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Fifteen Lessons Learned from Grace Jones's Autobiography 'I'll Never Write My Memoirs'

The singer-actress-model-muse recounts her halcyon days, throws shade at her imitators, and proves she's still a provocateur par excellence.
October 7, 2015, 1:56pm

All photos extracted from I'll Never Write My Memoirs, republished courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Singer, dancer, model, actress, muse, icon, deity, legend, alien, enigma, MANIAC, the woman they call Grace Jones is currently on a book tour promoting her official autobiography I'll Never Write My Memoirs—called so because she once sang “I'll never write my memoirs” on the '81 song “Art Groupie.” But in the opening gambit of the book she reasonably states, “I should never make promises to myself” and sets off on her deliciously enjoyable way. “A book is intimate, which is why it has covers,” she explains. “It's like sex—I'm doing it under the covers. A front cover and a back cover. If you do go under the covers, don't be outraged at what you find.” And so it begins, with one isolated sentence: “I was born.” Grace explains that she was never going to behave like the masses from the moment she arrived on the planet. “I came out of my mother feet-first. I arrived kicking and pissed off…”

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And “pissed off” she remains to this day. For anyone unaware of the magnitude of Jamaican diva's importance, the first revealed extract from her book—published in Time Out magazine—said it all, with Jones quickly establishing how everything of note in pop culture since the day she was born (the date of which she convincingly argues that she doesn't know for sure), has plagiarized her career. Including, according to Jones, Kanye West. It's a career that saw her rise through Andy Warhol's warehouse parties, via the 70s disco explosion in NYC, her own modeling for many a legendary fashion house, her hit singles on burgeoning label Island Records such as "Slave to the Rhythm
and "Pull Up To The Bumper"—both of which still stand up on the dance floor today. (Plus her best album Nightclubbing which moved her into new wave and was as much about her adopting a persona as it was about irresistible grooves). Not to mention appearances on the silver screen, most notably almost smothering Sir Roger Moore during some rough foreplay in Bond flick A View To A Kill.

In the Time Out extract, Grace attacks a “Doris” who she was invited to collaborate with, but refused, much to other people's surprise, because she didn't want to merely service a “passing trend.”

“The problem with the Dorises and the Nicki Minajs and Mileys is that they reach their goal very quickly. There is no long-term vision, and they forget that once you get into that whirlpool then you have to fight the system that solidifies around you in order to keep being the outsider you claim you represent,” she explains. Grace winds up the rant with a roll call of all her copycats. “Gaga, Madonna, Annie Lennox, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Miley, Kanye West, FKA twigs and… Doris.” By process of elimination you can assume that “Doris” is Beyoncé.

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And while you might be reading this thinking, "Chill out, grandma," Grace Jones is correct. She was first. She worked with Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, she partied at high fashion gay clubs with Karl Lagerfeld, she appeared as an androgynous demi-god on the cover of Vogue. And she is still very much first now. She's certainly the only performer I've ever seen who has finished their set singing and simultaneously hula-hooping. In stilettos. For 20 minutes. She's the only artist who's had milliner Sir Philip Tracy waiting in the wings to fix a different hat to her head for each individual song on the setlist. At one point during the headline show I witnessed at Lovebox Festival in London a few years ago, she even ordered her band to stop, calling out “Philip, dear!” so he could change her headgear mid-song.

The book takes in her wildly exciting life, of course, detailing moments of total wonderment from twirling at Studio 54, to apartment sharing with Jerry Hall in Paris. She recounts working with Andy Warhol, fighting with Duran Duran, and turning down the lead part in Blade Runner. “I immediately said no, before I had even read the script,” she writes without a trace of regret. These are but a few of the highlight events. Taken individually, these memories could be entire books for other mere mortals. Really, it's impressive she's managed to condense them all into one relatively short tome.

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But it's not all disco balls and catwalks and Hollywood glitz: I'll Never Write My Memoirs also chronicles the challenging times, such as her brutally strict upbringing and abandonment by her parents in Jamaica, the treatment of her homosexual brother, the death of her friend when she was a young model, and her experiences being objectified by producers in Hollywood as a young ambitious upstart.

The anecdotes are endless, which might explain why Jones has lived her life defiantly believing that it's never important to know what day of the week, hour of the day, or indeed year it is. Hence, throughout, she often makes failed attempts at scene-setting with vagaries like “That was whenever it was, some time ago.” “I get onstage and tell everyone I am ten years older than they think, and then I hula-hoop for 20 minutes,” she says, explaining how she measures—or rather doesn't measure—the passage of time. “It could be any number,” she writes, of her age, which she tries to make informed guesses at by reflecting back on specific landmarks in the shared history of mankind. Landmarks such as the shooting of JFK. According to Jones, all the ladies in her family live well into their old age. “Genetics,” she says. So however old she is, this is certainly great news.

Whatever the legend, good, bad or devilishly bad, the narrator's voice is consistently hers: matter-of-fact, uninhibited, and madly profound. It's tough to do the book justice in words other than her own because Grace Jones is one of a kind. The following are some lessons we've learned from her life thus far. Good luck applying them to your own day-to-day without getting arrested.

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Continued below.

ONLY USE LOCALLY SOURCED GOODS
“Jamaican people shouldn't do cocaine. They should stick to marijuana. Certain things grow in certain places for a reason.”

ALWAYS READ THE SMALL PRINT
“I was the first in my family to drink poison. It looked like soda and it turned out to be kerosene.”

BE YOUR OWN BIGGEST FAN
“You can love a boyfriend too much, but you can't love yourself too much.”

PACE YOURSELF WHEN YOU FIRST TRY ALCOHOL
“I started with Southern Comfort. I looked pretty and tasted sweet. I didn't feel it having a terrible effect until I stood up.”

YOUR FIRST KISS IS A MEMORY TO CHERISH
“We almost climbed inside each other's mouth… Obviously I was in the mood to be attracted to the baddest ass.”

YOUR FIRST JOB REQUIRES APPROPRIATE FOOTWEAR
“I wore roller skates as a directory assistant. My employers didn't say anything as long as I did my job. I loved roller-skating. I loved the feeling of speed.”

DON’T BE AFRAID TO LOVE
“I totally fell for him, [Tom, her first mentor], and, inevitably, he turned out to be gay.”

EXPERIMENT WITH DRUGS
“Try everything at least once. If you like it, keep trying it.”

EVEN HEROIN…
“I tried it, but it made me vomit. It wasn't for me, luckily.”

BUT CURATE YOUR ACTIVITIES APPROPRIATELY
“It's not for sex, acid.”

HAVE AN OPEN DOOR POLICY
“I forged a bond with local bums sleeping rough… I would invite then into my apartment for a bath and give them food, drink and some clothes. It was very church of me…”

BE COMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN SKIN
“I lived as a nudist for one month in Philly—1967 or '68 or '69, whenever it was—and it was a good summer to sit naked.”

KNOW YOUR OWN MIND
“When I am plugged in I can be scary psychic. Knowing when something is going to happen, when not to get in the elevator…”

GET A GOOD HAIRDRESSER
“Shaving my head led directly to my first orgasm… I'd never had sex like that before. It was sex from another era, another solar system. It still started with the mouth but it ended up beyond the body.”

ALWAYS TURN UP FASHIONABLY LATE—EVEN TO SCHWARZENEGGER’S WEDDING—AND DO SO WITH WARHOL ON YOUR ARM
“At the exact moment that Arnold and Maria are on their knees finishing off their special, intimate ceremony, we arrive. They didn’t say anything, but you could see from the looks on their faces that they were not at all impressed.”

Eve Barlow will be putting at least nine of these life lessons into action the next year. She's on Twitter.