In 1973, Mariah Carey was three years old and learning to sing by practicing Verdi’s Rigoletto in Huntington, Long Island. Jon Kane was eleven and sitting on his front porch in Pittsburgh with his hand wrapped in an Ace bandage. In East Bruinswick, New Jersey, “Johnny” was still three years away from being born. Mariah would grow up to become the bestselling female vocalist of the millenium, Jon would become a ski-racer, then a DJ, then a film editor, and Johnny would become a junkie.
Anyone who has ever done heroin will tell you it is the world’s most beautiful feeling, but most people prefer to listen to Mariah Carey. That’s why Jon Kane met Mariah, in 1998, and why, thirteen years later, over 60% of readers on the opticnerve™ blog voted to hear a story about a famous singer instead of a junkie. (We don’t have a childhood photo for “Johnny,” but that doesn’t matter. His story ends here.)
It was 1998 and Jon was filming a series of promotional spots for VH1: Behind the Music. Earlier in the year, he had interviewed Jewel in Alaska surrounded by her close family and organized a surprise reunion between John Cougar Mellencamp and some of his long lost childhood friends. When Jon’s not beating them at arm wrestling, he likes to film his celebrity subjects off their guard.
Mariah Carey feels most at home in water. At least, that’s what she had her people tell Jon Kane. That’s why he arranged to shoot her in a rooftop pool.
Jon was to meet Mariah at 8:00 PM in Manhattan, the day after his second daughter was born. The hotel rooftop was cleared of civilians and the lights and equipment set up. Nine o’clock passed, then ten, then midnight. Finally, at two in the morning, Mariah—along with an entourage of twenty— made her entrance. They had come from a night on the town and the atmosphere was festive, if unprofessional. Mariah was in what Jon would describe delicately as “a party kind of mood.”
She was wearing a one-piece bathing suit and jeweled stiletto heels and armed with an uncompromising manager and an exacting contract. “You can’t get her hair wet,” everyone kept saying. Jon tried to film Mariah on an inflatable raft but that didn’t work. She was unfocused; her entourage was noisy; it was three in the morning; it was getting later.
Finally Jon put his foot down and insisted that everyone leave. Except for Mariah and her manager, everyone did. And then, very quickly, they captured the intimate scene you see here.
Jon didn’t say anything when Mariah dipped her head in the water, but he did ask her about those shoes. “It’s fine,” she said.
Then everybody went home: Jon to his new baby girl, Mariah to her mysterious dreams. “Johnny” was somewhere in New Jersey, asleep on a doorstep, his story erased before it had ever been told.