For a very long time, Grace Jones proclaimed that she would never release an autobio, until that point where she suddenly did; taking a famous lyric of hers from “Art Groupie” and turning it on its head. When “semi-famous model Grace Jones” began making disco records in the late 70s, I was at least dimly aware of them. By that time, disco was slipping off of my radar as I tired of it dominating the top 40, so she meant little to me. It was not until 1981, following the release of the seminal “Nightclubbing,” that I actually heard Grace Jones on WPRK-FM college radio. I immediately bought the album and kept up with Ms. Jones through the release of the “Slave To The Rhythm” album.
When she jumped ship to EMI-Manhattan Records after being “on loan” for the “Slave To The Rhythm” album, she moved to Nile Rodgers as producer and stopped working with the [Island Records based] Compass-Point All-Stars. I felt the results were dull and uninspiring next to the thrilling New Wave/Dub Reggae hybrid she had worked for the last three Island albums or the ‘Grace Goes ZTT’ sheen of “Slave To The Rhythm.” It was not until 2008 and her reuniting with the Compass Point All-Stars on the excellent “Hurricane” album, that I once more climbed aboard the Grace Jones bus. I actually didn’t buy a copy until 2012 and a run-in with the 2xCD “Hurricane/Dub” edition of 2011. The initial 2008 copy of the album was not a domestic release and I never saw a copy. By 2012, I was a renewed Grace Jones fan.
I have to admit that I was not exactly rushing to read this since what I love about Jones [her music] would likely get short shrift in the pages within due to the overriding attention her celebrity commanded. It was for that reason that I never read the Steve Strange “autobio.” I knew it would have about 20 pages on the actual making of Visage records he just sang on, with the rest devoted to things [celebrity backbiting, gossip, drug abuse tales] which did not interest me in the slightest. Once I heard that this book had been written with Paul Morley, my initial reserve thawed, but not so much that I wanted to buy the book to read it; unlike the other four books in this week’s thread. So when my wife brought home a library copy of “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs,” I tucked right into it.
First of all, I have to say that my hat was off to Paul Morley for agreeing to do this. He basically helped to create a musical Jones biography for the “Slave To The Rhythm” album he helped make in 1985. It was Morley and Jones on equal ground in that case, but here, the task was far more limiting. Morley was called upon to probably stitch together several long marathon gab sessions with Jones and attempt to give it a coherent thrust while adopting the Jones ‘voice’ in the proceedings. For a writer with as distinct a literary fingerprint as Morley, this could not have been very easy. Or very much fun. But it was a challenge.
I had no idea of Jones’ background and history other that she was first a model before making records. Her strict, religious upbringing as recounted in these pages accounts for much in how she’s carrier herself as an adult. We learn that her authoritative persona that has served her particularly well in her artistic career was wholly appropriated from her harshly disciplinarian step-grandfather, known as “Mas P.” [one can imagine Morgan Freeman in the role in the Spielberg-directed version of this movie…] among her siblings. Her actual parents had moved to the US from Jamaica to establish the Apostolic Church Of Christ and had left their brood with Jones’ grandmother to be raised until they could send for the children.
The narrative of the book was fractured so that times were less important than what had happened in those times. Jones rebelled as much as she dared until her parents brought her to America by her high school years, whereupon she quickly took to the hippie life burgeoning at the time. She then began her upward trajectory from humble beginnings as a model [see the 1973 Billy Paul reissue of “Ebony Woman” at right for a portrait of a young Jones] to eventually become a recording artist on her way to overall celebrityhood.
Ms. Jones might be as flighty as she seemed when I saw her on television in the early 80s, There was always something a little Valley Girl about her persona as revealed by David Letterman interviews when all we had to go on were the records. The disconnect was profound at the time, but that same capriciousness comes through in this book when she recounted her life experiences as shot through with some of her accumulated wisdom. She seems to have decided to be nobody’s fool along the way and she is content at 70-ish [she has deliberately muddied the waters of her true age and brags about doing so here] to play an elder wise woman with no shortage of opinions on things ranging from John Casablancas to how to best live one’s life [don’t put aloe on your skin – you should be eating it!].
It’s all amusing and a quick read, but you know your friendly neighborhood Monk. I would have been far more content with more insights as to how the amazing body of work she’s created was made. The confluence of the contributing artists who united to create a perfect storm of music on those Island albums might come down to alchemy, but I can’t imagine it was just a case of everyone being at the right place at the right time. This book remains an inconclusive guide to the art of Grace Jones; instead being primarily a memoir of her life and loves that careens to and fro in her life’s path throughout its pages. Consequently, the hope of any revelatory arc or big picture is subsumed into the flight bath of butterfly Jones flitting from one bright, colorful flower to the next; seeking the nectar of her life while dispensing her pearls of wisdom to one and all along the way.
– 30 –
Your concern with the Steve Strange book is pretty much what I fault the music half of Dolby’s book. So disappointed; very, very disappointed. Don’t even read the second/non-music half.
Since then I’ve read a couple of other music bios, one on Shostatovich during WW2, whoops, wrong blog….
Tracy Thorns’ is excellent and that kept the momentum going to try some more and the next stop after that was Dave Stewart’s which was again disappointed.
One scenario after another of I hooked up with this talented person and I’m a talented person and the talented music just happened like magic…..onto next talented person I met.
At one point he starts about a charity for Africa he was involved in, never really goes into any detail why this interested him, what they did to help people or how the organization is today, just on to the next really talented person that he co-wrote with, really disappointing.
I have Elvis Costello’s and am tempted to try that one next, I just finished my last book (history about Bontoc Phillipinos who were exhibited around circuses in the US in the early 20th century) so the to-read slot is open.
Tim – Yeah, the whole social/fame aspect of musician autobios is potentially of putting to me even though they are possibly the most favorite genre to read for me. The Costello book might be a keeper. I haven’t asked my wife to get me a copy to read from the inter library loan department at the local college which she’s in charge of. But I could and should, I think. Since you read books on classical, have you ever read “The Rest Is Noise: Listening To The 20th Century” by Alex Ross? I really want to buy a copy since I think it was the best book about music I’ve ever read. Period.
Have you read David Byrne’s book “How Music Works”? That one is fairly stunning.
JT – No, but I was aware of it. I have read this though, and I can’t imagine it being much better than the Sacks book.
No, I haven’t read the Ross book but on your suggestion will seek it out.
My classical interests are kinda eclectic, the book I mentioned caught my eye because it is about one of the composers that I really like and it crosses over with WW2 history which I’ve also been known to read. I am open to classical suggestions but am a bit of a tourist in that realm, I either like what I hear or I don’t.
Tim – If you like the Shostakovich book because of its integration with history, then Ross’ book is your dream! It tied the development of modern classical music to the political and social movements in history that drove society as a whole on all levels! A real brain opener and one of the most rewarding books on music I’ve ever read.
Thank you so much for the tip. I am keenly excited to check this book out.
Tim – The Pulitzer Committee were spot on in nominating it. It’s incredible.
I just caught the new Grace Jones documentary “Bloodlight and Bami” at the Lincoln Center Film Society last week. It’s a mix of extraordinary concert footage (singing all the hits and more) from Dublin (and New York?) from around 2008 or so and cinema verite as she visits family in Jamaica, records “Hurricane” in the studio, and prepares for various concerts and appearances in hotel rooms and backstage. There’s very little context for what’s going on (I had read her autobiography and it took me a while to figure out the players, the locations, and the time frame), which makes for rough going for the uninitiated. This NY Times review sums it all up quite nicely: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/movies/-grace-jones-bloodlight-and-bami-review.html. Oh, perhaps it’s unsurprising given the subject’s out there personality, but there’s a fair amount of nudity (she was in incredible shape for a woman of about 60 or so!).
Steve – Currently awaiting this coming soon to the local art cinemas. Glad to hear that it pays attention to the gift that “Hurricane” was.
Steve – Yeah, I hear you! I just saw it last night with my wife and I was very glad that I had read her book, and even then, it was dicey going. I had to interpret the film to my wife as it happened; trying my best to remember the contents of a book read over half a year ago. Not convinced on Sophie Finnes’s chops as an editor. Fortunately, the behind the scenes on the making of “Hurricane” and the staging of her concert footage [fortunately the bulk of the film] was gripping to me.
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