Recently I wrote an exhibition review of "The Grace Jones Project" for Arts.Black where I describe the first time I saw the singer in a video in 1981. The visual imagery in "Demolition Man", left a lasting impression on me.
This duality has always been a part of Jones' life; her 2015 autobiography, "I'll Never Write My Memoirs", dives head first into a world characterized by contrasts. The book is also a cathartic exploration into her struggle between her life as shaped by her background and the persona that she carefully crafted when she came to the states. Grace Beverly Jones (known as Beverly in early years) grew up in a strict, religious family in Jamaica. When her parents moved to the U.S. seeking economic stability, Beverly and her siblings were left in the custody of a grandmother and her abusive spouse who tormented the grand-children. Patterns of rebellion emerged as Beverly created multiple personalities to cope with the abuse. A school clerical error prompted Beverly Jones' journey to re-create herself when she became Grace in school. The search for Grace took her from hippies to Hells Angels where she lived as a nudist, actress, artist and a general rabble rouser. Grace defied categorization in her pursuit to evolve beyond Beverly.
It took years of exploration and self discovery before her Studio 54 persona propelled her to stardom. While her recollection of specific dates reads a little fuzzy (she does not believe in telling time), it was clear that her sense of curiosity and appetite for adventure became a strong magnet for creatives in art, photography, fashion and music. Between the lurid celebrity encounters and "cocoa puffs", Grace has some very astute observations on music, the industry and the rise and fall of disco and New York's club scene that ultimately catered to both sides of the singer.
In the book, Grace Jones draws a clear line between early forms of disco created the early 70's and later iterations of the genre that became a lightening rod for superficiality and excess. In her critique into the question "Why did disco become so hated?", Jones summarizes disco's decline succinctly.
These observations shed light on a side of Grace Jones that's well hidden behind her menacing, man-eating shield. Grace has an affinity for "observers" and she became a sponge for artistic expression through studying the creative processes of those that she respected. Her insights on Jean-Paul Goude, Warhol, Keith Haring and Issey Miyake gave me a different perspective on their work, their process and the "business" of creativity. Her memoirs toggle between delicious gossip and contemplative reflection in a way that made the book both charming and captivating.
The two best chapters in the book detail the tumultuous production process behind Slave to the Rhythm that transitioned into a somber chapter about the many friends lost during the ravages of the AIDS crisis in the early 80's. While the book delivers on giving readers a raucous ride through the 80's, "I'll Never Write My Memoirs" also provides fleeting glimpses into quiet, vulnerable moments that make Grace both unique and relatable.
For more on Grace Jones and her cultural legacy, check out my review of "The Grace Jones Project". The exhibition is currently on view at MOAD San Francisco through September 18th.