Written by Zoe Lyons

Arts

Amazing Grace

Grace Jones’ iconic LP Nightclubbing is 35 years old tomorrow. Neither it nor Jones appear to have aged. Zoe Lyons tips her hat to an artist who gives a new meaning to growing old Grace-fully.

Grace Jones performing at Fremantle Park, Australia in 2011. Photo by Stuart Sevastos, via Wikimedia Commons (CC by 2.0).

Grace Jones performing at Fremantle Park, Australia in 2011. Photo by Stuart Sevastos, via Wikimedia Commons (CC by SA 2.0).

I was never going to be a princess. From as early as I can remember the mould of little girl I was forced into always felt uncomfortable. Any stereotypically ‘feminine’ outfit my mother managed to squeeze my reluctant frame into rubbed and tortured me like a pair of ill-fitting shoes. I felt like an impostor, a disappointing attempt at a girl. This overly floral, highly patterned version of female surely wasn’t the only way. There must be another way.

Like most teenagers my world was broadened beyond measure by music. I was never particularly cool but nor was I ever really interested in what the mainstream had to offer. As a frustrated kid living in the creatively stifled suburbs I was looking for something ‘other’, something away from the norm, an alternative view, a different way to be female perhaps.

The realisation of my dreams of a gender-blurred utopia came in the shape of a beautiful Jamaican woman who had seemingly taken the female mould and smashed it to smithereens.

Nightclubbing album coverCheekbones that could cut steel, flat top haircut, gentlemen’s Armani suit and attitude that could make grown men shiver. It was an incredible look and I loved it. Miss Grace Jones: part artiste, part work of art. “Feeling like a woman, looking like a man”, she opened the doors to a parallel world, where we weren’t the freaks, but rather the unique. Her steady stare blazed from the posters that plastered my bedroom and were a constant reminder that it was OK – no, better than OK – to feel and look different.

Nightclubbing, perhaps her most successful album, is 35 years old this year and very much like the disco warrior herself, age hasn’t softened it. It still feels just as edgy and mildly threatening as it did back in 1981. A sweeping mix of musical genres and lyrics that took me to another world, a promised land of nightlife and mystery.

Granted, I was too young to fully appreciate what was being suggested by Pull Up to the Bumper, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out she wasn’t talking about being stuck in rush hour. The opening few seconds of I’ve Seen that Face Before (Libertango) still gives me goosebumps and reminds me of times I sat in my bedroom and longed to be old enough and bold enough to swagger through a Parisian street at night drinking in its thrilling pleasures.

Now as a standup comedian, I have real love and admiration for people who fully commit to performance and Grace Jones remains an inspiration. The last time I saw her live she plucked a man from the front row of the audience, jumped on his back and rode him up and down the stage.

I have never met my hero but she is famed for being rather unpredictable so it surprised me when she was booked to appear at the rather bland Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert in 2012. Resplendent in a massive red feathered headpiece and plastic bodice she hula-hooped her way through the entire rendition of Slave to the Rhythm.

Hula-hooping in 2009. Photo by The Moog, via Wikimedia Commons (CC by SA 2.0).

Hula-hooping in 2009. Photo by The Moog, via Wikimedia Commons (CC by SA 2.0).

The gathered crowd on the Mall looked on largely in bemusement but watching it on telly at home, I giggled with delight as Miss Jones proceeded to wish Her Maj a HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Oh Grace, I do love you so.

She is now well into her 60s, her true age remaining a bit of a mystery as she herself claims not to know how old she is. Quite right too, when you have lived a life as full, flamboyant and ethereal as hers it would seem silly to be bothered by something as dreary and earthbound as a birth date.

For me she is no longer simply breaking down gender stereotypes but is also kicking ageism into touch as she continues to misbehave and entertain. She will never conform, she will never ‘grow old’; she will always be a hero to me.

@zoelyons

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Written by Zoe Lyons

Comedian, dog owner, skier, eater, drinker, procrastinator, bad spellor.