“Trends come along,” Jones writes, “Be like Miley … Be like Lady Gaga … Be like Madonna,” her record labels, management, and others advise her. In order for Jones to stay relevant and grab headlines, push the political envelope, and make the magazines again, she must remake her image. The best way to do that is to collaborate with younger artists, like so many others do to relaunch their careers.
To Grace Jones, this is not only offensive but also impossible: “I cannot be like them—except to the extent that they are already being like me.”
Jones, the gender-bending iconoclast of 1980s New Wave, French fashion photography, and campy 1990s American cinema (who can forget her in Boomerang?), cannot copy the stars of today because they are already copying her. Her open letter is a critical appraisal of the young singers who are really only chasing their first 15 minutes of stardom and do not have what Jones calls “a long-term plan.”
She singles out one recent zeitgeist-defining pop star—bitterly called Doris (aka Lady Gaga)—for her contrived image. Jones writes this star “loses herself inside all the play-acting” and is “a passing phase, the latest trend, yesterday’s event.” Jones writes that Gaga has been one of the thirstiest of all recent pop stars to collaborate with her—and has been turned down multiple times. It’s hard not to take some pleasure in Jones’s searing foresight as Gaga’s most recent forays have not been her most successful.
In the autobiography she said she was would never write, Jones relishes in unbridled solipsism. She claims to be the first female artist to cultivate and curate her own indefinable “image,” remaining amorphous across multiple artistic platforms. Grace Jones can never be defined, she writes.
The 67-year-old (allegedly, but more of that later) was a compatriot of Andy Warhol and a lover to Jean-Paul Goude. Her play with androgynous style—sharp crew-cut and pressed shoulder pads—became her defining image from the 1970s onward.
But picking up I’ll Never Write My Memoirs purely for its shade is to overlook its fascinating biography. The many titles Jones has enjoyed include “disco queen” (despite much of her music coming after the death of disco), ’80s fashion icon(oclast), and, of course, mega diva.
There are countless stories—as retold to music journalist Paul Morley in the book, which took over two years to complete—about her many upsets over the years. The most exciting displays of sheer diva-ness include a time when Jones was barred from a Grammys afterparty, screaming at the top of her lungs as she was escorted out. Another was when she slapped the host of a talk show, after she felt he was not offering her enough attention, having moved on to his next guest.
But in true diva style, Jones proudly states that she is not a diva. (Which, of course, only confirms her diva status. True divas know they’re divas.) In fact, Jones loathes such a title: “I am not a diva; I am a Jones.”
Although there are many passages like this—where Jones debates the semantics of “diva” and “icon”—the more compelling stories are those about her austere childhood in Jamaica. These give illuminating insights—and may explain her adolescent sexual and social rebellion—to the life path she pursued.
Born in 1951—allegedly, since other accounts have her arriving a few years earlier—Jones was the daughter of a strict Pentecostal clergyman. Along with five siblings, she was raised under her father’s firm supervision. Jones’s recollections—including the tyrannical tutelage of her stepfather, “Mas P” (shortened from “Master”)—provide a fascinating template to read her later sexual transgressiveness and gender performance. Commenting on her younger years, Grace says: “I had no childhood; I’m having it now.”
Hence, once the chapter ends with the move to America with her parents, the sex really begins. Jones turns the adolescent rites of self-discovery and sexual experimentation up to full gear. We read of “love ins,” life as a nudist (for a month, no less) and topless go-go dancing, donning a leather whip to entertain her clients. Drugs punctuate these moments of sexual and emotional awakening, including some life-altering acid trips. But Jones is quick to clarify one point: She’d rather put cocaine up her ass then in her nose. (She denies using cocaine more than a sprinkling of times.)
It was in her early twenties in Paris that her modeling career took off. Noticed by the likes of Yves St. Laurent and Claude Montana, Jones began appearing on French runways, soon splashed across the covers of Vogue and Elle. Over the next decade, Jones’s star capital was realized as she frequented Parisian gay discotheques and socialized with the likes of Karl Largerfeld and Giorgio Armani. But Jones soon moved back to the U.S. and became a muse to Andy Warhol, eventually appearing in one of his iconic silkscreen prints.
While Jones remains best known for her distinctive masculine image—those alluring, sharp aesthetics and impossible bodily configurations in photographs—her musical talents flourished in the 1980s. Jones cut a number of records across the decade, including Nightclubbing (1981), which was infused with the New Wave sound. The album produced the moderately successful song “Pull Up to Bumper” (In the book, Jones denies the song is about anal sex, despite the long-held interpretation about “pulling up to the bumper.”)
Four years later, she released her most popular album Slave to the Rhythm, with its pulsating go-go beats and reggae-infused sounds. As well as spawning the hit “Slave to the Rhythm,” the LP also galvanized Jones’s distinct masculine image into the decade’s cultural and musical zeitgeist.
But in the decades since her climb to the top, Jones has actively resisted mounting a comeback—especially one pegged to the success of a younger in-vogue star. (There’s the good re-launches, like Barbra Streisand’s recent album Partners, and the bad, like Carly Simon rapping in Janet Jackson’s “Son of a Gun.”) In her book, Jones is unbridled in self-congratulations, offering a litany of hedonistic flashbacks.
I’ll Never Write My Memoirs ultimately solidifies Jones’s image as a demanding diva—despite her long protests to the contrary—who is unwilling to sacrifice the spotlight for other stars. The book includes her own tour rider, with one notable request being that her green room is furnished with local (but unopened) oysters. (Apparently, Grace “does her own shucking.”)
The irony is rich reading other passages where Jones’s hubris is completely unchecked. Here we enjoy rants against the likes of Kim Kardashian—whose Paper “Break the Internet” photo shoot Jones did not like, because it was taken by Jones’s long-term lover and muse Jean-Paul Goude—to superfluous denials of plastic surgery. In one memorable aside, Jones claims that when she is on TV being interviewed, cameras often go “to the back of [her] head” to see whether she has hidden scars from surgery.
But what really signals the chameleon-like nature of Grace Jones is the way she so explicitly lies about own age (playing with time multiple times) throughout I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. It is as if Jones is telling her fans (and foes) that she can never be defined by one title—even her own age.
Jones has made a career of inventing an image and brand for herself across multiple disciplines, subverting notions of race and gender with her predatory and strikingly androgynous aesthetic.
It is telling then that she titles her memoir I’ll Never Write My Memoirs: We should always expect the unexpected from the inimitable Grace Jones.