Since about the autumn of 1984, I have had one replication or another of Mike Coles’ iconic cover of the first Killing Joke album adorn my walls. A poster of it hung in my bedroom during my latter high school years. That same poster graced the interior of each and every dormitory cell and off-campus bedroom I occupied throughout my college days (see above). Years later, as an arguable professional, I have a lovingly framed print of it in my office (you can fetch your own here).
I’ve boasted the image on myriad t-shirts over the years, and even fleetingly entertained the notion of getting a bit of it as a tattoo about twenty years back (I demurred from that one, although I have friends who proudly sport that ink).
In a nutshell, the visual representation of that first LP by Killing Joke, as I said in that first post, is inexorable from the band’s music. Those striking images are part of Killing Joke’s entirety.
That all said, of course, their origins --- as starkly captured by Don McCullin in the dark days of 1971 -– are something else entirely.
In taking a step back from the giddy search my comrade dub and I undertook in order to pinpoint the photographs' (both front cover and inner gatefold) locations, I would like to say that we deftly and respectfully side-stepped delving very deeply into the actual events transpiring in the photographs in question beyond surface details. But, in retrospect, I don’t think that’s enough.
Put plainly, the scenes depicted in McCullin’s photographs are part of a much larger and much more complicated story than a bit of provocative album cover art by a post-punk band. While “the Troubles” didn’t play out here in the United States in anywhere near the same capacity they did in Northern Ireland and in England, the story was certainly in the news. To many, the specifics of that narrative may seem abstract or convoluted, but they were very real and very serious.
Even this many decades after the fact, the conflict in that part of the world remains nothing to make light of. Regardless of one’s stance on the subject, blood was shed, lives were lost, and families were affected. For those who lived in the flashpoint of those tumultuous times, I can only imagine the sensations McCullin’s original images must continue to conjure. I sincerely doubt any of those sensations are positive.
Given the stark worldview espoused, at the time, by Killing Joke, those pictures matched their music and their sensibility to a tee, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the photos ultimately mean something else – something that doesn’t belong to anyone other than the individuals depicted. It seems easy to divorce them from their proper context, but it’s that very context that gives them their power to begin with. Killing Joke adopted those visually arresting symbols because they provoke such responses. They’re not supposed to go down smooth and easy.
But it’s somewhat shamefully easy to forget all that and get caught up in comparatively trivial minutia. With all that in mind, while I cannot and do not speak for any of the concerned parties, please understand that in putting together these posts, it was never mine nor Dub’s intentions to appear disrespectful or flippant regarding the underlying (but ultimately indelible) associations of these images.