Grace Jones Interview by Michele Wallace

Grace Jones, NYC, 1970s. Photograph by Anthony Barboza
Grace Jones, NYC, 1970s. Photograph by Anthony Barboza

Grace Jones Interview

October, 1983

M: I wanted to ask you about your workout but I don’t want to waste time on that now.

G: Oh, that’s not a waste of time. It keeps me strong. It keeps my head clear.

M: You’ve always worked out.

G: Yeah.

M: What do you use? Small weights? Heavy weights?

G: No, I work out with heavy weights now. But once I get to the size and the strength that I want to maintain, then I’ll just do workout not with heavy, heavy weights, just a lot of repetition just to maintain what I have.

M: Tell me about your opinions on being androgynous, the business of your being both male and female. That’s kind of heavy but could you start there?

G: Well, sure. It’s not that heavy. It’s just like being a saint and being a devil, you know. It’s just that I think everyone has parts of their mother and parts of their father, or whatever male influence you had growing up, or whatever female influence you had growing up. There’s a lot of kids without fathers and without mothers but they still have somebody, some kind of influence, usually a man and a woman at some time in their lives, I think plays a large role in their lives. And I think that we all take things from them. And then there are certain things that are all inborn from birth that are both. And that’s why I think in some people it is stronger. Some people realize more that it exists. and can develop it more.

M: But with you, it is a pretty strong thing that you’ve acted upon. And I think that most intelligent people are aware that they’re not entirely feminine or entirely masculine, but to absorb it into your being so that in the person that you become when you perform, you get that that’s part of your philosophy. That’s a pretty heavy statement. And when you say like a saint and a devil: saints and devils are two extremes. Nobody’s a saint and nobody’s a devil but there are men and women.

G: But lots of people, I don’t care about how saintly or how pure they are, they’re not perfect. They do have sin.

M: Do you do that too. Do you try to embody both saint and devil, as well as male and female.

G: Well, it’s already there. I try to keep a pretty good, I don’t like bad vibrations, let’s say, so I try to be, I don’t like to be bad but there are times when it does take over, whether you’re getting drunk or you feel like you want to do yourself in, out of guilt, maybe in your past, things that may come up where you don’t feel 100% right with yourself and you want to just destroy yourself. Those are little devils. And I think everyone has that. We all get to a point where we just, and a lot of religious people might get down and pray at that moment, but they’re actually feeling these things.

M: You’re from Jamaica. Have you ever performed there?

G: No.

M: Isn’t that interesting. Don’t you think so?

G: The government has been going through a lot of changes in the last ten years, and it is just now getting back on its feet, so I will probably be performing there in the near future. The times when they have asked me to come and perform, I was already booked or I just didn’t have the right time schedule, but when it comes, it will be right.

M: That should be something to see. How do you like being called the Diva of Disco?

G: I have many titles. People call me all sorts of things. They call me the super rock star. They call me disco punk. God, there are so many names for me. Everyone has a different name for me. I let them call me what they want. I’m not going to let it distract me from my work.

M: But it doesn’t particularly please you?

G: I doesn’t bother me at all. As long as they’re not saying something mean about me. I think it’s a compliment, in a way, you know, diva, words like that. Queen, all these words that are very pedestal like words, they’re words of admiration, idolizing in a way, so I find it a compliment. I don’t let it lift me head of the ground though.

M: I read somewhere that you thought black men didn’t find you attractive.

G: Not all black men. A lot of black American men.

M: How do you know?

G: Because I’ve heard them make comments.

M: Before you became so famous.

G: All throughout. But more now with the kind of severe image I have. I wouldn’t even say just American men either. I think that basically my look is just a bit beyond their comprehension. It is something that they don’t understand. And when somebody doesn’t understand something, their first impression is to put it aside. dismiss. And I say that they completely dismiss me as either a freak, man, this chick is a freak, you know, too much for me, or…they just find some other way of just dismissing me.

M: And then how do you feel?

G: Or they’re are intimidated and I can’t deal with that. If a man is going to be intimidated by me, then, of course, there won’t be any kind of relationship there. So I’m not going to be looking for someone that’s intimidated by me. If a person can come up to me and have an intelligent conversation and understand where I’m coming from and dig me for it, that’s fine. I have been with black guys before but they’ve been very few, vey, very few in my life. I’ve spoken to a number of very intelligent black guys who I think understand where I’m coming from – Billy Dee Williams for one. But he’s been around, he’s travelled a lot, he’s more open minded. You see, black men are just closed minded when it comes to me. They just drop the barrier. It’s like a beauty is only skin deep kind of thing.

M: I’m very interested to hear you say that he’s one of the men that you find is an exception.

G: Well, also he’s an actor. Artists and actors and people who are successful in this business, you know, they have a bit more insight, they see a lot more of what, they aren’t as intimidated by things as some people who are maybe a bit more narrow minded.

M: Then how does that make you feel about black men? Are you attracted to black men, in general?

G: In general, yes. I have a lot of black friends. But, like I say, in my love relationships, there hasn’t been much.

M: How do you feel about white men.

G: I don’t even really look at a person as color. I find that I have been with a lot of European men, rather than American men, but it’s not a prejudicial thing on my part.

M: Talk to me about your image, imagery, the whips, and the chain, and the crewcut and the whole thing that is coming from the androgynous thing I suppose. But really,

G: That whole image is a role.

M: Although, you know, I don’t think of androgyny as being strong female and strong male. I think of it as being neither, you know, sort of mish-mash.

G: Sort of in-between? No, I think androgyny means that when you look at someone, you don’t see any particular sex so maybe the word is wrong, so maybe it shouldn’t be that word. Maybe it should be another word, because sex is part of my image, whether it is the male or the female side, that is very strong.

M: When I think of what you’re doing, I think more of African sculpture in which, sometimes, there are both breasts and penises, and they combined female and male imagery.

G: For me, basically, I see it like extremes, you know, male, female, soft, hard, society’s way of talking about it.

M: Are you playing with the roles?

G: Oh yes, of course.

M: Well, tell me about that.

G: I am playing with a domineering, male role. I mean in some families it is the woman who is domineering, she will come across as though she were wearing pants in the family. When you play a role like that you are going to come off like you’re the one who is the male stronghold of the family. So it is a role that I am playing on stage, the Grace Jones who does not smile, the Grace Jones that is serious, that gives orders that gets very protective of the female side of me. The vulnerable side does not appear. And this is a role.

M: And yet there is a very vulnerable side.

G: But that side has been kept for other uses, you know. For my own self, for my home, for other areas where I don’t feel I want to bring it in, that I am saving it for developing myself where film is concerned. That’s part of my mystique, not showing everything all at one time.

M: How are you in a relationship with a man?

G: I think I play both roles when it comes to a man because I also see the sensitivity that he may have gotten from his mother. We both can play both roles, when one is weak, the other can be strong. So it’s not always him being strong and I’m the little doll baby, you know. I like a man that can also express what he’s feeling about a woman, as he would express it to his mother. I don’t want him to think that he has to come on here with no emotions, or I can’t cry because you’re leaving for a couple of months. And he can’t cry because men aren’t supposed to cry. Big boys don’t cry, men don’t cry, and it starts from there. And if I do feel that I am in a relationship where a man cannot express this, I will help him to express it.

M: How do you do that?

G: By letting him relax, and feel secure, that by expressing this, it’s not going to make me love him any less. And by expressing the vulnerability in myself, which will help him to feel relaxed enough and free enough to do this.

M: How do you feel about the shape of your life? I mean you expressed some annoyance with it. You leave the actor’s studio, you jump in the car, you’ve got to submit to an interview, get home, go back to Scavullo’s, pick up gloves at Bergdorf’s. You’re late every step of the way.

G: I do many things.

M: Does that bother you? Do you ever call a halt to that? Or what? Is this your life forever Grace Jones?

G: Well, no, there are periods where I will call a halt. I’ll go away for a month. I have to do what I’m doing now in order to have more time to myself later. So it is like I am investing my time now. A little later on, if I feel like taking six months and going up in the mountains, and doing a project like writing where I can just sit and just do that, I can do it. So I’m really investing now. I have the strength. I have the drive. I have the youth now to do it, and if I don’t do it now, and also I’m having fun. It’s business but I’m having fun. When it gets crazy, and believe me, my acting class, I go in there, I let it all out, and I have a feeling like I’ve been regenerated.

M: Because I think if I were coming from an acting class, I might want to just sit here and cool out.

G: Yeah, and just try to think about all the stuff that I just tried to absorb in the last hour, you know, but the thing is I absorb it, I make notes, I refer back to my notes later on when I have a quiet moment.

M: And you’re just into the discipline of doing what you have to do now.

G: Yeah.

M: Because you strike me as a real business woman.

G: Well, that’s one thing that’s really disciplined that I am glad in a way, even though it was drummed into me, it was really beaten into me.

M: How?

G: Well, by going to school, by going to college. By authority, parents, teachers, all of this that I rebelled against at one time, is the same thing that I have to refer back to now.

You know, one thing that I didn’t say yesterday that I wanted to say was that schooling and a certain amount of discipline is very important for people that want to go into any kind of business. If it is show business, it is still business. People look at you and they still see dollars and cents. A lot of business people, they don’t really care about the talent, the artistic side. The come on, okay, let’s see how we’re going to use this piece of product and then, if you have a brain in your head, and show them this, they’ll respect you for it. And when you come out with whatever education, hopefully, the best education you can get and you can hit them right back with it, because they’re very educated people you’re dealing with, and you can’t come back and say, hey, you’re talking to somebody from Syracuse University. I’m not just some piece of product off the street. And you say I’m getting my best business people around me to help me do this business and get it straight, and that way you don’t get hurt. And they’ll respect you for it.

M: What kind of contribution are you interested in making? What kind of contribution do you feel you’re making now? And what kind do you hope to make? As an artist? A woman? A person?

(Tape discontinued until we get upstairs)

M: Yesterday when you were wearing that tight, red body suit, I was saying to the managing editor, you know, to dress like that is just a heck of a thing for a woman. Suppose you have cramps, or you eat the wrong thing and your stomach bumps out. I mean how can you do that every day.

G: Wait a minute. You lost me.

M: Doesn’t your stomach ever stick out? Ever?

G: Yesterday I got my period and I thought it was sticking out. No but I exercise.

M: I know you’re fit. But even if you do work out and you are fit, are your clothes always so revealing of your physiogamy?

G: These are things that I wear that to me are very comfortable. Either I like something very big like this, or very tight and stretchy. I also wear leotards when I go to acting classes, to have freedom of the body like dancers. It’s a dancer’s outfit. And they’re specifically good when I travel because they don’t wrinkle, you can roll them up, you can handwash them. I wear them because they’re practical. And luckily, I keep my body in good enough shape that I can wear them.

M: and absorb a little puffing.

G: Yeah, because usually my stomach would be the biggest it ever is when you saw it yesterday.

M: Well, it sure looked pretty flat to me. Now we had a big question. Do you remember what it was.

G: It was about contribution.

M: Yes, it was about contribution.

G: Okay, for one thing, a lot of what I’ve been doing, you want it to be appreciated, you want to contribute something that’s never been there before, otherwise it is not considered a contribution. When I was talking to Susan yesterday about really getting deep into the roots, researching African art books, things like this, seeing how they painted, something could come up, so you would say it is not just working. Maybe, in a way, marriage to me is very permanent, and I feel at this point that I am a sort of temporary person. Whereas I have had very long relationships, that were like married, if I had been married in all my long relationships, I would have been married four times.