KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Grace Jones has written her memoir. And she reveals a lot, but her age is still off-limits.
GRACE JONES: I'm not 67.
MCEVERS: Oh, you're - how old are you?
JONES: I'm not 67, and I'm not going to say how old I am. But I'm not - I'm just saying I'm not 67...
MCEVERS: Oh, OK.
MCEVERS: In her nearly 67 years, Grace Jones has been a supermodel, a muse for artists like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, a musician.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE SEEN THAT FACE BEFORE")
JONES: (Singing) Strange, I've seen that face before...
MCEVERS: ...And even a Bond girl.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A VIEW TO A KILL")
ROGER MOORE: (As James Bond) I see you're a woman of very few words.
JONES: (As May Day) What's there to say?
MCEVERS: Before there was Madonna or Lady Gaga, it was Grace Jones who created a gender-bending, hypersexual persona, and she has still got it. I saw her perform just the other week. There was a different Grace Jones for every song - a parade of costumes, wigs and war paint. She even hula hooped for an entire number.
A couple of days after the show, Grace Jones stopped by our studio here in Culver City, Calif., to talk about her new memoir. It's called, in true Grace Jones contradictory style, "I'll Never Write My Memoirs," and it starts with Beverly Grace Jones's childhood in Jamaica when she was known as Bev.
JONES: I'm a bit split-personality, so I think it's understandable.
MCEVERS: So what was Bev like as a child?
JONES: Well, Bev was still like Grace except going to church all the time, I think (laughter), more having to do whatever anybody said you had to do, you know? I couldn't really do anything on my own. But as I got older and then Grace became my name, it somehow freed me. All of a sudden, I can be this other person called Grace, you know (laughter)?
MCEVERS: Your parents moved from Jamaica to the U.S. They settled in Syracuse, N.Y. You write about it in the book.
MCEVERS: You kids stayed behind for a while, and you were raised by your grandfather. Is that correct? He was your step-grandfather.
MCEVERS: And he went by the name Mas P.
JONES: Mas P.
MCEVERS: And you write that Mas P was a ferocious...
MCEVERS: Why was he so hard on you and your siblings?
JONES: In Jamaica, it's - your children should be seen and not heard. So...
MCEVERS: ...I mean, you talk about it. It sounds like he was strict, but he was...
JONES: Oh, he was worse than strict. I absolutely thought he got pleasure out of it. I mean, you have to get some kind of pleasure out of, you know, stripping the boys naked and beating them with whips and belts and, you know?
MCEVERS: Did you get beaten as well?
JONES: I did but not like they did. I didn't again in as much trouble. But I think I did, one time, get my dress lifted up and put over the knee. Sometimes, we had to climb a tree and pick our own whip (laughter). And then he had belts - very organized, with names - on the walls.
MCEVERS: So that was your childhood in Jamaica. And then eventually, you moved to the U.S. to join your parents. You moved to Syracuse. You ended up doing some work in the theater. You lived in a nudist colony.
MCEVERS: You rode with the Hells Angels. I mean, it's a really interesting list. And you talk in the book about how you didn't feel black living in America. You didn't feel like...
MCEVERS: Yeah, explain that.
JONES: No, I didn't feel - I - because growing up in Jamaica where the majority are all black - I mean, even the white ones are black (laughter). I mean - you know what I mean? It's like - it's an attitude.
MCEVERS: Right. But what about here in America?
MCEVERS: You know, you said you didn't feel black here.
JONES: I - no because, you know, the school I went to in Lincourt, and my family lived in the suburbs. And they were the only - the first black family. And apparently, when they moved there, two or three of the neighbors moved out. So you know, I hear these things. And oh, I can kind of just go, oh, God, that is so weird. I don't understand it. I didn't want to. I just - it seemed like a waste of time to try and figure out why other people do other things. Why should I let that bother me. You know what I mean?
MCEVERS: You seem to play with race as a model, as a performer. You wear...
JONES: ...Color - I play with colors.
MCEVERS: Yeah. But you - I mean, you wear body paint that looks like it's tribal, in a way.
MCEVERS: You wear headdresses made of straw.
JONES: Yeah, yeah.
MCEVERS: You know - what would you say to, say, a 25-year-old African-American who's looking at that and saying, wow, that - hang on; that makes me uncomfortable or, I don't know how I feel about that?
JONES: I don't care (laughter), actually.
MCEVERS: Well, I mean, how would you explain...
JONES: People need to make up their own minds, so that's what I would say to the 25-year-old, that, you know, somebody feels uncomfortable with certain type of art, but it's an art form for me.
MCEVERS: Yeah. We actually got to see your body paint. We went to the show the other night. And you were - there you were on stage. Your body was completely painted. You were mostly naked. I mean, you were wearing sort of a bustier thing. But I mean, it was only covering the...
JONES: Yeah, no breasts.
MCEVERS: Yeah, right, exactly.
JONES: Only the cinctures so that we can hook a tail into it.
JONES: Yeah - no bra or no decorative jewelry.
MCEVERS: Right, just paint. I mean, you were mostly...
JONES: But as long as it doesn't get too cold...
MCEVERS: I mean, you've always been very provocative and played a lot with your sexuality in pictures, on stage. Do you see the way performers now are playing with the questions of sex and sexuality in these things? Do you like it? Do you like the direction...
JONES: I find - (laughter) I find it bad taste, a lot of it.
JONES: If you go to a dance hall in Jamaica, it works there. To put it in an atmosphere where studio lights - and you just have the girls doing these dance hall things - and that's coming out of Jamaica. It's not coming from here.
MCEVERS: You means twerking?
JONES: Absolutely. It was born in Jamaica.
JONES: So you can't remove things and put them in a different atmosphere and make that look sexy. It doesn't look sexy. You go to a dance hall in Jamaica, you're just like - you think you're in the Olympics of twerk - of butt-flexing, (laughter) butt vibrating.
JONES: There, it works. I don't like it when I see everybody doing it with this awful lighting and direction - very bad. I mean, it looks - it looks tacky. It looks tacky.
MCEVERS: So it sounds like what you're saying is don't be sexy just for the sake of being sexy. But you know...
JONES: If you are sexy, you are sexy. Sexy people don't have to try to be sexy. They are.
MCEVERS: Don't force it.
MCEVERS: And maybe just be naked a little more often.
JONES: Yeah, exactly.
MCEVERS: (Laughter) OK.
JONES: Get used to it.
MCEVERS: That's Grace Jones. Her new book is "I'll Never Write My Memoirs," and it's out now. Thank you so very much.
JONES: Thank you. I had fun.
MCEVERS: I really appreciate it.
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