Grace (Miss Jones)

Nostalgia is not something I go in for, it strikes me as an admission of defeat and just a little bit embarrassing, as if you're ready to crawl on off already like a spider that just got sprayed. But also the era of music that it could perhaps be said I am 'nostalgic' for took place when I was a tiny person, I never lived it.

And then as a woman I know that the paeans to the past that so many establishment radio/music figures, across the genres, indulge in have a tendency to skip over the women who then, as now, struggle to get the same attention, or respect.

(Small diversion: I read an interview yesterday with a very respected late MC who said how he never listened to female MCs, didn't like them, as a rule; as if women, all women, were a category on a menu you could just leave out and then explain away as a dietary preference). 

And yet, and yet ... Grace Jones. I do feel nostalgic for the glory that is Grace Jones and other nasty women of her ilk. The wonderful thing about Miss Jones, though, was that she was as sweet/funny as she was fierce and so smart not only in terms of her look, but her music as well.

This piece of writing started off being a celebration of this remix of the magnificent 'Pull up to the bumper' ...

This is so hot, oh my excuse me; listen to the space-age effects, and that out of this world bass-line and then her so-sweet vocals that tease against the groove. And then how it breaks down to the core elements for her to return again.

(There's something nice about this remix, a little amateur at certain points, as if the DJ/producer is so taken by the beat he can't let it go and keeps it running and running, when a more 'professional type' would bring it back to the central refrain, the melody as is expected).  

But then necessarily this piece of writing, this celebration, became more expansive as I again realised just how fantastic Grace Jones's music is three decades plus on.  

'Pull up to the bumper' was first released on her 1981 record, Nightclubbing (Island Records) that featured the great Sly & Robbie - as critics have noticed the record has a strong dub/reggae feel in terms of the rhythms employed. I like this quote from Sly Dunbar speaking about the recording process:

When we were in the studio with Grace, there was a big picture of her – a big picture, going right across – on the wall of the studio, then she’d be standing there singing, so when we were playing and getting a groove all we could see was her. We took it on that reggae kind of trip, but always with Grace in mind.
— FACT magazine, 2014

Check out this live performance from Grace Jones of two singles from the Nightclubbing record, where she is so majestic strange and otherworldly, the rather timid applause reflects apparent confusion among the audience, it seems (not surprising when you see how she uses some of the people on stage as furniture, part of the backdrop for her performance).

(This fan comment received a reply of 'Tea' from 'Miss Jones' though I'm not sure if it's a genuine account of the artist: 'She's a piece of art. Such a surreal entity! her aura is incredible, so sensual and mysterious. Some ones don't believe in Grace because part of her image was directed by Goude, but, others women wouldn't fit in her aesthetic, some singers of today took things from her but they don't get the same result, is her aura, is her. She isn't manipulated by the aesthetic, she brings the aesthetic, the identity. My favourite human in the world.')

The track, 'I've seen that face before' brings forward another reason why I respect her so much as an artist: the broad mix of musical influences that shows an ability to think across genres for the points of commonality. Tango, in this case ...

Inevitably different genres of music have contrasting levels of drama, and/or intensity and what Jones has picked up here is the essentially theatrical - performance-based - nature of Argentine music, or tango, but then she makes it her own, with these very arch lyrics (and delivery, of course):

Strange, I’ve seen that face before,
Seen him hanging ‘round my door,
Like a hawk stealing for the prey,
Like the night waiting for the day,

Strange, he shadows me back home,
Footsteps echo on the stones,
Rainy nights, on Hausmann Boulevard,
Parisian music drifting from the bars,

Tu cherches quoi, rencontrer la mort?
Tu te prends pour qui
Toi aussi tu detestes la vie

Dance in bars and restaurants,
Home with anyone who wants,
Strange he’s standing there alone,
Staring eyes chill me to the bone ....

Much is made of the image of Grace Jones, the way she used her 'blackness' or her beauty to reinforce something, this depends on the perspective of the critic, but just - just? - on the basis of her music, I believe she is a radical, important artist. In the end, it doesn't 'matter' what she looked like.

This era, late 70s, early 80s, is defined by great artistry in dub and electronic music more generally, undoubtedly, but within the mainstream pop-osphere, the realm where Grace Jones was playing, I can't think of a more important artist in terms of the coherent nature of the sound and output. No other artist, or performer comes close (then or since).

For a charming talk-show performance with Joan Rivers have a look at this video. Jones talks about her family (she was a minister's daughter) and how when asked to nominate her apex of wildness she once went to a party in the nude, save for some bones around her neck (they were animal bones, she adds quickly).