Saturday, 21 November 2015

Grace in Your Face! Grace Jones in London

/ "I was born … I came out of my mother feet first. I arrived kicking and pissed off, sticky with fury, soaked to the skin. I was what’s known as a stargazing fetus as well, my neck fully extended. From the very beginning I was going against the grain and making trouble.” Excerpt from I'll Never Write My Memoirs, 2015 /

“Late one night last week, after dreamily listening to the great Dinah Washington on my car radio, I was knocked out to hear the inimitable voice of Grace Jones come crackling out over a Caribbean/Mediterranean/Eurodisco beat I'd never heard before. It was "Pars," sung by Grace in moody French. .. Recorded in 1980, "Pars" still sounds utterly fresh.  What an extraordinary pop personality Grace Jones was! Oh, how I'd love to see that mannish battalion of glowering, stylish Jones clones in the "Demolition Man" video tread and trample on today's simpering crop of Zellwegger-Paltrow-Diaz-Flockhart wimpettes.... Amazing Grace, pagan diva!” Pop culture provocateur Camille Paglia writing in one of her columns in 1998.

So ... I had a fleeting encounter with post-punk freak diva extraordinaire Grace Jones recently! 

The Jamaica-born tigress was signing copies of her autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs at the big Piccadilly branch of Waterstone’s on 12 November. It was meant to start at 5 pm. I got there at 6 pm after work and was advised by a Waterstone’s employee Jones herself had just arrived – which counts as being early by Jones’ notorious standard. 

/ Jones was on her best behavior in London.  For her book-signing session at Barnes & Noble in New York in October, she rocked-up two hours late - and flashed her "raspberry ripples" to the awaiting photographers /

As each of us in the queue gradually filtered into the room and caught our first glimpse of the Afro-Dietrich and panther-in-human-form seated at the table we all gave an involuntary gasp. Up close, the 60-something Jones (she’s vague about her precise age. She’s meant to be 67 in human years) is jaw-droppingly, eye-poppingly exquisite beyond belief and preternaturally ageless. She was wearing a skimpy, flesh-exposing black dress and a dramatic black 1920s flapper-style hat. Beautiful gleaming white teeth, chiselled bone structure worthy of Nefertiti and the most glowing unlined dark mocha skin (especially around the décolletage. Yeah, you better believe I checked it out). 

It was like an assembly line designed to move us past Jones with our signed copy of the book as fast as possible. She was surprisingly un-intimidating: Jones is famous for that haughty dominatrix-from-outer-space persona but in person she exudes warmth and was smiling the whole time. But what charisma: it’s probably the equivalent to meeting the likes of Marlene Dietrich or Josephine Baker in their prime. When it was my turn, I’m pretty sure she called me “darling” when she glanced up at me. I quickly asked her when her long-awaited new CD is due out and – straight from Jones’ mouth – was told spring or summer 2016. 

Sadly photography was strictly forbidden – and it was strictly enforced by security men dotted around the room. Everyone there was itching to get a shot of Grace and the guards were quick to pounce as soon as someone tried to aim their iPhone in her direction! The closest to a shot of Jones I could get was this when a striking hardcore male fan in immaculate Grace Jones drag rocked up to join the queue. Taking photos of him was permitted! In retrospect, I should have waited around to see Jones’ reaction when she came face-to-face with her adoring lookalike.

Grace Jones Lookalike

/ OK not a photo of Grace Jones - but a very close facsimile! Kalypso Bang at Grace Jones' book signing. 12 November 2015 at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstone's in London /

/ Right! I subsequently learned the fan in Grace Jones drag is called Kalypso Bang. And I've shamelessly swiped this shot from his Facebook page! This happened after I split. I'm so glad they loosened the "no photos" rule so this meeting could be documented /

Some of my favourite excerpts from I'll Never Write My Memoirs:

“I met Marianne Faithfull that New Year’s Eve (1977). She once said she never hung out at Studio 54, that she didn’t have the clothes or the desire. She was definitely there, though, unless I’m making it up. Maybe it was the only time she went. I remember it well, because that was the moment she introduced me to Cocoa Puffs: marijuana cigarettes laced with cocaine. I would call them Mariannes, because she was the first person I smoked them with.” 

/ This shot is from a few years after their Studio 54 encounter, when Jones and Faithfull were Island Records’ reigning bad girls / art-punk divas in the New Wave-era. I've loved the music of these two since I discovered them in my teens. I continue to listen to both Jones and Faithfull to this day /

"With Richard (Bernstein), I had played with the Marlene Dietrich imagery, my head on her body in the sailor suit. Jean-Paul (Goude) saw me as the black Dietrich. There was something about the idea of her he wanted to update ... I had a friend, Patrice Calmettes, who managed at (Parisian nightclub) Le Palace after Fabrice died. Patrice and I are very close, and he was close friends with Marlene Dietrich. When I was with him one night he put me on the phone.  I said “Hello” in my usual deep voice. And she said, “Well, you sound just like me.”  It was close to the end of her life and she had become a recluse – she didn’t leave her apartment or speak to many people. Patrice was one of those she still spoke to. Our conversation was very brief: “We have the same voice,” she purred. She wished me all the best."

/ Jones channeling Dietrich /

Further reading:

I blogged my account of seeing Jones perform at the Royal Albert Hall in 2010 here.

Check out my photos of Jones performing at The Roundhouse in Camden in 2009 here. 

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