Music Literature Film Index About

Island Life, Grace Jones

Island Records, Inc., December 1, 1985

Track Listing: 1. La vie en rose, 2. I Need a Man, 3. Do or Die, 4. Private Life, 5. I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango), 6. Love Is the Drug, 7. Pull Up to the Bumper, 8. Walking in the Rain, 9. My Jamaican Guy, 10. Slave to the Rhythm

Grace Jones is a big star.

-Glenn O’Brien

“I’ve got to do or die
I’m reaching for the sky
I’d like to make you mine
You know I will in time”

-fromDo or Die

Glenn O’Brien sums up the essence of Grace Jones on the back of the record sleeve for her compilation disc titled Island Life succinctly but only up to a point. An unaccounted thirty-year gap spans the time from the mid-’80s when the journalist adoringly highlighted the performer until today. Revisiting his three-column rumination, the singer’s music, and her image is long overdue.

To begin, one may counter that little is new among the ten chronologically arranged tracks, and they’d be right. Every song was previously recorded, lifted from Grace’s debut album, Portfolio, or follow-ups, Fame, Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing, Living My Life, and Slave to the Rhythm. A few tunes are covers; others are slightly tweaked versions or both. Nevertheless, the anthology represents a centralized touchstone of innovation from the artist, who shuns convention by fusing the island sounds of her Jamaican birthplace with the dramatic incantations of a Parisian chanteuse, melding a disco beat with reggae cool, and mixing high fashion elegance with street culture raw, instituting a rousing New Wave tango of originality.

The other night I was in the Mike Todd room of New York’s nouveau disco the Palladium, and “La vie en rose” came on and I realized that it had been ten years and that it was still great music.

-Glenn O’Brien

“Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose”

-fromLa vie en rose

The music remains fresh as the day it was recorded because each interpretation is a re-vamped creation in form. True to the diva’s tradition, emphasis always strikes on the vamp.

A quick flip over to the front cover art lends an eye-catching arrangement of the singer’s physicality. The iconic graphic design by Jean-Paul Goude captures her barely clothed athletic shape in a balletic pose virtually impossible for a human to hold. Her slick, dark skin extends arabesque in front of a bare blue wall. A slinky red knit tube top almost covers her nodular breasts, and another red wrap reinforces the knee on her foremost leg, upon which her lithe figure towers statuesque above an isolated but brilliantly colored cerulean swatch that, just larger than the foot on the supporting limb, skims the floor’s hardwood planks. The opposite leg contorts behind the curvature of her naked buttocks ninety degrees, meeting an extended hand, palm inward, closing the circuit of her posterior. The other arm, outstretched allongé with a color coordinated blue polka dot and white wrist cuff, also worn in repeated pattern on a calf warmer fitted below the red knee band, holds a microphone absurdly plugged directly into a rear power outlet close to the ground. Balancing effortlessly center frame, Grace bends elastic, an illusion of fluidity and a pillar of equilibrium atop an island motif.

Listening to everything again I was surprised by the continuity in Grace’s work.

-Glenn O’Brien

“Feeling like a woman
Looking like a man
Sounding like a no-no
Mating when I can”

-fromWalking in the Rain

Grace mesmerizes in any contortion. She is supple. She is sharp and severe. She is enigmatic. She is avant-garde. She is sexy. She is attitude. She is not indifferent.

Directness would become one of her most endearing trademarks.

-Glenn O’Brien

“Pull up to my bumper baby
In your long black limousine
Just pull up to my bumper baby
And drive it in between”

-fromPull Up to My Bumper

O’Brien mentions the fans copying their idol’s hallmark flattop haircut. He notes the drag queen imitation. An update to his composition, though, would include reference to the many incarnations over the decades of Goude’s visually evocative photo, additional songs, and more film roles. In addition, revision would require discussion of Grace’s use of costuming as an element of performance art and how that cue contributed to the rise of Lady Gaga, who replicates the spirit and exaggerated styles of one audacious predecessor. Comparisons are undeniable, although Gaga has so far displayed less commitment to androgyny.

Grace wields influence. She forges the pack for expression to the max, whether in private life, on the dance floor, or playing to sold out crowds at the Hollywood Bowl forty years after pressing her first LP. Her story perpetually reinvents itself, which is why the entertainer is greater than a big star. She’s a megastar, geometrically shaping culture, one funky getup to the next, ever since setting the scene aglitter in the 1970s.

To say that Grace’s band revolutionized the sound of pop music is an understatement.

-Glenn O’Brien

“Well, I’m underestimated
Highly underrated
Can there be another way?”

-fromI Need a Man

Attempts to catch up with a personality so malleable are fruitless, one learns, especially looking in reverse, because trendsetters strut steps ahead. A comprehensive biography becomes outdated shortly after the last sentence is complete. A profile can only set the stage for a career that rises as a totem from hallowed ground. There, her eminence takes position, holds a mic, and dwarfs the earthly plane below. She owns the surrounding turf. Retreat and take passage.

Along the journey to Grace’s land, an ’80s Jamaican Tourist Board jingle registers in mind. The chorus encourages listeners to “Come back.” During this trip, however, her distinctive isle calls, and, unlike a voyage to the Caribbean, returning requires keeping one’s sights set ahead, knowing that everything’s gonna be alright.

This extraordinary team of musicians would create the dance music of the future.

-Glenn O’Brien

“Breathe to the rhythm
Dance to the rhythm
Work to the rhythm
Live to the rhythm
Love to the rhythm
Slave to the rhythm”

-fromSlave to the Rhythm