Anthony Reynolds: Japan: A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984)

Classy volume on the dukes of despair.

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‘Once I was young, once I was smart/Now I’m living on the edge of my nerves.’ So sang a world-weary David Sylvian on 1981’s The Art Of Parties.

He was 23. Reading this, the first serious book on Japan, one realises how young Catford’s finest were when they first rose as flamboyant funk-rockers, morphed into Euro-dance pioneers, then hit their synth-and-rhythm stride with the most magical art-pop of their era. As fans, we wondered how these siblings and school friends could split just as they’d cracked the charts and critics had shifted from ridiculing to rhapsodising. With hindsight – and the insights offered by this riveting book – it’s a miracle they lasted so long. Sylvian’s self-absorption sat uneasily with fame, and tensions ran high, especially after bassist Mick Karn’s girlfriend moved in with the singer, to a flat whose window Karn’s overlooked. As David’s brother and Mick’s best friend, Steve Jansen was caught in the middle. As Reynolds observes, the irony that such private, aesthetically inclined individuals fell out via a plot line from a soap opera is rich. Erstwhile members Jansen, Richard Barbieri, Rob Dean and producers and associates assist the book (providing previously unpublished photos), and interviews with Sylvian and the late, great Karn are quoted. Reynolds, a notable musician himself, clarifies that his passion for Japan goes back to Exorcising Ghosts being “the first [album] this author was old enough to request as a Christmas present”. As well as detail and dynamism, there’s irreverence and humour: Gary Numan stalking the band by accident, an ill-chosen tour supporting Blue Öyster Cult, the fey arty boys being spat at by The Damned’s audience. This is the big red book the defiant dons of delicacy deserve.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.