It is now a full 10-years since the smoking ban came into force in England – following those which had been implemented a full 18-months previously across Scotland, Ireland and Wales – and it is now almost impossible to remember just quite how ubiquitous that most anti-social of habits once was, in our daily lives. I recall visiting Ireland in 2006, a few months after the ban had been introduced there, and wondering why every bar I visited smelt like it had recently been newly varnished; was there an annual ‘re-decorate the pubs’ festival, I had been previously unaware of? For, upon entering each and every hostelry on that trip, the heady combination of cleaning products, stale beer and the deadly waft of a thousand disintegrating urninal-cakes, produced an acidic, oily aroma – which had been so cleverly masked by the over-powering stench of tobacco, and was suddenly all too obvious. It really wasn’t that pleasant.
When I think back to my formative years, cigarettes where everywhere. My dad was the only adult I knew, who didn’t smoke. My mum smoked, all of their friends smoked, my four brothers all smoked. Interviewers on TV smoked, musicians smoked on stage, magazines were full of photos of the latest pop-stars, models and actors, staring moodily at the camera, with a cigarette dangling provocatively from their lip-sticked pouts.
Unsurprisingly, I started to smoke. At school during breaks, we’d stand outside the staff room and watch all of the teachers get settled in their chairs and start puffing away, then nick round the back of the science-block, and spark up a cheeky Player’s No. 6. When I went to uni, two of my lecturers would smoke all the way through classes, although we weren’t allowed to (ghastly double standards!) and one of my strongest memories of those hedonistic days, is waking up in the early hours of the morning, with my face buried in my pillow, with the stench of a thousand nightclub cigarettes clinging to my hair, clothes and bed. The thought of it turns my stomach now, but at the time, it seemed so normal.
In 1981, at the tender age of 13, I was lucky enough to see JAPAN in concert. It was my first ever gig, and I’d love to be able to recount every single moment of the show; however, my abiding memory of the evening, is of standing on a raised step, by the side of the stage (right up next to the speakers, which made my ears bleed during Canton!) and watching with amazement, as the smoke rose from the top of the 2,000 strong audience, and was caught up in the lights emanating from the stage. It was trippy and beautiful. Standing in the Great Hall, at Lancaster University, surrounded by glamorous beings, dressed in their finery and puffing away on their Gitanes – and all within pouting distance of my favourite band – was utterly momentous and life-defining. Despite all of the messages which clearly stated that smoking was bad for you, I fell for the hype. It was glamorous; it was cool; it was sophisticated. It was grown-up, and that is what I wanted.
And blimey, those JAPAN boys could smoke. And then some. There were so many photos of them, posing beautifully, with cigarettes clamped between their lips, or in between their fingers. I know it was the norm at the time, but with hindsight, as immaculate as they all looked, I can’t help but think they must’ve bloody REEKED! We all did.
Now, I am the last person to encourage anyone to smoke, or to glamorise this most anti-social of habits, but when I sit here now and look back at all of these wonderful images I still can’t help but think that they all look so freaking cool. It’s sheer madness, I know. I’m not 15 and easily manipulated, but…..well, take this photo of Mick, in a hotel room in Leeds, as an example. With the blonde shock of spikes and the filterless fag dangling dangerously from his jutting lips, doesn’t he just appear to be the most exotic and intriguing person who ever bestrode the planet?
When I first started this blog, I invited people who had bought any of Steve’s prints to contribute, and Adam Howard did just that. This was one of the ones he owned and he admitted to having mixed feelings about the inclusion of the cigarette. “My family bought (it for) me. At the time I thought it was an odd choice as we are all ardent non-smokers, but I can’t complain as I did leave it up to their discretion. I’ve grown to appreciate the picture over time, and the whole smoking thing was very ‘Mick’ I suppose.” Adam also said he had initially felt a bit uncomfortable with the image, due to Mick’s cancer diagnosis and untimely death. However, as he quite rightly stated, this IS a very Mick pose and no amount of revisionism, in the face of his sad passing, will alter that fact.
In fact, so strongly do some of us associate Mick with his smoking habit, that when I asked JAPAN-fan extraordinaire, Keiko Kurata, about her favourite SJ photos of Mick one of the ones she chose was this one…..
Her reasoning was simple and logical: “when I see Gitanes, I always think of Mick …. and Steve knew that Bass+Gitanes = Mick”.
You really can’t argue with that, can you? 🙂
Thankfully, the remaining members have now all kicked the habit; admittedly, some of them rather more recently than others. In fact, Steve has even suggested that he wasn’t ever really a serious smoker, despite the hordes of photographic evidence to the contrary. “I was surrounded by smokers therefore it was easy to grab one, but it wasn’t really for me. I’m not a smoker despite how it appears sometimes in those early photos.”
To be fair, he may have a point – that cigarette isn’t even lit!
Now, I cannot emphasise enough, how much I dislike cigarettes – and I truly hope that no-one reading this thinks that I am trying to glamorise smoking and make it seem like a GOOD thing to do. I really am not. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that one of my all-time favourite shots – which resulted from the click of Steve’s A1 shutter-button -is the utterly sublime photo of Ryuichi Sakamoto, which graces the top of this page. And, like Adam Howard, I too feel horribly conflicted with my absolute love of this image.
We all know that Ryuichi was diagnosed with throat cancer, a couple of years ago. Certain cancers (but not all) are undoubtedly linked to smoking, and throat cancer is up there at the top of that list. Thankfully, he is now in full remission following extensive treatment, but it still feels a bit odd (and not a little warped) to wax-lyrical about a photograph which graphically represents something so dangerous and harmful.
However, the truth of the matter is that this photo also represents who he was, at that moment in time. When we look back on these images from nearly 4-decades ago, we have to remember that attitudes were different. This was a time when smoking was far more acceptable and seemingly ubiquitous – and I am really sorry to admit this, but I still think they all look really, really cool.
Non-UK residents will have to excuse me if I am being specifically Britain-centric today, but…..blimey, hasn’t it been hot? You see, us Brits get all excited when the big, yellow glare-ball comes out; then after about 15-minutes, we all start moaning about how “it’s too hot to be stuck in an office” or “it’s fine if you’re on holiday but try sitting on the #42 bus to Preston” and “it’s not the same as heat in the Med” – along with other such nonsense. However, it really has been particularly toasty over the last few days, and this has led to me spending most of my time, lounging around in a bikini and sarong, drinking far too many glasses of Campari Spritz and wondering why I haven’t written any posts on the blog for ages.
The answer to that is far too long and dull for me to bore you with, but at least I feel slightly more motivated, than of late. However, now that I am sitting here, keyboard at the ready, what on earth am I going to write about? Well, whilst I was wilting in the heat, over the weekend, I remembered a couple of ideas I had for posts many moons ago, which never actually made it to fruition. So, because I am a bit lazy, I thought I’d dig one of those out from the old archive, spruce it up a bit and get the blog-ball rolling again. And, considering the recent spell of tropical weather, this one is sort of in keeping with the theme.
As Ian Astbury once bellowed: “hot, sticky scenes; you know what I mean?”.
Well, no, not really; but here are some photos Steve took, featuring the band looking a tad toasty.
When Steve first published this shot of Mick and David, from a trip to Thailand in 1981, I was rather taken aback. Firstly, as Steve often shot with b&w film, and I was so used to seeing mainly monochrome images, his colour photos can sometimes seem to be unnaturally garish – almost too colourful, I suppose? It wasn’t just that, though. The photo positively oozes tropical clamminess. Mick, with his Cypriot heritage and horrific Hawaiian shirt, looks (ironically) cool as the proverbial cucumber; but, David? Well, let’s just say, that this was the first time I can remember clocking an image of him (from this era, at least) looking like an everyday kind of bloke. Seemingly devoid of make-up, his skin a bit pink and flushed, he looks oddly and uncharacteristically flustered, but also just so normal. I really liked it.
Taken during the same trip (same hideous shirt on Mick, but Dave had brought a spare), this image – which has been shared umpteen times on Tumblr and FB, and seems to make a certain kind of JAPAN fan sigh wistfully – suggests that a cool drink alongside the banks of the river, makes for altogether a less uncomfortable experience. The band spent a week in Thailand, after their promoter got the dates of their show confused, and they had time to just enjoy themselves (and the heat) before they headed back to the UK.
This visit to Thailand, which followed the band’s only Japanese live dates that year, in February 1981, also provided the inspiration for Steve’s first foray into photographing specifically for a record cover. The single was The Art of Parties, and he wanted to try to capture that “sweaty and unkempt look” – admittedly a massive departure, style-wise, for the band, but seemingly in keeping with the feel of the music, and the repeated “I’m burning” refrain of the lyrics. Although, as Steve said in Anthony Reynolds’ A Foreign Place’, “I have no idea what it has to do with any art of any parties” 🙂
The photos were taken in Mick’s Stanhope Gardens flat, a bucket of water on hand to give the impression of tropical humidity…….and resulted in the beautifully captured portraits of each of the members of ‘japan’, which grace the cover. These pictures were a million miles way from the perfectly sculpted images we had been used to seeing of the band; bear in mind that, only a few months earlier, they had released Gentlemen Take Polaroids, with the icily iconic shot of a heavily made-up Sylvian, looking almost otherworldly. And yet, here we see them in just a dash of eye-liner, looking sultry, sweaty and dishevelled. Marvellous stuff – and exactly the perfect way to confound the critics. Again.
art of parties – alternative composite
Compare these photos, as stylised as they are, with the images we are used to seeing of the band. Even though Steve was “on the inside” and therefore able to take rolls & rolls of film of the his friends in more relaxed mode, the majority of even his shots, show them looking cool, classy and composed. No dress-down Fridays, for this lot. Even when they were on the road, driving from London to Cornwall for the opening night of a tour, in the middle of a British winter, the band manage to pull-off looking remarkably coiffed. These images couldn’t be further away from the tropical, techni-colour of the Thailand shots, could they?
Maybe it is because I grew up in the north of England, during the 1970s and early 80s, but I have never felt particularly drawn to happy, summery music and imagery. JAPAN never suggested flowery meadows and long, sunlit evenings, to me. When I think of JAPAN, I tend to think of autumn and winter. Of long dark nights. Their music, and their image I suppose, was more intense and therefore far more interesting to the teenaged me. It still is. Which goes some way to explaining why I like Steve’s photography, so much. Yes, he was the drummer in my favourite band; but he also managed to reflect a sense of what I was yearning for, at a time when I was most easily impressed. Life did feel colder and certainly more monochrome back then. Possibly because the only times I ever saw JAPAN live, was in the middle of winter, and those are my strongest memories from that time? Who knows.
JAPAN may have been at the forefront of the move away from the dull and dank past; after all they were daringly colourful in their atire, with their perfectly made-up faces and hair, but they did it without the dreadful brashness of others. As they have often said, they lived that every day, they didn’t just pile the panstick on for the photoshoots.
So, how wonderfully refreshing, and occasionally hilarious, to see the odd photo of David looking a bit flustered in the tropical heat on a Bangkok evening. How lovely to see Mick, with massive shades clamped to his face, wearing a gaudy shirt and showing off his natural tanning ability. How exciting to see alternative shots from the AoP photo-shoot, with all the band looking sultry and sweaty (albeit in Kensington) whilst trying to recreate the humidty of their recent Thailand sojourn.
As is usual with a British heatwave, I imagine it’ll all be over by tomorrow, what with it being mid-summer, and all. In which case, we can all get back to our normal lives again, and start moaning about the rain.
All of the photos are available to purchase from Steve’s imageshop
Over the last few weeks, followers of Steve’s ‘sleepyard’ blog may have noticed him sharing a number of ‘previously unseen’ photos of JAPAN. The images, taken by a range of photographers and spanning the band’s full career – from the pomp & pout of the late 70s, to the pristine poses of the Virgin era – were discovered earlier in the year, and it has been fabulous to finally see some new photos emerge.
Whilst many of the images have not been officially published previously, some of the shots may seem familiar to many fans; there are a number of ‘alternative’ photos from sessions with Patrick Litchfield, which appeared in The Sunday Times magazine (and one of my least favourite JAPAN photo-shoots, for the record!) as well as lots of early promos by Günther Rakete and a whole slew of uncredited shots of the band in recording studios and on stage.
A number of these photos are now being auctioned on behalf of the band members. For those blog-readers who do not access the FB groups, where the auctions are discussed and promoted, here is the link to the goodies which are currently on eBay.
For the last couple of years, I have written a post on 4th January to mark Mick’s passing. This year, I am not sure that I have anything more to add. I think everything has already been said. Instead, it feels appropriate to simply share some of the new images of Mick, which Steve has kindly published over the last 12 months.
Steve once said he reckoned he could post a new photo of Mick, every day for 2 years, and still have some left over. Let’s just hope he continues to do so, and allow us to revel in the joy of seeing some previously hidden gems.
For those who may have missed the previous ‘i’ll be here dreaming’ posts, they can be found here:
TMK are having their annual event to remember Mick and would like everyone to join in, and share their memories of him. Please join the discussion and add your own favourites – let’s all try to remember Mick as the vibrant and passionate man he was, rather than merely mourn his loss.
Leaving Hiroshima was difficult, because it felt like we needed longer there to explore everything it had to offer. The city gets under your skin and into your psyche, and the lure of discovering more of its charms was strong. However, we had a very important date to keep, with a very special person, and I was eager to get back on the Shinkansen and to head to Osaka.
When I initially planned this trip, the only thing I was certain of, was that I would visit Osaka and finally get to spend some time with the lovely Keiko Kurata – someone who had become a good friend over the previous couple of years and who I was longing to see. For those who don’t know Keiko, (and I can’t believe there are many people who read this blog who aren’t aware of her), she is legendary in Japan-fan circles. One of the original fans from the very beginning, Keiko is an incredible source of information about the band – if you have read Mick’s autobiography, where he recounts stories of the band being chased around Japanese cities by fans in taxis and being mobbed in hotel lobbies – well Keiko was one of those fans. With other like-minded people she produced the rather professional-looking ‘adonis’ fanzine, but unlike many of those old fans who fell away over the years, she has maintained a healthy interest in the band, and recently contributed dozens of photos and anecdotal evidence for Anthony Reynolds’ excellent biography of Japan.
So, meeting up with Keiko was my priority; she had promised us all a night of good Osakan food and karaoke, and we were more than ready for the challenge that lay ahead of us. However, before we could hit the sake and shochu, she had a rather more sedate experience awaiting us; the opportunity to witness a traditional wedding which was taking place at the beautiful Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine. What an incredible spectacle that was. We followed the wedding procession through the grounds of the shrine, across the barrel bridge and to the temple itself. Even though we remained outside, the fact that the ceremony took place in a wall-less room, open to the elements, meant that we were able to observe the whole thing; with Keiko quietly explaining the symbolism and meaning behind the myriad gestures and chants we witnessed. It was a truly wonderful hour, spent soaking up the atmosphere and submerging ourselves in the traditions of a culture which differs so very much from our own.
From Sumiyashi, we jumped on to a tram and headed over to the colourful chaos that is Shinsekai – and never has the expression ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous’ been more appropriate. Shinsekai is Japan’s answer to Blackpool; it is gaudy, loud, brash and tacky. It was completely compelling and totally at odds with what we had experienced of the country so far. I wouldn’t want to live there, but I am pleased I got to see this rather exciting and slightly seedy underbelly of Japan.
Keiko’s reason for showing us this part of Osaka, was to visit the Tsuutenkaku Tower, where we would be able to view Osaka from its lofty height. It took almost an hour to get to the top, not because it was particularly high but because this tower is a temple to gaudy, corporate tourism; every few feet, we had to stop and have our senses assaulted with a bewildering choice of crappy plastic things to buy. The whole place seemed to be sponsored by Pocky (those delicious chocolate-biscuity things we know as Mikado over in here in Europe) and the walls were covered with posters of a Japan’s current favourite boy-band, advertising the calorific sticks. There was even a poster featuring a rather different (and much, much older) Japanese boy-band, which brought a smile to my face for a brief moment….
Osaka from above is a sight to behold. The city is huge and stretches out as far as the eye can see, hemmed in by distant mountains. Seeing it from on high, as dusk was falling, was something I will always remember. Even the rampant materialism, which constantly assaulted our senses, couldn’t ruin the experience of watching a baseball game from hundreds of feet above the ‘diamond’, with the players looking like the proverbial ants as the sun started to set, bathing the city in a golden-pink hue.
What followed next is probably best left to the imagination. We were treated to an incredible meal, at Keiko’s favourite restaurant – she wanted us to experience her Osaka, so we found ourselves in a tiny, private dining room and course after course of food was brought to our table; including the most amazing sukiyaki and kushikatsu, all washed down with Sapporo and cold sake. In fact, we ate so much amazing food, I am surprised we could summon up the energy to stagger to the karaoke bar……but somehow, we (sadly) did. Oh dear. Let’s just say that whilst Keiko and her friend have really wonderful voices and are seasoned karaoke veterans, we four Brits were, without doubt, absolutely horrific. As the beer and shochu continued to flow, so did our dignity (out of the building, never to be seen again) as we slaughtered any number of songs by Bowie, Elvis and The Beatles. I had got rather excited at the prospect of Keiko and I dueting on ‘adolescent sex’, which she assured me was available, but when we got to the bar, the only Japan song they had was ‘quiet life’. Which we murdered. Dead. Deader than dead. As authentic Japanese experiences go, it was pretty incredible, but let’s just say that it is best for all involved if we never go for a repeat performance of that night’s antics.
The next day, we were lucky enough to visit Keiko in her home (and I finally got meet her fabulously grumpy dog, TT.) For a geek fan like me, this was like being let loose in Eldorado for an afternoon……we spent ages looking through all of Keiko’s photographs, magazines and records; constant squeals of delight emanating from me and scaring poor old T.T. It was absolute bliss.
We then took T.T. for a lovely wander round Sumiyashi park, close to where she lives, and enjoyed people-watching, as the locals went about their leisure time….and then it was time to leave, as we had to head back to Tokyo, for the final leg of our journey. Our 24 hours in Osaka with Keiko was one of the absolute highlights of the trip for me; not just because of the ‘Japan’ links, but because she is one of the most beautiful and generous people I have ever met, and I feel incredibly lucky to call her my friend.
“How does one address in words a subject that is better addressed in silence through the heart?”
These words were written to me this week by my friend Becky Olenchak, when I was musing on how to approach writing today’s blog post. The clarity of Becky’s words made me pause and ask ‘why am I doing this and who is it for?’. Why do I feel the need to share my thoughts, with friends and strangers, which are just as valid if left unwritten? I suppose the truthful answer to this question is that I write this blog, first and foremost, for me. The fact that a fair few people choose to read it and seem to enjoy it, is an absolute bonus. So, I suppose today’s piece is no different; I want to somehow mark this date in a way which (to me, at least) seems most appropriate and fitting.
This is also a question that the good folk at TMK ask themselves every year, when 4th January comes around. The global community of Karn fans clearly want a focal point, somewhere they can ‘gather’ and remember Mick, but we are also very aware that this is a day on which (unlike the joyous ’24/7′ events) there is little to celebrate. This year, we hope that people will share their memories of Mick and join us in a quiet, respectful but loving tribute.
This time last year I wrote a post about Mick’s passing which has proved to be the most read post on the Jansen Photography Blog. It was an incredibly hard piece to write for a number of obvious reasons; but sadly, it was also an easy one for me to come up with, as I had experienced my own significant bereavement in 2011. My husband Mark died 10 months after Mick, aged just 50, having spent 18 months battling cancer. As I wrote that piece, focusing on Steve’s and Mick’s friendship, I could vividly empathise with the loss that his friends and family were feeling, as I am sure many of you could.
Steve acknowledged this loss when he published an incredibly poignant image of Mick on his website, with the beautiful words he had written in memory of his life-long friend. The prose blew me away and I felt an absolute connection with the words, which are not merely mournful, but encapsulate the experience of losing someone through terminal illness; the moments shared where you laugh and remember, with the knowledge that, even as you are sharing these moments, time is running out. These words had a profound impact on me and still do, to this day.
However, you do not to have suffered your own loss to appreciate and empathise with Steve’s words. Here, Craig Hamlin recounts seeing the image and reading the words for the first time:
“In late 2010, plans were made to hold a ‘gathering’ for a few close `Japan` buddies, with an agreement to all meet up in London in early 2011. When events took a sadly poignant turn, with the news of the devastating loss of Mick in early January 2011, it was decided our gathering would be our own tribute to Mick. A glass raised, memories shared, from a fan’s perspective.
The memory is still vivid. We were all gathered around a circular high table, happy and comfortable in each others’ company; catching up on everyone’s latest news, with an air of frivolity surrounding us all. I was checking something on my smartphone, (I don’t recall what…..a random fact no doubt) and …… there it was…….Steve had posted a beautiful photograph of Mick on his website. As I passed the phone around, each one of us took a deep breath, read the words, and exhaled loudly. How pertinent, that this image, these words were posted up, at the very moment when we were all gathered together – a group of friends who had met because of a shared love of Japan – paying our humble tributes on that day, some 100 yards from Air Studios, where these two friends created some of their finest works.
To say this is my `favourite` image by Steve, of Mick, would sound trite …. but it is, for me, the most powerful. An image and words of true love.”
It is now 5 years since we lost Mick. In that time, and certainly in the last 12 months, there has been a renaissance of sorts when it comes to his legacy. KScope have been re-releasing his solo material in beautiful heavy-weight vinyl and new fans are discovering his art and his music, via social networking platforms such as tumblr and facebook. Anecdotes from his auto-biography are now often quoted by people asking Steve questions on ‘sleepyard’ – a situation he could probably never have foreseen. Whilst it is natural for us to mourn the loss of someone who has had an impact upon our lives, I think it is a far more positive response to continue to celebrate the life they lived and the joy they brought to us.
And Mick brought so many of us so much joy, didn’t he?
Buy his records, listen to his music, revel in those bass lines, read his book ……and continue to spread the word far and wide, in his memory.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MICK KARN 24TH JULY 1958 – 4TH JANUARY 2011.
Always loved never forgotten
images from Steve’s book ‘through a quiet window’ are available to purchase vis his website here:
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
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.
Apologies for the lack of blog action over the last couple of weeks but sometimes life takes over and certain things have to take a back seat. However, I am back; refreshed and revitalised and with a whole slew of lovely photos to wax lyrical about.
One of the reasons for my short sabbatical was that I moved home last week and, as I am now happily ensconced in my new abode, I felt it was time to procure myself another Jansen print to celebrate. One of the great pleasures in life, for me at least, is browsing through Steve’s website and tumblr page, trying to decide which picture(s) would look at home on my walls.
I had been toying with the idea of buying a print which features Mick for some time now; I am lucky enough to own one of his sculptures and I always thought it would be fitting to have one of Steve’s images of Mick to hang above it. This house move has been the final impetus to go ahead and finally do it. The sculpture now sits upon a beautiful marble fireplace in my bedroom and the wall above it cries out for an image of its creator…….but which one? After perusing all the available pictures and ‘umming and aahing’ over countless iconic shots, I realised I being drawn towards an image of Mick which has intrigued me since Steve published it on his tumblr page last year.
I am a bit of a sucker for a reflected image; a shot where you can see the photographer reflected in a mirror or window – or, in this case, in the lens of Mick’s glasses. I have kept going back to this particular image for over a year now, second guessing about the circumstances of how and when it was taken. But mainly, I have wondered “just what is that dangly thing?”
I had always imagined it was a piece of cord, used to skew the focus and add something extra to the shot. I thought it added a beautiful dimension to the image and it appealed to me greatly. However, any so-called artistic credibility I thought I had, took a bit of a nose-dive when I enquired about ordering the print.
Let me explain.
The limited edition prints that are available via Steve’s ‘imageshop’ are all tried and tested – they are guaranteed to be reproduced without any loss of quality. However, the photos he publishes via his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr are often an ‘unknown quantity’ and Steve has to send the negative off to the lab, to have a test print carried out, before he can decide whether he is happy to offer it for sale.
And it was at this point that Steve had to explain that the dangly thing wasn’t actually a dangly thing at all……but a fault on the film where light had leaked in. Oh dear. I felt like a bit of a berk, to be honest! So much so, that I wondered if everyone else had realised that it was a fault on the film, and I was just a bit of an idiot? So, I turned to my trusted allies at TMK and asked them what they thought the ‘dangly thing’ was? And I was happily relieved to discover that EVERYONE assumed it was either a piece of string/rope or paper. Thanks goodness for that. Rather amusingly, Mischa suggested it could be someone’s knicker elastic but it fell to Craig to come up with the most creative suggestion “(is it) Sylvian with a pendulum ? “I wrote Visions Of China; I wrote Visions Of China; I Wrote Visions of China” Oh, how we laughed.
Regardless of this fact, I still really love this image and am now patiently waiting to hear back from the ever-reliable Joseph as to whether it’s a “goer”.
This isn’t the only photo that Steve has published which has been less than developmentally perfect; earlier this year he published some shots from the Sons of Pioneers tour which included this touching picture of Mick in a field of goats, again exhibiting a light-induced flaw on the film.
So, just how does one choose a favourite image of Mick Karn from the many that Steve has taken over the years?…..for that is the challenge I have thrown down to the readers of this blog over the last few weeks. For some, it has been an easy-ish task; Emma chose the shot of Mick holding one of his own sculpted masks over his face, Craig wrote about the beautiful image that Steve had shared following Mick’s untimely death in 2011 and Penelope went for one of him standing beneath a Chinese parasol, staring straight into the eye of the photographer and, therefore, the eyes of the audience. So now, it is my turn. And good grief, it is a hard task.
Mick was an incredibly photogenic creature and his close relationship with Steve meant that the two of them had lots of opportunity to experiment with styles and ideas, resulting is some fantastically evocative images. I remember the first time I saw the shots of Mick that accompanied that Zig Zag article back in 1982; stripped to the waist and looking wasted, the angst and hurt of his ‘situation’ apparently etched into ever fibre of his being, all streaked make-up and petulant pout; it was like witnessing someone going through a mini-meltdown. At the time it seemed shocking and raw and unexpected. With hindsight, I am pretty sure it was just a bit of a daring idea the two of them had, to see how far they could go and what they could get away with.
And there are the beautiful shots of Mick at the window of a hotel room in Leeds; all cropped blonde hair and enormous eyes, sitting in another soulless room looking out across an unfamiliar city-scape, a cigarette dangling defiantly from his lips. The peripatetic lifestyle they were leading at the time meant that many of Steve’s “tour” photos were taken during sound-checks, or are of ‘hotel room interiors – or band members in hotel room interiors.’
However, if I really have to narrow it down, there are a couple of pictures from a another hotel room, in another city, which I find most compelling and would definitely rate amongst my favourites.
Mick, in a hotel room in Hong Kong in 1982 (top and below). Once again, the bond of friendship between the two of them results in the most sublime of images (although I am sure there must be loads of contact sheets of less than perfect pictures of him too, somewhere in the Jansen archive!?!) as if Mick totally trusts him and can be himself. Not self-conscious, not having to ‘pose’, just being himself. The one below, in particular, radiates that confidence mixed with a sense of naivety. It is truly beautiful. Steve once again uses the window as a barrier between the world within the room and the one outside; the cars and people below oblivious of being watched from above. Never one to blow his own trumpet, Steve maintains that he was lucky to be able to take the photos he did; he found himself in certain places with certain people and the combination resulted in some good photographs. And although I agree with this reasoning to a degree, there is no denying that there is a technical beauty within these images, a fine balance between the two visible worlds and an ability to capture his subject in his most relaxed, and possibly even vulnerable, state.
Steve has previously described the contrasting aspects of Mick’s personality – on the one hand bright and easy-going with a ready smile and wicked sense of humour, but there was also a darker side – and I think these 2 pictures get to the heart of that in some way. They don’t seem posed or overly staged, unlike the tortured images from the Zig Zag shoot, but merely moments where 2 friends were killing time; waiting for yet another gig/TV appearance/interview to take place, in yet another hotel room in yet another city.