I was wrong about Grace Jones.
When I first heard that she had written her memoirs, I glibly remarked, “I can’t imagine Grace Jones reading a book, much less writing one!”
Now that I’ve finished reading the memoir that she did, indeed, write (with some help from Paul Morley), I not only have more respect for Grace Jones, I have a new interest in and respect for Jamaica (the country in which she was born) and maybe even a new-found spirituality (which should not be too surprising, given that Jones is the daughter—and grand-niece—of a bishop).
Despite her reputation as a diva (which she devotes an entire chapter to debunking), Jones comes across in this book as an intelligent, artistic and strong woman who is always in control of her career.
After a strict religious upbringing by her grandparents in Jamaica, Jones moved to Syracuse, N.Y. at age 12 to join her parents, who had already settled there. She then escaped that marginally better existence, to start her career, first as a model in New York and Paris, and then internationally as a singer and actress.
The book takes us through the many relationships—both personal and artistic—Jones has had in her career, from her long-time collaboration with the artist Jean Paul-Goude, who masterminded her concert film, A One Man Show; to Chris Blackwell, the head of Island Records (Jones’s first record label); to Trevor Horn, who produced “Slave to the Rhythm.” It also shows her many influences, which range from the Japanese clothing designer Issey Miyake to the artist Keith Haring.
The book’s other revelation is how “normal” Jones is: she’s usually in a relationship; after a brief experimentation with LSD and cocaine, she eschews drugs (“try everything once” is her philosophy); and her favorite pastimes are watching tennis and doing jigsaw puzzles!
The news media have focused on one of the later chapters in the book, in which Jones accuses many of today’s female pop stars—Lady Gaga, Madonna, Beyonce, etc.—of riding on her coattails. But who could blame her?
Long before Madonna ever donned a crucifix or Lady Gaga a meat dress, Jones was defying gender roles and creating performance art. As she relates, she never wanted to be famous for the sake of being famous, she was merely being who she was.
And who she was—and is—is a performer who is still more original than any of today’s manufactured “divas.”