Gone from a Portland that will never seem the same to many of us is Jonathan Campbell Takami. Jonathan, 69 years old, died at Gosnell House Hospice in the company of people who loved him, wearing his t-shirts with the pockets and attended at times by a dog who was nuts about him. Preceded in death by a daughter, Martina Mieko Takami, he leaves behind a son, Tyrone Rodan Takami, his close cousin Mark Kurahara and his two sisters Mimi Takami and Kathie Takami, a coterie of cousins he grew up with, and a remarkable ‘found family’: a network of friends too numerous to name here—believe it!
Clever, courtly, and profane, Johnny glided through this life in a fog of cigarette smoke and attitude, styling button-fly jeans and a porkpie hat. In a portrait painted back in the early 1980s, he looks like a Renaissance prince—self-possessed and no stranger to a wicked impulse. A family photo of Johnny as a 4-5 year old foreshadowed his life-long dedication to style and personality. It was taken when he lived in Japan during the Korean War. Always prepared (and never a pacifist), he was dressed in a yukata and packing two toy pistols tucked into the sash. As ineffably cool as Johnny was, he had a warmth that touched many. Wise and generous mentor, loving, loyal friend and unfiltered truth-teller: these were Johnny, too. He was magnetic, quick-witted, and darkly comic. He drew in circle after circle of friends and acquaintances.
In his twenties, Johnny worked as assistant to master photographer Bob Gruen. Together they produced some of the most iconic rock photographs of the 1970s, their subjects including the New York Dolls, Blondie, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, among many others.
In the mid-1980s he moved from NYC to Portland with his wife Deirdre and their two young children, Tyrone and Martina. An avid collector of all kinds of music—rock-punk-gospel-country-folk-reggae-R&B—Johnny played bass in many Portland bands, including Harpswell Sound, Miss Amanda Jones, and the aptly named The Shakes.
Mike Dank, a longtime friend and drummer for Harpswell Sound, remembers him answering their ad for a bass player able to play songs by Fairport Convention and the Velvet Underground. “I don’t really like either of those bands,” Johnny told the group flat out, “but I know what you’re getting at.”
His jobs were backdrops for his enthusiasms, which along with rock n’ roll included painting, hanging in bars, and assembling a mind-blowing library, in English and Japanese, on the history of World War II. At the time of his death he was working on a painting of two Japanese warships viewed from overhead, as if from the cockpit of a plane. The ships are painted with camouflage, so they are almost abstractions. Like many of his paintings, the image was set on a gold ground, which gave it the quality of religious art.
In 1968, Johnny wrote a letter to the editor of the exciting, fledgling rock and counterculture magazine Rolling Stone. In it, he quoted the spiritual poem “Desiderata,” which begins:
Go placidly amid the noise & haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly & clearly; and listen to others, even the dull & ignorant; they too have their story.
Johnny signed off, “Music is life.”
These two things made up Johnny’s manifesto. “As far as possible without surrender” captures a crucial side of him. He surrendered to nothing and no one—though he sometimes waded straight into disaster by doing so—until death overcame him. And music is life.
Johnny Takami was completely and wholly himself. He loved and failed in all the human ways. He rebuilt a deeply loving relationship with Dee long after they had divorced, which lasted until his death. The arc of his life was rich and complicated and so were his mind and heart. We miss him. We remember and love.