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.
You can purchase ltd edition prints direct from Steve, via his imageshop. http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/
You can purchase Steve’s photographic book, ‘through a quiet widow’ via his bandcamp page. https://stevejansen.bandcamp.com/merch/through-a-quiet-window-photo-book-by-steve-jansen
all photographs (unless otherwise stated) are © 2017 steve jansen all rights reserved