This is the book I’ve waited years to be written. Over the years I’ve completed a number of publisher surveys regarding Celebrity Biographies, a question often asked is “Who would you most like to write their autobiography?” Without fail I always answer “Grace Jones” and here at long last it is.
There are a number of reasons I wanted to read this book and ordered it from Amazon so it would be delivered on the day it came out. Firstly, Grace is a true original, there really is no-one like her. Also, she must surely have a story to tell, the people she has known, the whole surviving the hedonism of the 70’s thing, the whole Art, Celebrity, Music, Fashion involvement, but perhaps the most significant for me was because the image of Grace Jones is so strong, I wanted to know how much of the real Grace would be allowed to filter through in her life story.
We’re not hiding the ghost-writer here. This is Grace’s story as told to Paul Morley. British writer Paul has spent years as a leading music writer, has participated in the madness of the music business itself as member of the Art of Noise and worked with Grace on her 1985 “Slave To The Rhythm” album project. He obviously has the experience and trust to get the best out of Grace and this is the result.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the importance of image and her background as a model, my first introduction to Grace Jones was through a photograph. It was probably in “Blues & Soul” magazine or “Record Mirror” in 1977 and through the wonders of the internet I can produce this picture here
At the time Grace had just released her first album and there were stories of her performing in New York nightclubs with whips and a leopard, arriving on the back of a Harley Davidson, performing in under-dressed extravaganzas which although commonplace today were really quite revolutionary then . On the strength of the picture alone I went out and bought the album, without hearing a note from it. I had to hear what the woman who looked like this sounded like.
Grace had got into music through modelling. Because of her skin colour and her determination not to fit into a round hole she moved to Paris and became at one time one third of a modelling agency whose other two signings were women who became life-long friends, Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange. She became for a while The Disco Queen; recreated herself in 1980 with a completely different sound and became a household name. Movies beckoned, most significantly, the part of Mayday in the Bond film “A View To A Kill”. In recent years we know her for hula-hooping her way through the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration concert and still turning out music with her UK Chart album success “Hurricane” in 2008- over 30 years after her first album release.
Grace and close friend Jerry Hall
Grace is surrounded in her own mythology. Part of this has been because of the manipulation of her image by one time lover and father of her son, French artist Jean-Paul Goude which has made her seem at various times warrior-like, masculine, robotic, machine-like, animalistic even insect-like. Grace has both exposed herself totally and hidden herself totally and the lines between what is real and what is artistic representation have been more blurred for her than for any other performer. Her background is chilling – a harsh upbringing amongst a very religious family in Jamaica which saw regular beatings and instilled in Grace the need to rebel. Moving to be with her parents to Syracuse, USA at a time where there was greater freedom certainly turned her head and from then there was no looking back, and very few regrets. Grace is excellent in this book in conveying the difficulties of her background and what that has meant for her life.
But one thing you are never going to find from Grace is her age. Time is a shifting concept for her and she goes to great lengths to explain why this number cannot be revealed.
“The world likes to know the age of someone, so I would often be asked. I am honestly never sure, so when it comes to working it out, to work out how old I am, I take something important, like my son’s age, and if he is thirty-three, and I was, say, twenty-nine when I had him, then I do the math. So if you ask me now how old I am, nothing comes to mind straightaway. To some extent, it could be any number. Even then I am not entirely sure; it’s not because I am hiding my age, embarrassed or annoyed by it, but because it is not something I keep to hand. It’s not the most important thing about me. There are more important things about me than my age that will give you a better idea of who and what I am.”
The agelessness of Grace Jones is part of the myth. She does look much the same as she did forty years ago but her view of time does give a kind of vagueness to all events and this autobiography lacks the usual chronological approach- although then again she can be hot on details. It’s part of the contradictory thing which Grace admits is part of her make-up.
I was particularly fascinated by her views on the Disco Years, Studio 54 and her close friendship with Andy Warhol. She gossips a little but not too much. She is totally open with certain aspects of her relationships with the men in her life but is more likely to chronicle the break-down rather than the good times. The whole thing is imbued with the philosophy of Grace and that is really quite intriguing. This book is not therapy as Grace does not believe that helps but she is able to justify, explain and record her actions. In the UK she is well known for slapping TV chat show host Russell Harty on his television show in an action that was obviously significant for her as it helped to both make and threaten her career. This she places in context as she does many of her “wilder times”. The Grace of now is a grandmother, who loves to swim, watch tennis and do jigsaws but can still become the performance Grace, the party Grace , the scary Grace.
Grace and close friend Andy Warhol
I would have liked more photographs. There are two sections of photos within the book. These are slightly random and most come from Grace’s private collection. There are times within the book when specific photos are being discussed. I would have liked a third section of photos of those pictures and pieces of artwork relevant to the text.
The title of the book refers to a line in the song “Art Groupie” penned by Grace, which appeared on her 1981 “Nightclubbing” album. The opening lines are;
I’ll never write my memoirs,
There’s nothing in my book,
After reading this volume that is certainly not true, although Grace said when she wrote these lyrics she believed every word. I loved being immersed into this world of Grace Jones – I think she is one of the most significant performers of the last 50 years and we should treasure her. Her autobiography does not shatter many illusions but does a lot to round out the character. She and Paul Morley are to be congratulated for producing probably the only celebrity biography worth reading this year.
“I’ll Never Write My Memoirs” was published in 2015 by Simon & Schuster