GRACE JONES / “Ladies and Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones”
Breathe to the rhythm / dance to the rhythm / work to the rhythm / live to the rhythm / love to the rhythm / slave to the rhythm —Grace JonesGrace Jones is Josephine Baker reincarnated and updated. Jamaican born (Spanish Town, 19 May 1948), Grace Mendoza and family moved to Syracuse, New York when she was 12. After two years of college, Grace jetted to Paris. A model (on the cover of Vogue, Elle, Stern), an actress (Schwarzenegger the “Barbarian” recalls that she was too rough for him), and a vocalist (ten albums between 1977 and 2003), Grace emerged as the epitome of a performance artist. Grace was her own greatest hit. Her performances became legendary. But rather than a spectacle to be consumed, she was a knife that sliced the eye of every voyeur. Who could look at her and not be forced to see themselves in ways they had never noticed before? When she returned to America, this ultra-powerful woman was doing her celebrated “One Man” show. In England, British broadcaster Russell Harty interviewed her. At one point he turned his back on Grace and proceeded to talk to others. She attacked him. Literally. Slapped the man. As “May Day,” Grace bedded James Bond on screen (A View To A Kill, 1985). When I saw the movie, I remember some man in the audience hollering: “Oh, no!” Que horror! But who’s afraid of Halle Berry? Grace pushed every sexual button America had. In 1998, she got kicked out of Disney World and banned for life — they said she flashed her breast. (I wonder if Janet Jackson was in the audience.) Didn’t they know who Grace was when they invited Ms. Jones? There was something repulsively attractive about Grace. She approached sexuality as though she was free to explore whatever she chose, present herself however she chose, and confront any mythologies, expectations or restrictive social mores she chose. Imagine: a lithe, muscular, dark-skinned, Africanoid-featured black woman (i.e. by American standards, an ugly duckling) transforms into cat-woman — cat, as in panther; no sexually submissive meow, instead, a sexually aggressive growl. Grace's French paramour and future ex-husband, Jean-Paul Goude conceived and directed her image until, as he admits, the image consumed him. Andy Warhol painted pictures of her. Keith Haring painted pictures on her. Yet her career has outlived all her image-makers. Pygmalion is dead, long live the statuesque Grace Jones. Grace is the prototype survivor. She was the premiere, the ultimate, disco diva, and as an encore became the first and perhaps only successful ex-disco diva to continue diva-hood beyond the dance floor. For Grace there was always more to life than whatever living she had already mastered. Some people prefer “Pull Up To The Bumper” or the sentimentalism of “La Vie En Rose,” but for me there is only one Grace Jones record that bears repeated listening, even thirty years later. Produced by Trevor Horn with the assistance of S.J. Lipson, some have called the recording an opera, others call it a symphony or a concept album. Officially, it is subtitled “A Biography.” All eight tracks are permutations of the same song: Slave To The Rhythm. "Slave" is a 20th century experiment that is right at home in 21st century culture. The music constantly morphs. Disco. Funk. House. Classical. Electronic. Ambient. But there is more than music. There are two sets of Grace Jones interviews woven throughout. Plus, commentary from Jean-Paul. And, the instantly identifiable siren-sound of Grace’s magnetic voice. Even if you don’t like it, you listen. It is not just what Grace says — the pauses are sometimes more effective than the words themselves. Her singing, although minimal, is captivating; yet, befitting the album’s title, it is the industrial-strength drumming that dominates. And conversely, the interludes, the vocal snippets, and the ambient sounds successfully highlight the powerful and dense rhythms. Here is a visionary work of popular culture built around an iconoclastic icon of popular culture. There is no other dance music album of the Eighties that so thoroughly transcends its period and becomes not just a snapshot of its time, but an image for all time. Ladies and gentlemen: Miss Grace jones. Ashe. —Kalamu ya Salaam Click here to purchase Slave To The Rhythm Still slaving “There is only one Grace Jones record that bears repeated listening.” ???!!! Please tell me that’s a typo. It has to be. Even if it isn’t a typo, I won’t bother rebutting such an obvious misstatement, I assume the Grace Jones fanatics out there will do it for me. In any event, I’m a Grace Jones fan. I can’t speak on all the extra-musical stuff—I don’t read Vogue or Elle, can’t remember the Schwarzenegger movie or the James Bond one, and I’ve never been to Disneyworld—but as for the music itself, Grace’s records are always unique, funky and evocative. I own the Slave To The Rhythm CD, and despite how much I like it (a lot), I almost never listen to it all the way through. Some of the more experimental moments sound like Grace’s producers discovered samplers ten minutes before the recording sessions began and starting pressing buttons randomly just to see what would happen. That said, the EP (it’s not really an album) is definitely worth owning. Slave is probably the funkiest song Grace recorded and remember she's also the creator of funk classics like "Nipple To The Bottle," "Private Life," and of course, the epochal "Pull Up To The Bumper." On the EP, Grace and company re-imagine Slave not only as a straight-ahead funk jam but also as a late-night ambient piece, a hard-pounding rock tune and a slow-motion dub. The versions are connected by a thin thread of rhythm and melody but they can all stand-alone too. This isn't one of those remix collections where you get the original song along with nine or ten club/house mixes that all sound more or less the same. Ironically, my favorite version of Slave To The Rhythm isn’t even on the Slave To The Rhythm EP. It’s the eight-minute "Hot Blooded" version, which was released on Grace's 2CD Compass Point Sessions compilation. The "Hot Blooded" mix is an amalgamation of the best bits of the various versions from the original EP. BTW, graduate-level hip-hop students will recognize the synth washes near the end of the Hot Blooded Version of Slave as the sample ATCQ used to connect Part 1 of the extended version of "Bonita Applebum" to Part 2. Those who have done some post-graduate work may recognize Jean-Paul “Annihilating the Rhythm” Goude as the voice Mantronik sampled for T La Rock’s 12” single “Back To Burn.” And for the rest of you—class is dismissed. —Mtume ya Salaam
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