On one hand there is the idea that Grace Jones is no more than a celebrity, a freak only marginally an entertainer. Or, worse, that she’s a limited vocalist and actress, who was compelling only for the moment she was being manipulated by designer Jean-Paul Goude and producer Chris Blackwell.
On the other hand, there are her trilogy of albums from the early Eighties: Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing and Living My Life. They irresistibly embody funk and sass and knowingness with a verve that seems, in retrospect, touching.
Unfortunately, these triumphs did not lead to any more music. Rather than fulfilling her destiny as the New Wave Nina Simone, she came to Hollywood, where she appeared as Zula in Conan the Destroyer with the current governor of California, and May Day, in A View to a Kill with a lesser James Bond. Some unimportant albums followed. Then, 20 years of silence.
And now she’s back. But as what? Who?
Grace Jones actually appeared on the Hollywood Bowl stage at a reasonable hour. I imagine those of us in the audience were the first people in history to see Grace Jones before midnight.
It began tremendously. She stood, extremely tall, completely draped by a flowing mylar sheet—kind of a NASA ghost bhurka—and sang “This is,” from her new album. It was hilarious and bizarre and she sounded great.
The evening unfolded with some wonderful and some not so wonderful things. It was revealing that none of the best moments were disco numbers.
One of the musical high points was Grace rocking out to “Love is the drug,” in silver glitter boater and heart-shaped jodhpurs. This woman can really sing.
The best theatrical coup came with “La vie en rose,” when she came out wearing a wall made of gigantic red ruffles, which, when she spun around, revealed the back half of her body entirely naked. (L.A. Weekly has a link to a bootleg video of this.)
The music and the theater came together for “I’ve seen that face before.” She sang with the most correct despair, while tangoing with a bizarre mannequin of herself. It was poetic, musical, disturbing, original. I began to get the idea--this woman is genuinely wild, driven by forces and compelled by energies that ordinary mortals know nothing of.
The downside of the evening was the wretched stage management. Couldn't anyone think of a better solution of how to deal with her costumes other than making her run off stage after each song (or before a song was over) to change? These pauses were interminable. As Andy Warhol observed, being with Grace Jones means lots of waiting around, and this is where we paid our dues. At least she tried to smooth over these dead spots by keeping up a stream of chatter, which was amiable.
Finally she came out in a relatively functional outfit, and with a whoop of “Let’s party!” launched into “Pull up to the bumper” which got everyone to their feet. This seemed to signal the start of a medley of her get-down classics. But before the song was finished it was 10:30 and the house lights went on, and the show was over. The Bowl kicked us out.
I think she was just getting warmed up.
It was a mess, but it was a mess with Grace Jones. I never thought I would see the day. And I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
The picture above is one of many amazing images from The World of Grace Jones.
... And don't miss Miranda Sawyer's already notorious 2008 piece for the Guardian about her night on the town with Grace.
Early yesterday afternoon:
“What are you working on.”
“I’m writing on Cavafy.”
“Come with me! Now!”
And I followed him to Goodwill, where he showed me this poster he had noticed earlier last week.
Chance? “Or perhaps it was that Fate / was something of an artist …”
Because of the heat, yesterday afternoon the Vista was packed. As we bought our tickets, there was a woman standing beside the line shouting, “Save your money! This movie is nothing but pornography! It shows men’s private parts! I brought my daughter and had no idea what filth it was.” She sounded earnest, but I wondered if it wasn’t a prank—the kind of prank that the whole movie allegedly is composed of.
Brüno is an event-movie, not a story-movie or an art-movie. The point of it is to tell a story or to evoke a mood, but to provide a roller-coaster to ride together with friends. It is an effective roller-coaster, and after it was over we stumbled out stunned and drained.
It is very funny—there are moments of delirium—but it is essentially a horror movie.
I know it was a horror movie because I sat through a good deal of it with my eyes shut. The horror comes from the image of America that is presented. E.g. the episode where Brüno quizzes parents who are trying to get their infants hired as models about whether or not it would be OK to expose their kid to wasps and bees, outdated heavy machinery, dead animals, burning phosphorus, crucifixions, …. And would they mind having their children dressed in a Nazi uniform, posing with a wheelbarrow in which another child will be posing as a dead Jew? Of course none of them mind.
It is very loud and blunt but it is not crude. Mr. Cohen has a good comedian’s ear for subtly weird details. Everyone will have their own example, but I continue to be disturbed by the way Brüno, in his fake-German, repeatedly referred to his anus as “mein Auschwitz.” I leave it to somebody else to unpack the scatological blasphemy, with all the implied references to Swift, Freud, Adorno, Norman O. Brown, Leo Bersani and company.
Is the movie made entirely of documentation of pranks? I doubt it, but it doesn’t matter. Whether actors or authentic specimens, the monsters Brüno parades are all too true.
The Buika who performed Saturday night at California Plaza, was different from the Buika on Niña de fuego. Instead of an ensemble, she was accompanied by a single pianist. At first I was disappointed, but quickly realized that this cabaret format provided a better opportunity to appreciate her voice. On Niña she is silky and dramatic, but at California Plaza she led us on a journey, from high-spirited hilarity to despair, from ferocious anger to the most pathetic resignation. Her voice registered sweetness and then harshness, the most overwhelming power and then complete collapse.
They have a good selection playing at Buikafans.