Style Observer

SO Full Of Grace

Sunday, November 04, 2018

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Grace Jones, who was bestowed with the Order of Jamaica on Heroes' Day, October 15, was conferred with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters of The University of the West Indies, Mona, on Saturday, November 3. SO, in her honour, reproduces a November 1, 2015 interview.

If you're expecting Grace Jones to be a diva, she is. Albeit in a beautiful, down-to-earth Jamaican way. She is, from our observation, a woman who was raised to understand the 'look'… the 'look' peculiar to West Indian parents. One that stops both the room and you in your tracks and keeps you grounded, even when you feel tempted to inhale that rarefied air. The look — eye contact, followed by an exaggerated roll of the eyes — is Miss Jones' secret weapon, and it has worked for her. We experience the look as she makes her way into the Ian Fleming Villa. The camera is rolling and yes, there's that moment where dreams are shattered… “There's a video camera! I wasn't told…”

Earth, open now and swallow me up, is what immediately flashes to mind. Thankfully, her concerns are soon allayed and we bond in the bathroom over lipstick and make-up for black women. I drop make-up guru Pat McGrath's name for good measure which gets as much of an approval rating as my lipstick… she's immediately hooked.

Our celebrated icon is, by the way, picture-perfect — in fact, absolutely beautiful: her skin and bone structure take us into her world as both a singer and actress. She is wearing Issey Miyake.

We're in full exhale mode as we take our seats at the table, or rather, allow Jones to dictate where we all sit. Jones's long-time confidante, mentor, and best friend Chris Blackwell is hosting us this evening. Soon Nicholas Barriffe, the villa's butler, is placing plates of tomato basil soup.

Jones becomes the perfect dinner guest; the look has established the requisite boundaries and we're no longer on pins and needles. Cue laughter and lots of drama — Jones is a drama queen. “I'm a Jamaican-late person, not a Hollywood late-person,” she states emphatically, as she explains her late arrival at Barnes & Nobles to Blackwell who, like the other 599 fans, waited two hours for her to arrive.

“It wasn't my fault… this time. The flight arrived late and I was whisked away to get to the TV show… I had no time to eat, not even to go to the bathroom (what you see is what you get with Jones; there's no filter). I was on a leash.”

“There were 600 people waiting for you for two hours,” interjects Blackwell. “Yes,” responds Jones, “and they even came with album covers to be autographed; I saw Portfolio album covers. They wanted both the book and the album covers signed. I was instructed just to sign the book — I did not want to disappoint my fans, but they were so good, they waited and got them signed. I missed the party as there were so many books to sign.” “The discipline of the people was incredible,” adds Blackwell, “they would wait until one line was up… they were so patient.”

Jones is in fact disappointed that she has arrived in Jamaica with no books… “The books sent to me by the publishers arrived late. By the time I left London they had not reached and they didn't give me any more. My mother would say them stingy… all my friends whom I have books to give to had to buy their own copies, and I feel badly. I like to give.”

The book, a New York Times best-seller, took, according to Jones, two years to complete. “I was recording at the same time, which we've not finished yet. He [Blackwell] knows about it and, as he has done in the past, he has given his BFF brutal advice.” We're unable to resist the urge to ask, “Do you listen?”. “ Sometimes,” she responds, bursting into laughter, but becomes serious as she adds: “Most of the time, as I know his advice is coming from a good place.

“The book came about because I got a bit scared that some other people would do it … the result of someone not doing so well and wanting some money. I just got a feeling that this was going to happen.

“So in collaboration with Paul Morley, my ghostwriter who understands me, we started recording conversations.”

Writer, broadcaster and cultural critic Morley was part of the team (along with Blackwell and Jones) that produced Slave To The Rhythm. Indeed, it's Morley's voice, we glean from Jones, that can be heard in the interviews with her on the track.

As dinner progresses — Jones loves the lamb, and, we soon discover, is a very slow eater — the camaraderie between herself and the man she fondly calls CB becomes evident. Their history is enviable. Their stories, experiences, shared joy and loss are the stuff of another book and, possibly, film.

The two met in 1975 and, according to Blackwell… “It was a period of some of my best work as a producer. The records we worked on together were probably some of the best work. It was great fun; magical, really. “Chris,” according to Jones, “understood my Jamaican-ness. I was trying to find my voice.” The friendly banter continues with Jones reminiscing and Blackwell filling in the gaps, like how Slave to the Rhythm moved from a single to an album.

“I rang the producer and suggested, due to the high recording costs, that it be turned into an album. The production/recording is so sweet, so beautifully produced. It's still used,” shares Jones, “as a template for the sound of records.”

Jones has us in stitches as she shares tales from Wimbledon… let's just say that a day at Centre Court with Grace Jones has been added to the bucket list with Grace serving for the match!

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