‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs,’ Grace Jones’ Memoirs
It should come as a surprise to no one that Grace Jones knows how to deliver an outrageous line. Her career as a performer, a model and a high priestess of the outré has been rooted for decades in catwalk-Kabuki mischief and provocation. A lot of readers who dip into this chronicle of her very full life, “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs,” would surely be disappointed if they didn’t feel her wild Grace-ness practically sprouting out of the pages like a towering headdress.
It takes a while for that Grace Jones to show up, but when she does, the effect is as intoxicating as a needle dropping into a groove at Studio 54, where she reigned as one of the late-night regulars in the 1970s. “Shaving my head led directly to my first orgasm,” she writes. Her description of that climax calls to mind Tom Wolfe on an onomatopoeia bender, and a few beats later she slips into a postcoital lull: “We swallowed each other up inside the body of love. Fireflies scattered through the sky.”
Memories like that hum through “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs” (written with Paul Morley), and they help to explain how this daughter of strict discipline and rigid religiosity in Jamaica managed to break away and reinvent herself as not only a riveting, genre-hopping singer but also a global avatar of liberation and flamboyance. A handful of core principles guided her along the way: self-reliance (“I am my own sugar daddy,” she offers), casual nudism (“I didn’t like wearing clothes in the house”), a willingness to try anything once (“I know that I was the wildest party animal ever”) and a belief in the restorative properties of luxury.
“I flew on the Concorde so many times I knew the pilots,” she recalls. “I knew their families. I could have flown the plane, except I would have wanted to do it naked, sprayed silver, in roller skates.”
You might think it’s impossible to get too much of that Grace Jones, who can come across onstage or in photographs as (in her own words) “a voracious she-centaur emerging from an unknown abyss and confronting people’s fears.” Alas, “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs,” which defies its own title by clocking in at nearly 400 pages, puts the reader’s tolerance of too-muchness to the test. Repetitive and occasionally hectoring, the book has a tendency to go on and on (and on and on) with the loquacious persistence of a party guest who isn’t aware that the dance floor cleared out a few hours ago.
Jones has raised imperiousness to an art form, of course, and it’s hard to imagine being the editor who was charged with the task of trying to persuade her to prune away a hundred or so pages. Careful cuts and compressions would have helped, though. A few of the later passages sound like tape-recorded soliloquies that have been dumped onto the page whole hog, and a chapter titled “Issue,” in which Jones rolls out a blanket dismissal of female pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj, will only leave many readers with a sour aftertaste.
Fortunately, the book ends on a glorious note: There’s a copy of the contract rider that outlines all of the items Jones demands when she swans into your town for a concert. Backstage she expects to find two dozen oysters, either Colchester or Fine de Claire, on ice. She expects to be given an oyster knife, too. After all, the contract says, “Grace does her own shucking.”
I’LL NEVER WRITE MY MEMOIRS
By Grace Jones as told to Paul Morley
Illustrated. 386 pp. Gallery Books. $26.99.