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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
all photos © steve jansen
A selection of Steve’s photos are available to purchase via his imageshop here: