its alien nature, it just feels like an old lost friend.”
The next person to contact me was Keith Phillips; he has been promising to write a post ever since the blog started up 8 months ago, so this is a case of better late than never! He chose the Jansen print he bought about 10 years ago and which hangs on his wall at home (number 6/250) – and is one of only 2 images chosen which feature other band members. This one was taken in 1981 at the start of the Visions of China (aka Shit Tour) when relationships in the band were at breaking point. Over to you, Keith:
“I chose this one because of the lost dynamic between Karn and Sylvian, highlighted further by the imposing ‘prison-like’ gates, that I think the band were held in at the time. Plus, it has the slightly distanced, neutral position of Richard Barbieri, who probably wished everything was running smoothly. Also, it was shot in Cornwall, one of my favourite places to visit so it has a personal association. South Cornwall perhaps….?”
We hop over the Channel now to the European mainland for Daniela Mendes‘ contribution. Daniela has chosen one of my favourite images of Mick, which shall forever be known to readers of this blog as ‘dangly thing’…….
“I admit, when I first saw this photo, that pair of sunglasses made me like it right away. Now, it strikes me as timeless – it doesn’t really feel like it was taken 30 odd years ago – and now I can appreciate the fact that it’s in black and white, its contrast, and that you can see Steve’s reflection. Even the fault in the film seems to belong there. There’s a playful and mischievous feel to it and it shows how close Mick and Steve were. In every photo there’s an untold story and with each new photo we get another glimpse of Mick’s life, and that’s a beautiful way of celebrating it.”
One of the lovely things about TMK, is that it is a truly global gathering of like-minded people. So, from the European continent, we now cross back over the Atlantic to Canada for Pat Innes’ thoughts (and she has taken Steve’s words to heart…this is truly, short, sweet and simple)
“I’d have to go with this one. I like the grainy contrast, and that Mick is in front; what a sweet face. For some reason, I imagine Steve in the space over Mick’s left shoulder.”
With all of the hundreds of photos Steve has taken of Mick over the years, I thought that there would be more than enough to choose from…..but Emma Brining and Leonne Buur-Haaijman both opted for this shot, although they have rather different ways of interpreting the image.
Leonne – “Mick on the train, one of my favourites. I find it difficult to explain why I like a certain photo. It’s often something intangible, something undefinable… I’d like to think that Mick’s intentionally obstinate in this picture. To me, it’s as if he doesn’t want to look into the camera, focused on his nails as he is. Or pretends to be. What I also like about this photo is that you can date it so accurately, even if you don’t know who the subject is. The Walkman headphones around Mick’s neck give it all away … “
Emma – “This is my favourite colour shot of Mick by Steve. It is a very rare image when Mick appears unaware of being caught on film. Steve captures an unstudied moment – what he does best – the off guard expression, the seemingly mundane, of no PR value but of infinite human expression. We see Mick gazing at his calloused hands – the bass player’s trademark. He seems intense, focused, oblivious. Did he even know Steve was looking at him? Once more, we watch with him Mick’s jewelled appearance: the ruby hair, cobalt jacket, sable jumper. There’s something attractively nostalgic about the decor with its orange checked curtains and white linen headrests. Mick’s youth is arresting with his sharply drawn profile. It is an endearing portrait. Wherever Mick was travelling, he left his shades on, Walkman slung round his neck, more drawn by his own skin.”
Many people have chosen images which provide a jolt of nostalgia, taking them back to the time when they first discovered Japan – this is the case for Pauline Holmes, who opted for the photo of Mick in the hotel room in Leeds.
“My piece is about the photo ‘Karn in hotel room, Leeds’ – the one where he had blond hair. And the cigarette. Steve has captured an almost 1940s film noir aspect. It really is a stunning photo, you can almost feel the loneliness but also the dawn of a new decade. I think it was taken in 1980 in Leeds; the Yorkshire Ripper hadn’t yet been caught and it was round about the same time that my mum was in hospital, being treated for cancer. I was taken every Sunday to see her, and listening to the ‘new wave’ sounds on the radio really inspired me – Steve’s photo of Mick is so…….right and of the time. Knowing Mick was also in Leeds makes me feel better…..actually, I find it quite sexy that Mick has a cigarette – the photo is fabulous.”
Chiara Catanese summed up the difficulty many people had when I asked them to choose one photo of Mick……where do you start??? In the end, she settled on this one, taken by Steve during a shoot in and around Holland Park.
“It was such a difficult choice because there are so many wonderful photos of Mick taken by Steve. I chose this one because it reminds me in some ways of his music…I see in it the light and both the melancholy and energy of his music…and it reminds me of Japan of course….”
Many of Steve’s photos from the early 1980s are of hotel rooms, or band members in hotel rooms, and Houdah Abualtin has chosen one from the final Sons of Pioneers tour, taken in a hotel room high above a Hong Kong street.
“This is the first photo I remember seeing of Mick. It must have been roughly three years ago when I was learning more about his work in Dalis Car with Peter Murphy and just wanted to know more about the “mysterious” (to me, at least) other side of the fascinating project. I’ve always been a sucker for black and white photos and Mick’s expression seemed priceless to me – a mix of “What are you doing?” with “Okay, fine, I’ll pose for you…sort of.” What I also like is that you see a true human side in this photo….it isn’t to say Mick wasn’t kind or personable. What I mean is that we tend to view famous people as being something else – a machine, if you will, that produces for us constant streams of art. We forget they are human, have their own worries, their own goals, and their own lives outside of that art to live. Sometimes we even forget they actually need sleep! Here, we see Mick relaxing (more or less) in a hotel room, casual clothes, no bass. In this one moment in time, he is simply Mick Karn. Not Mick Karn of Japan. Not Mick Karn of Dalis Car. Not Mick Karn of any of the many other music endeavors he ventured into. Just Mick Karn, a man, a friend, and a dreamer. Maybe I’ve over-analyzed the photo incredibly, but these are some of the things I find myself thinking about when I look at it.”
Craig Hamlin is a man who knows when to do as he is told – and he chose this fascinating shot of Mick, semi-clothed, in his Kensington flat.
“So, Victoria’s remit was short & simple; “Pick your fave pic of Mick, by Steve.” Gee, thanks for that Vic. Simple? “No way, Pedro!” So I’ve chosen this one, because trying to encapsulate what Mick meant to me; well, this picture does it. Here, he is a Rock Star. He has that look of Ziggy/Kabuki …… and look at all those illicit objects on the table! That’s what you`d expect of real Rock Stars, yes?? Actually, it looks like a very normal table with very normal things on it, but Steve has captured a real feeling here of a Rock Star at the peak of his powers ….. holding court at some lavish press conference, sat on an opulent velvet sofa in some swanky hotel ….. but I guess its more likely he’s sat on his settee, in his own flat, with his mate Steve, and maybe one or two others. (Is this from the same session as the infamous ZIG ZAG interview?) But this 13/14 year old fan boy would’ve had this on my wall, next to a Ziggy poster ….. Yeah …. Mick is a Rock Star to me , and Steve nailed it with one click of the shutter”
Unlike Craig, Mischa Rose eschewed the “short and simple” suggestion and instead wrote a fantastically detailed and interesting piece, also featuring a collection of photos (rather than one) from the same Zig Zag session; so much so that it will appear on the blog in its full form at a later date, as there just isn’t room for all of it here. However, in the interest of balance, here is a tiny bit of what she said……
“Strangely though, it was easy enough to pick favourite SJ pictures of Mick. Not just ONE, obviously, but the whole series of utterly uncharacteristic shots that appeared in Zig Zag magazine in April 1982. Steve’s colour shot of Mick graced the cover—with a ‘Mick Karn Reveals All’ strapline that wasn’t all that far from the truth, in more ways than one. Shirtless, damp haired, alarmingly hairy; the image is more edgy Goth than Japan. We were used to a Mick that had a variety of images over the years—from the Glam post-Bowie bright haired years, the vivid orientalese-chic of silk pumps and Chairman Mao, the slicked hair and suit that flirted with the 40s. We were also used to a Mick that, in front of the camera, would make eye contact—a Mick who perhaps had a slightly less icy, quizzical stare than David, who looked, on the whole, to be slightly more approachable. The Zig Zag pictures, after all that, were actually rather shocking…..”
(to be continued………)
Alessia Mezzetti was refreshingly brief (only kidding Mischa!) with her choice, which is taken from one of Steve’s contact sheets, from a series of shots he took when Japan were recording Tin Drum at The Manor Studios:
“I think this one is perfect; in one photo you can see all his exoticness, from his somatic traits to his ever-present colourful clothes (even though the picture is monochrome), his unique style with the pipe and the oriental hat. He is an icon in his way of being different in every aspect of his life and proud of it!”
So, I suppose I should have my say, shouldn’t I? Like many others here, I just don’t know how to choose only one image of Mick, from the many that Steve took over the years. However, as I really want this to be a joyful & celebratory piece, I feel that the banner triptych at the top of this post, where Mick is beautifully playful – part Errol Flynn, part Buster Keaton – has to be my choice. Taken whilst Steve & Mick were sharing a flat in Mayfair, it oozes with fun and laughter. Think about it; this was a time when Japan were finally starting to gain real momentum on their home turf. They were a few months away from starting to record Tin Drum, Mick was elbow deep into a number of different artistic endeavours and they were living at the centre of the beating heart of London – it’s a long way from Catford to Mayfair, no wonder they were having fun! As Alessia so rightly stated, even thought the image is in black and white, you can still see how vibrantly colourful Mick was. And by choosing this image, I sneakily get 3 photos for the price of one. Perks of the job, my friends…..
Anyone who read last week’s post may have noticed I rather cheekily elevated myself to almost mythic status, claiming I was ‘the biggest Japan fan in the world ever’™. Obviously, this is nowhere near the truth and, as anyone who is anyone will know, that soubriquet actually belongs to the amazing Keiko Kurata; one half of the TMK admin team, and Japan fan extraordinaire. She actually queued on the streets of Tokyo for 8 days, in winter, to buy tickets for their first tour in 1979. 8 days. In winter. Now that is dedication. So, I feel that Keiko has more than earned the right to choose 2 images, both of which are heart-breakingly evocative for her:
“”I like this picture because this is how Mick looked when I met him for the first time March in 1979 in Japan. I loved that his hair colour was red . This Mick reminds me of my youth as if it was yesterday…… and when I see Gitanes , I always think of Mick …. and Steve knew that Bass + Gitanes = Mick”
From Japan, we cross once more the to North American continent and to Becky Olanchak, who has chosen an iconic image of Mick, posing alongside one of his own sculptures:
“This is possibly my favorite Jansen photo with Karn as subject. What especially appeals to me here is Mick’s apparent transformation into a piece of art himself, in his seated position with elegantly folded limbs and cocked head. His direct gaze invites deeper study of man and clay. Sculptor as sculpture, if you will, beside his own sculpted creation; artist imitates art…or is it vice versa?”
At the beginning of this piece, I suggested that the majority of people who read this blog didn’t actually know Mick – and this is indeed true. Some of you may have been fortunate enough to have met him, and maybe shared a few minutes or even hours of time with him. However, there exists a small minority of blog-readers who really did know Mick – people who have, at some time in their life, counted themselves as a friend to Mick. One of these is the totally wonderful Angie Usher, someone who I am very happy to call a friend and who, some 30 odds years ago, I tried (and miserably failed) to emulate, whilst singing along in quite a dreadful way to the harmonies on ‘Saviour, Are You With Me?’ I feel it is only fitting that we end this wonderful trawl through Steve’s iconic images of his friend, with the words of someone who really knew him, if only for a short time. Angie also chose the image of Mick with his sculpture (above).
“This is my favourite among many. The strong friendship between Mick and Steve is expressed through the lens (to me, anyway) in all of the photos Mick is in. For me personally though, this photo represents Mick’s strength – his art, sculpture and music, and at the same time his vulnerability. I knew him at a difficult time in his life, but his passion for his art and loyalty as a friend was never in question. I’m glad I was his friend, however brief that friendship was. I feel privileged to have known him and worked with him, to have shared laughter and tears with him, and to have been a part of his world. He is missed so much every day….”
It has been a wonderful experience for me, gathering the thoughts of so many like-minded people, and cobbling them together into this week’s blog. Two things became apparent very quickly, as I gazed over the pictures chosen – and apologies if what I am going to say now is stating the bleeding obvious but – 1) Mick Karn was a phenomenally photogenic creature and 2) Steve Jansen, for all of his “I was in the right place at the right time with the right people, all I had to do was click the shutter” modesty, is a very, very talented photographer. We have mused endlessly on this over the past few months haven’t we, and yes, of course his relationship with Mick means there is a certain confidence between the two of them, which translates beautifully through the lens, but he also draws the eye of the viewer to see something that we may otherwise have missed. We are incredibly fortunate that Steve documented the lives of his friends and band-mates in such intimate detail; and even more so, that he continues to choose to share these moments with us all.
The only way to end this piece is to hand over, once more, to Steve Kelley from Adelaide, who sums up pretty much how everyone here feels – not just today, on Mick’s birthday, but every day:
“On MK day I would especially like say “thanks” to Steve, for sharing your wonderful photos of Mick. We’re all thinking of you today as well, as I’m sure you miss your dear friend more than any of us could imagine.”
TMK are fund-raising for the Nepal Earthquake Appeal – if you are able to, please donate £1/$1 (or equivalent) and together we can hopefully make a difference, in Mick’s memory.
all photos © 2015 steve jansen