Why has Grace Jones remained an enigma almost three decades after she first caught the public eye? Despite the fact that she’s no longer the media icon she was in the mid-to-late ’80s, she’s still a primary symbol of individuality and rebellion for many.
“Grace is one of a kind, and there is no other person on earth like her,” says John Pelosi, a representative for Jones. “She is a quintuple threat — songstress, songwriter, actress, model and, overall, an artist’s personality. When people see Grace Jones, they are seeing an uncompromising original, a vibrant contributor to contemporary culture and an American and international icon.”
Pelosi digs in deep for his artist. But the truth is, he’s right. Today, the average person might think of certain names before Jones’ when asked about the biggest enigmas in American popular culture. But if the name is suggested, most agree that Grace Jones is hard to top. Magazines, music or movies, her mystique is as intense as it gets. And time and experience have turned an adventurous artist into a wise, appreciative woman.
“Time has made me stronger in my belief that you have to do things to please yourself in a way that does not compromise,” Jones says. Time is something she spent years maximizing. She won’t even fake a desire to discuss her age, but it doesn’t matter. Her piercing eyes and statuesque, chocolate-dipped physique do not count years. They count moments.
On Nov. 15, Jones brings her legendary stage show to Space. The word “legendary” to Jones, however, should be an adjunct. An artist who has used a whip onstage to remove clothes from her male backup dancers, while commanding audience members to come up and remove theirs as well, is legendarily decadent. A woman who moved from modeling to music, then gave us joints like “I Need a Man” (a gay anthem in the ’70s) and “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You),” over the course of a decade, is legendarily funky. A woman who has come through the best and worst of life — sex, marriage, the loss of friends to the AIDS pandemic — is legendarily resilient and beautiful.
But this is not a Grace Jones history lesson. It’s more about the lessons to be found in Jones’ history. Her itinerary these days suggests stability and freedom, fitting for someone with experiences as exotic as hers.
“I travel for work and pleasure,” she says, “trying to combine the two whenever I can. In the past year or so, I have been in some wild places like Bogota and Dubai, and am always in New York, Paris and London. A memorable recent trip was to Ibiza.”
Jones’ penchant for edginess has earned her an intimidating reputation. She once attended a party wearing no clothes. She made her own rules, controlled time, and survival seemed to be her primary instinct. Although her early singles, “La Vie en Rose” and “I Need a Man,” were musically substandard, her onstage allure and heavy voice were magnetic. Then such mid-’80s hits as “Pull Up to the Bumper” and “My Jamaican Guy” (as well as other collaborations with Sly and Robbie, fellow Jamaicans and legends in their own right) solidified her reputation as a genre bender.
But because her temper and drive were also well-known, Jones’ warmth may surprise some.
“Actually,” she says, “I am open to meeting all kinds of people under the right circumstances, and love to talk late into the night. I am a listener too. That is what I love most about traveling, having friends of all kinds in all places that I can connect with wherever I am.”
Jones’ Jamaican heritage is evident in her confidence and demeanor. But as the energetic child of strict parents in a patriarchal society, there are elements she also yearned to escape.
“I wasn’t born this way,” she says. “One creates oneself. Jamaica is one of the most beautiful places in the world, with wonderful people, music and joy. But there is also a darker, mysterious side to the place. You have to watch out too. My very strict church upbringing has given me the discipline to survive, and probably inspired me to go beyond the box … a lot.”
In conversation, it’s easy to see how Jones’ energy and spirit have shined through all of her film roles. She helped elevate movies such as Conan the Destroyer, A View to a Kill and Boomerang to cult status. “Strange,” the name of her character in Boomerang, is now the term used to describe anything glamorous or fabulous.
As she admittedly looks forward to her Detroit visit (she asks that her excitement be mentioned), the most electric aspects of the Grace Jones story are past news. But her book is far from complete. The icon is content to traverse the globe, work occasionally and remain as free as she was in the ’80s. When she’s asked if any of the “written chapters” of her life still surprise her, the answer is succinct.
“So many … it’s going to make a great book some day.”Khary Kimani Turner pulls up to the beat for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org