beginning to melt(down) – the zig zag sessions


I have said this before, so apologies for repeating myself, but 1982 must have been a really odd year to live through for the 4 remaining members of Japan. The band had split, even though they were publicly stating that it was just a temporary thing; they had a tour looming at them, but no new material to write or rehearse, and they were all off, doing their own things.

The first real sense of just how difficult inter-band relationships had become, came with the publication of an interview with Mick in Zig Zag magazine in April 1982. Anyone who was a fan of the band at the time, will be able to recall the sort of gut-wrenching shock that accompanied reading this article for the first time – Mick’s words were caustic and chaotic, and were ‘helpfully’ illustrated by a series of the most startling photographs, where he appears tormented, stricken and half-naked – all taken by Steve.

Mischa chose to write about these photos, when we did the collective TMK post a couple of weeks ago – however, as she is as much of a stranger to brevity as my good-self, her piece was far too large to be included in all of its glory – so here it is…….over to you, Mischa.

Rock God Mick
Rock God Mick

“I am, of course, completely rubbish at choosing a favourite anything. I mean, I could probably narrow stuff down to a list of ‘possibles’, but any particular favourite would be pretty consequent on what was going on at the time. For example, I have a miserable playlist, a cheerful one, and a running one; but whilst they’re all favourites, you wouldn’t be catching me listening to Nick Cave’s ‘Murder Ballads’ while I was running through the woods at night…..

Strangely though, it is easy enough for me to pick favourite pictures of Mick. Not just ONE, obviously, but the whole series of utterly uncharacteristic shots that appeared in the infamous Zig Zag magazine article 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 and alarmingly hairy; the image is more edgy Goth than cool Japan.

Zig Zag April 1982
Zig Zag April 1982

We were used to a Mick who had a variety of images over the years – from the Glam, post-Bowie, bright-haired years, through to the vivid orientalese-chic of silk pumps and Chairman Mao and onto the ‘slicked hair and suit combo’ 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, and who looked, on the whole, to be slightly more approachable. So, the Zig Zag pictures, after all that, were actually rather shocking.

Back in those days of course, I’d like to think we were rabidly innocent, but we probably weren’t. I certainly wasn’t, anyway.  But bands – decent bands anyhow- were defined more by what they actually wore, than what they didn’t (and for a lot of them it was pretty irrelevant anyhow. I still can’t get over how ordinary Joy Division looked). Madonna’s Sex was what, another ten years in the future?, and by then things were changing. It was 1995 when I noticed that Antony Kiedis kept his shirt ON for a whole ten minutes during a gig (London in the summertime being perishing, I suppose?) Back then it wasn’t normal to look like a blow up sex-doll on the cover of your latest album. The very idea of a trout pout was probably more likely to suggest Bernard Manning in drag, and the only person I can think of who made any effort towards looking oiled, rippling (or at least not pale & wobbling) and semi-clad, was Freddie Mercury.  Maybe there were loads of other folks too but to be honest I can’t remember them looming very large on my musical horizon at the time. I’d have probably dismissed them as frauds anyway.

tumblr_lu1nvd1tzG1r0hczno1_500

But, back to the band in question – this wasn’t of course the first time that the boys had got their nips out – there are several shoots from the early years where doing that sort of thing clearly seemed like a good idea at the time (as it does when you’re a teenager) but once that phase had passed in a blur of testosterone, terrible scarves, and Max Factor, Japan had projected a certain androgyny; a defiantly challenging sexlessness, in all meanings of the word. So, a semi-naked Mick, looking all hairy, arrogant, and a bit macho, was, well……disturbing. We were used to more cerebral challenges from Japan, weren’t we? That undeniably fabulous, but rather aggressive, mirror imaged Mick, gaunt-faced, a bit cocky, and definitely not the victim of too many pies (since by his own admission he liked his food) he looked  more like he belonged (ironically enough) in a Bauhaus video, than in the sort of poised, clinical, slightly awkward pictures of the later Japan years. Or, as Craig Hamlin put it in a previous blog, this is Mick in full-on Rock Star mode.

What on earth was going on? The theatrical shot of his twisted neck, Mick posing in a way that recalled his equally contorted, sharply defined sculptures – as does the other image of his tense hands, pressed to his temples above an anguished expression. Satchmo hands.

If you read the images in the context of his sculptures, then a pattern of sorts emerges: this was somehow closer to Mick’s own image of himself, more of a way Mick saw the world, and himself, rather than the tidy restraint of the Mick that conformed (or was made to conform) to the Japan aesthetic. If you look back, it becomes a bit more clear; there are other earlier shots of Mick, posing with his sculptures, where he arranges himself in certain stylised ways, making himself  into echoes of the graphic shapes he liked to sculpt.

studio session for sculpture exhibit
studio session for sculpture exhibit

I assume that everyone has read the text by now – the uncomfortable interview with a journalist who managed to bring out the very worst of Mick’s anger and resentment; at the band’s demise, at Yuka moving in with David, at a whole number of things that Mick would cover more fully in his own autobiography. If the photographs are a bit alarming, then the text is so much worse. The shots make more sense then, particularly if they really were supposed ‘to annoy the hell out of Dave’; more, one suspects, for the desperate and defiant insistence on Japan-free, independent identity and image, than for any amount of chest hair.

Who knows what was going through Steve’s head too. Impossible to know whether there really was an element of rebellion going on, whether it was all Mick’s idea, or whether they were all simply having a laugh and trying to do something different. If I thought it was only the latter, of course, I would LIKE the pictures a whole lot better. Because while they remain favourites – for their complexity in context, and because they are strong (and peculiarly ’80s) images in themselves – I don’t actually like them very much. Even now (even more-so, in fact) they seem to poignantly evoke a particularly unhappy period, and that is perhaps the most discomforting thing of all…….” Mischa Rose

Mick - Stanhope Gardens
Mick – Stanhope Gardens

 all photos © steve jansen

A selection of Steve’s photos are available to purchase via his imageshop here:

http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/

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8 thoughts on “beginning to melt(down) – the zig zag sessions

  1. Thanks so much for this, Mischa…..it was quite weird going back and reading it, so many years (decades) later. Mick seemed so bitter and angry and the comment he makes about DS being unlikely to succeed as a solo artist is, with hindsight, one of the most sadly poignant things I have read. I think what surprises me the most though, is that this wasn’t done on the sly – Connie was initially present so the whole thing must have had the backing of the Japan PR machine…..?
    Remove the context though, and these are a phenomenally astounding set of photos. x

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  2. Oh gosh ! Apart from (as usual) an utterly fantastic blog, i got a mention alongside Mick Karn and Bernard Manning !!
    Manning & Karn ?? My mind is boggling 🙂
    Thank you Mischa for a wonderful piece.x

    Liked by 2 people

  3. From the heart, Mischa, and apposite. I doubt Mick would have allowed himself to be photographed as candidly by anyone else. I too was ‘impressed’ by the Bernard Manning reference! I think my heart aches for Mick here. A very public tragedy.

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  4. I loved that Mischa, thank you. I too found the photo of Mick, even more naked, in Smash Hits of all places, a real shocker. It was possibly my sexual awakening tbh but tmi and wtf?!
    Like the naked Mick with Hazel, around the same time, this strikes me as Connie’s work. I believe Mick was badly advised. Maliciously so? Like the album cover he left to the record company it did more for David than it did for him. Maybe the truth will out one day. What it does show is that Mick had an unusually trusting and innocent nature. It was his tragic flaw perhaps but synonymous with his beauty; irrevocably bound to his art and music as well as to the reason we will always love him.

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