Here’s GRACE JONES, still Grace, one and only Grace, the original, the body, the desire, the face, look at her reaction, look at our reaction. She is Grace, hard to pin down, she no longer exists, she’s right here, immortal and startling, invisible and relentless, arriving from some place and some time of her own choosing, some other world, from her own place in history, 30 years or so since she started singing songs and making records, as old as she is, as young as she is, as ready as she is for when she begins again to be Grace. No sooner has she finished being Grace then she begins all over again, astonished by what she discovers, so that she might astonish us, and vanish.
She has finished a new album, her first for some time, and one that among other things takes a tour through time, and the way it holds us in place even as it lets us go, the way it connects us and separates us. It sounds like an album she could have made before, when she was younger, striding from country to country to magazine to pose to club to city to city to 12-inch mix to stage to television to big screen to infamy and beyond, and an album she could only have made now, or at some point in the future. It’s the magic of a younger Grace mixed with the magic of a later Grace. It is called Hurricane because “it’s heavy and it’s powerful and it’s right in your face.”
You wouldn’t know it now, but when she started singing professionally, in a studio, she froze, she trembled, she couldn’t make a noise, she hadn’t found her voice, she didn’t know if she had a voice. When she managed to sing, there was Grace, lost soul, active mind, marching forward, dancing up a storm, pronouncing words, generating rhythm, and manipulating melody in a world of her own. Her first album (1977) as exotic ominous model with traumatized past turned demented disco diva was called Portfolio. Strangely built, powerful and motivated, flamboyantly uninhibited, her deep, tender voice exquisitely penetrating the essence of pain and pleasure, she became known as the Queen of the Gay Discos.
Portfolio was released after she had become an early 1970s top international model, gracing the covers of Vogue and Elle. She became a model after briefly studying theater at Syracuse University at 17, then moving to Philadelphia, then New York, where, they say, she shaved her head, became a nude model for student painters, tried go-go dancing. She auditioned for the then-fashionable black exploitation films.
Before all this she was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, to the Reverend Robert Jones and Majorie Jones. Christian was the name of her twin brother. The family religion was Pentacostal. It was an extremely strict upbringing. Passions of a certain sort were significantly restricted. She was wed to and reacted violently against the mysterious comforts and fixed rituals of the church. She had a childhood, she says, that was not a childhood. The family moved to Syracuse when she was 13.
She found her voice, her voices, her face, and faces. The increasingly uncanny albums that followed Portfolio were called Fame, Muse, Warm Leatherette, and Nightclubbing. To some extent they all examined sexual experience, distraught love, and ecstatic suffering. One music paper said that the icy, spicy, and lascivious Nightclubbing (1981), which combined songs written by Bowie, Iggy, and Sting with the fluid, feline Sly and Robbie Jamagical rhythm section, “changed the face of dance music.”
More albums followed Nightclubbing – Living My Life, Island Life, Slave to the Rhythm (a vivid and feverish electro-musical about the life and mystique of Grace Jones starring Grace Jones), Inside Story, Bulletproof Heart, and Hurricane (2008).