Sunday, 5 June 2016

Put Some Grace In Your Face | Grace Jones: A One Man Show

Blue-Black in Black on Brown
Grace Jones photographed by Jean-Paul Goude for the cover of the Nightclubbing album - New York, 1981
Image courtesy of: The Red List

“...he [Jean-Paul Goude] wanted me to be perfect. He could make me perfect by turning me into an illustration, a sculpture, a video, a special effect, a record sleeve, a stage show, a car commercial. He could create, and constantly modify, an illusion, plant me in a flawless phase of glamour midway between machine-ness and she-ness. He wanted me to be perfect. He wanted me to represent An Ideal.” ~ Grace Jones

Melissa Anderson of The Village Voice, in her February 2016 preview of the Grace Jones video vehicle, A One Man Showthe 1982 Jean-Paul Goude-directed film—which was then about to be screened, on February 8th, 2016, at The Kitchen in Chelsea (one of New York City’s oldest non-profit spaces for the performing arts as well as lecture series, founded in 1971 by Woody and Steina Vasulka as an artist collective), aptly described the forty-five-minute-long video/film as “Maximally spellbinding”. (Quote: Anderson, A., The Village Voice, February 2016)

Produced by Eddie Babbage with (New York) footage by Michael Shamberg, A One Man Show is an amalgamation—part-live concert footage, part-extended music video, part-experimental art performance film excerpted from some of Jones's performances in London and New York City—comprised of various songs (ten, to be exact: beginning with Warm Leatherette, Walking In The Rain, Feel Up, La Vie En Rose, Demolition Man, Pull Up To The Bumper, Private Life, My Jamaican Guy, Living My Life and ending with Libertango/I've Seen That Face Before) gleaned from three of Grace Jones's early 1980s albums: Warm Leatherette (1980), Nightclubbing (1981), and Living My Life (1982), all three of which were produced by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. After a flash introduction of a series of seemingly biographical images of Grace Jones (from Jamaican girlhood in Spanish Town, standing on the porch of what appears to be a small ramshackle house, immodestly lifting her skirt, to international fashion icon and  pop-music superstar on the cover of record albums and magazines), shot—or illustrated—by Jean-Paul Goude (the photographer, graphic designer, illustrator, and film director of note; the two had met in August of 1977 and were romantically as well as professionally involved, even if their relationship was, at times, a volatile and temperamental one), Jones makes her appearance garbed in a gorilla costume (an introduction—and image reference—very much reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich's similarly seductive unveiling fifty years earlier in the 1932 film, Blonde Venus, also costumed as a hirsute gorilla, albeit a devastatingly glamorous one), standing atop of an oversized staircase, back-lit and rhythmically beating a drum. After finally revealing her true, Armani-suited identity to the sound of a cheering audience, the few, distinct opening notes of Nightclubbing are shortly—and abruptly—superseded by Warm Leatherette, properly launching the film. Save for a multitude of Grace Jones clones in Feel Up—in which the ‘Jones clones’ steadily multiply into a set of seven band-mates—and a marching phalanx of glossy-lipped clones in Demolition Man, no other musician or figure appears in A One Man Show (which was also the title of Grace Jones's first world tour and from which some of the live concert footage is culled; during her early-1980s tours as well as in A One Man Show, Jones eschewed with the use of a band, relying solely on playback instead).

Grace let me make her over completely, use any effect I could find to turn her into what I want her to be.~ Jean-Paul Goude 

At the 26th annual Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles, on February the 28th, 1984, A One Man Show was nominated in the Best Video Album category, the first year that début category was presented. Jean-Paul Goude and Grace Jones did not win, however (having missed his Concorde flight from Paris, Goude was unable to attend the ceremony and Jones, after several possible escorts had been proposed for her by the Grammy publicists, who settled on O. J. Simpson as their choice but, in the end, she was finally accompanied by her friend, the actress Sarah Douglas, one of the villains from the 1980 movie Superman II); the award went to Duran Duran (for Duran Duran Lyrics). (Other nominees in that category included Alice Cooper for Alice Cooper The Nightmare, Olivia Newton-John for Olivia in Concert, Rolling Stones for Rolling Stones: Let's Spend the Night Together, and Toni Basil for Word of Mouth Lyrics. Grace Jones, on stage with Alice Cooper, was also a presenter that night, for the category of Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal; The Police won that category with their 1983 album, Synchronicity.) In her book (as told to Paul Morley), I'll Never Write My Memoirs (2015), Grace Jones recalled the aftermath of a disappointing evening in which, adding insult to injury, she had been refused admission into the Grammys after-party due to the fact that she did not have the right pass to enter: “I sat [in a taxi, greatly upset and frustrated by the events of the evening] with my Lagerfeld hat on my knee, miserable because it had all gone wrong. A One Man Show lost to Duran Duran, enough to make me scream and scream.” But Grammy award winner or not, time, ultimately, is the incontestable judge of merit: thirty-four years after its release (and especially when viewed within the context and confines of its time period), A One Man Show remains a brilliantly executed piece of (music) film—a tribute to the creative energy and artistic partnership between Grace Jones and Jean-Paul Goude.
(Quote: Jones, G. & Morley, P., I'll Never Write My Memoirs, 2015:268)

(Sources: Anderson, M., Grace and Love: ‘A One Woman Show’ Brings Back '82, and Wendy Clarke Asks the Big Questions, The Village Voice, February 2, 2016; The Kitchen, undated; Grace Jones In One Man Show: Music and Culture, a thesis by Maria J. Guzman for the School of Art and the College of Fine Arts, August 2007; Awards & Shows, Grammy Awards 1984, undated; Jones, G., & Morley, P., I'll Never Write My Memoirs, Gallery Books, 2015)

Cubist Grace with Delia Doherty
Grace Jones photographed by Jean-Paul Goude ~ New York, 1981
Image courtesy of: The Red List

Constructivist Maternity Dress
(Designed by the fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez)
Grace Jones photographed by Jean-Paul Goude ~ New York, 1979
Above left image, courtesy of: Now. Here. This. | Above right image, courtesy of: The Curious Eye

Video courtesy of: Stef Pipoca ~ YouTube

Grace Jones photographed by Jean-Paul Goude ~ New York, 1981
Top image, courtesy of: Paper Magazine | Bottom image, courtesy of: The Red List

Of course, I had seen Grace Jones before, because she was the diva and disco queen of the whole Paradise Garage scene. But I really, really want to paint her body, because she's the embodiment of everything that's both primitive and pop. ~ Keith Haring 

Acknowledged and celebrated as the ‘Queen of Gay Discos,’ Grace Jones began her musical career—after relinquishing, it must be added, a very successful modelling career in Europe, and Paris in particular—with the launch of her first album, Portfolio, in 1977; it was successively followed by Fame (1978) and Muse (1979), all first three albums having been produced by Tom Moulton. In 1980, Jones, working with the Jamaican production duo Sly and Robbie, further broadened her appeal by the release of her rendition of Warm Leatherette, a 1978 single originally by the electro-punk band The Normal (the pseudonym of Daniel Miller, the British music producer). The dawn of the 1980s thus marked the transformational phase of Grace Jones—or the persona and image of Grace Jones: gone was the disco-diva chanteuse of the decadent Studio 54 or Roseland Ballroom days, replaced by the more enigmatically aloof and magnetically-charged, flat-topped androgyne, inscrutable (and intimidatingly unapproachable) in dark, reflective sunglasses. (In Walking In The Rain, Jones pointedly alludes to her newly formed persona with the lyrics, “Feeling like a woman / Looking like a man”.) This new composite identity, this new personality situated somewhere between the archetypal male and female, between masculine and feminine, had a huge gay following; while some heterosexual men (not all) may have found Jones's (blurred) visual image-identity difficult to fathom or even unattractive and perhaps a bit threatening (an empowered, dominant Black woman adamantly refusing to abide by conventional racial stereotypes, cultural norms and gender roles and identities may not quite be the average man's ideal), gay men adored—and still adore—Grace Jones. (In a 1979 interview with People Magazine's Lee Wohlfert, Goude succinctly phrased Grace Jones's appeal to a broad spectrum of people: Men think she's sexy. Women think she's a little masculine, so they're not jealous. Gays think she's a drag queen [Quote: Wohlfert, L., People Magazine, April 23, 1979, Vol. 11, No. 16]. And in The Frog And The Princess—a track on the 1985 Slave To The Rhythm album—British actor Ian McShane reads an excerpt from Jean-Paul Goude's account of his initial encounter with Grace Jones in his 1982 book, Jungle Fever, which adverts to the vagueness and irony of her appearance and gay men's adoration, reading in part: “The first night watching her in Les Mouches, I had already decided to work with her. That night, she was singing her hit song ‘I Need A Man’ to a room full of shrieking, gay bobby-soxers. The ambiguity of her act was that she herself looked like a man: a man singing ‘I Need A Man’ to a bunch of men. I could see how the average guy could get a little scared by her physical appearance. It was so powerful.... I thought she was great.”)

Grace is modern because she is new and yet reflective of what she has been all along. But now even more so. The androgyny of her body, combined with the darkness of her skin and the power of her morphology (the sum of which would be considered by most bizarre if not unattractive), has been stylized and turned around to her advantage.
~ Jean-Paul Goude 

The propagated ‘Grace Jones myth’ has been discussed and analysed ad nauseam. Hand-in-glove with the mythologization of Grace Jones are the motivational factors and (proposed and supposed) racial undertones of Goude's compelling images of Jones (as well as the imagery of much of his photographic body of work with other African-American muses and models, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s). (In the same 1979 interview with People's Lee Wohlfert, Goude readily admitted to his long-standing fascination—since watching the 1961 movie West Side Story as well as the Alvin Ailey dance troupe perform—with ethnic women and Black women in particular: “I had jungle fever... Blacks are the premise of my work.” [Quote: Wohlfert, L., People Magazine, April 23, 1979, Vol. 11, No. 16]) But one thing is clear: willingly or unwillingly, co-operatively or coercively, the ‘Grace Jones myth’ could not have been realised without the influence, direction and aesthetic sensibilities of Jean-Paul Goude—or at least it (most likely) would not have achieved the spectacular impact or been as effective as it was.

Grace Jones photographed by Jean-Paul Goude ~ New York, 1979
Image courtesy of: The Red List

As influential and persuasive as Goude's demanding aesthetic vision may have been, every director, every Professor Higgins needs a malleable, willing and trusting Eliza Doolittle; or, more realistically, every Von Sternberg needs and relies on a Dietrich to realize that which his mind envisions, and Jones was and did that: she was, it could be rightly said, a vehicle for Jean-Paul Goude's ideas. The evolution of what eventually came to be the quintessential ‘Grace Jones image,’ therefore, was the result of a creative collaboration involving partnership, contribution and discussion from both parties—the creation, after all, is only as great as its creator; vice versa is also true. Grace Jones intimates as much in I'll Never Write My Memoirs: “He transformed the story of my life into a series of visions and fantasies. Talk would lead to him thinking, ‘I will do you like this.’ There was a lot of talking, and then the idea. It was collaborative, never only him doing me. I was not a model. I was a partner in design. An idea is worth so much. It's beyond money. Jean-Paul has a store of ideas that could last a thousand years. ... This combination of his memory [of seeing the Nazis passing through Goude's village as a child] and mine [a reference to Jones's memory of her mandatory school uniform and the rigid adherence to the importance of its appearance] led to me goose-stepping in a video [Demolition Man (1981)].” (Quote: Jones, G., & Morley, P., I'll Never Write My Memoirs, 2015:247)

As a true and rare original, it can also be similarly asserted that there is nothing stereotypical about Grace Jones. After nearly forty years in the music industry and eleven studio albums, Grace Jones has earned her rightful status as one of popular culture's most inimitable icons. Her great luck was to have met and worked with a creative genius in the shape of Jean-Paul Goude; his great luck was to find the perfect instrument through which to express his creativity in the fearless (and fearsome) form of Grace Jones. For anyone in doubt and in need of proof, peruse any of the collaborative Goude-Jones photographic images, album covers, and videos; or, better yet, look no further than A One Man Show.

(Sources: Grace Jones In One Man Show: Music and Culture, a thesis by Maria J. Guzman for the School of Art and the College of Fine Arts, August 2007; Wohlfert, L, When Disco Queen Grace Jones Lamented ‘I Need A Man,’ Artist Jean-Paul Goude Prowled Too Ner Her CagePeople Magazine, April 23, 1979, Vol. 11, No. 16; Jones, G., & Morley, P., I'll Never Write My Memoirs, Gallery Books, 2015)

Cry Now, Laugh Later
Grace Jones photographed by Jean-Paul Goude ~ New York, 1982
Image courtesy of: GUSMEN Lifestyle Magazine

Suggested readings:

I'll Never Write My Memoirs (2015), by Grace Jones & Paul Morley: Gallery Books

Jean-Paul Goude (2012), by Jean-Paul Goude: Thames & Hudson

The Goude Touch: A Ten-Year Campaign for Galeries Lafayette (2010), by Jean-Paul Goude: Thames & Hudson

So Far, So Goude (2005), by Jean-Paul Goude: Assouline Publishing

Jungle Fever (1982), by Jean-Paul Goude: Xavier Moreau Incorporated