Last night I heard the sad new that one of my teenage heroes, Mick Karn, had succumbed to cancer at the age of 52. As a 15 year old from a small, small-minded town in North Wales Mick and the rest of his bandmates in Japan provided me with a much-needed refuge from the dull drudgery of life in (how can I put this?) provincial hell.
Day after day I’d listen to Quiet Life, Tin Drum and Gentlemen Take Polaroids (my favourite album) dreaming of being achingly hip, wearing polkadots, dabbling in the art world (as both Mick and David did to show off their art-rock credentials) and – most importantly at the time – of wearing shitloads of slap.
The early eighties, was of course, the last time men wore make-up with any real sense of conviction (you really can’t include Robbie Williams and Michael Stipe’s flirtations with eyeliner). Bands like Japan were a true inspiration for me as I messed around with eyeshadow, blusher and hair dye. I even got reprimanded by a teacher at school who mistook my inventive use of red lipliner as an eyeliner (yes, heroin chic years before its time) as a burgeoning drug habit. One night I actually spent two hours recreating the Gentleman Take Polaroids cover shot (still my favourite look) in minute detail, complete with purple highlighted cheeks, umbrella and shiny black leather glove.
All of Japan dabbled with make-up to varying degrees – from keyboardist Richard’s rather sheepish experiments with eyeliner to David’s less inhibited raids on the make-up kit – but Mick, always one to push the envelope, went one step further. In order to create a more sculptural, otherwordly look he actually shaved off his eyebrows. It was a stunning coup de theatre almost as eyecatching (if you’ll excuse the pun) as his slithery, sidewoods stage dancing. Too scared to copy the look myself (I was worried the brows wouldn’t grow back) it remains one of the boldest acts of what we now call ‘manscaping’ I’ve ever seen. And miles more fun than trimming your pubes, an act today considered positively outre by most men.
And so I’d like to to take this opportunity to pay homage, not just to Mick’s musical genius (he was undoubtedly one of the best bass players we’ve ever had and could also create absolute magic with a bassoon, sax, clarinet or suona) but also to his look. The make-up, the signature slicked-back hair and, yes, those famously absentee eyebrows.
For being original, inspiring and for looking so goddam cool Mick, that 15 year old boy from North Wales (and the 43 year old man he grew up into) thanks you.
Sleep tight Mr. x
PS. If anyone would like to find out more about Mick try reading his excellent autobiography Japan and Self Existence, available from www.lulu.com. The chapter on the death of his cat Kasmir tells you everything you need to know about the man.