The style icon and provocateur leaves a spa treatment to discuss changing her mind about a memoir and today’s crop of pop stars.
“I am so terribly sorry,” said the woman in a black blazer and leopard-print heels, hovering over Grace Jones. “There’s no way that I can have you keep doing this interview here.”
Ms. Jones looked up incredulously and said, “What?” She was in the lounge room of the spa at the Mandarin Oriental, New York, wearing a towel wrapped around her head and a terry robe, a half-drunk mimosa in one hand.
Smiling a frozen smile, the hotel employee continued, “This area is for spa guests who are having ——”
“I am a spa guest!”
“Of course, Ms. Jones, I know. But people who are having treatments ——”
“So can we put a robe on him and get him a treatment?” Ms. Jones said, referring to her interviewer, whom she had ushered into the spa 15 minutes earlier, having checked out of her room upstairs.
The answer was no: hotel policy. Nevertheless, the woman was quickly learning what decades of agents, photographers, album producers, tour managers and lovers already knew: Nobody tells Grace Jones what to do.
“You’re so corporate,” she said, looking the woman up and down. “I would hate having your job. You want to work for me?”
The hotel staff, realizing it had awaked a lioness, swiftly rustled up an empty room on the 39th floor, where Ms. Jones ordered up a bottle of Champagne and fresh orange juice.
Undisturbed at last (and still in her bathrobe), she settled onto a twin bed to discuss her singular career as a style icon, disco queen, avant-garde rocker, Bond girl, provocateur and sphinx, all chronicled in her new autobiography, out Sept. 29.
The title is “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs,” a lyric from her 1981 song “Art Groupie.” Why the about-face?
“I’m allowed to change my mind, you know,” she said with a grin.
For fans who have relished her contradictory pronouncements, reinventions (though she hates the word) and blasphemies over the years, the book contains a bounty of hedonistic flashbacks from a woman whose greatest achievement has been remaining her defiantly idiosyncratic self.
From her breakout as a model in Paris in the early 1970s, where her roommates were Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange, her predatory, androgynous style subverted notions of race and gender. Embraced as a modern Josephine Baker, she relocated to New York and became a ribald disco sensation at Studio 54 and a habitué of Andy Warhol’s Factory.
When disco turned tacky, she abandoned it for reggae-inflected New Wave rock, sung in her signature deadpan purr. Between albums, she played off her savage persona in movies like “Vamp,” “Conan the Destroyer” and the Bond film “A View to a Kill.”
But it was her unmistakable look that cemented her place in pop culture: flattop hair and Egyptian-cyborg outfits (when she wasn’t nude), often refracted through the lens of the French photographer Jean-Paul Goude, with whom she shared a collaboration and volatile romance.
The memoir does not skimp on diva antics, like the time she smacked the British talk-show host Russell Harty live on television because he was paying more attention to another guest, or the time she was barred from a Grammy after-party and left the building screaming at the top of her lungs.
Nor does she hold back on her tempestuous love affairs. Her relationship with Dolph Lundgren, the Swedish security guard she helped transform into a big-screen hunk, ended after she showed up at his hotel room in Los Angeles waving a gun. Her marriage to a Turkish man in the ’90s broke up, she writes, after he held two butcher knives to her throat during a fight. (They never divorced because she lost track of his whereabouts.)
As if to burnish her over-the-top reputation, the book even contains a copy of her tour rider, which requires that her green room be furnished with two dozen oysters on ice, unopened because “Grace does her own shucking.”
But the memoir’s deepest revelations have to do with her repressive childhood in Jamaica, where she was born in May 1951. (Or so she says; some reports have her born earlier.) As part of a prominent family of clergy in the Pentecostal church, she and her five siblings were raised under strict religious supervision.
Her parents moved to upstate New York when she was small and left the children under the authority of their step-grandfather, Peart, known as Mas P, who Ms. Jones describes as a “ferocious disciplinarian.” For minor infractions, like doing a handstand in a dress, she would be whipped with a leather belt.
She coped through fantasy, the only thing she could control. “Grace lived in her own world, created her own space, created her own imaginative games,” said her brother Noel Jones, a megachurch pastor in California.
The young Grace imagined Mas P’s imperious stare as an “all-seeing eye,” following her even to the gully where she played after school. It wasn’t until years later, while taking lessons with the acting teacher Warren Robertson, that she realized she had unconsciously adopted Mas P’s glare in photo shoots and performances, turning the “all-seeing eye” back out onto the world.
She followed her parents to Syracuse as an adolescent and began the process of liberating herself. She lived as a nudist for a month, took mind-opening acid trips and worked as a go-go dancer with a whip, simultaneously aping her abuser and defying him.
“I’m always rebelling,” she said at the hotel. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”
Ms. Jones likes to say that she exists in several time zones at once, but most of the time you can find her in London or Jamaica. She had come to New York to headline the Afropunk Fest in Brooklyn, where she performed at Commodore Barry Park two nights in a row.
Source: The New York Times | MICHAEL SCHULMAN