When Disco Queen Grace Jones Lamented 'i Need a Man,' Artist Jean-Paul Goude Prowled Too Near Her Cage
It’s a love affair that seems to have everything—most of it wrong. They’re both difficult. “She’s schizo,” he says. “She can be an outrageous bitch.” She blandly explains: “If I gave in, all the mystery would be gone.” Their intensity is sometimes exhausting. “We both have strong appetites to indulge,” she says. “We could burn each other out.” Each is jealous of the other. “If he’s going to see others, so will I,” she warns. “I’m not that liberated.” Their arguments often explode into violence. “I lose my temper and get hysterical,” he admits. She says, “I cry a lot. I can’t let it build up. Otherwise I get so angry I throw things.”
It seems hard to believe that anything but heartbreak—not to mention psychoses—could emerge from such a mix of temperaments. That may indeed be the vision of the end. But for the past 20 months the relationship between avant-garde chanteuse Grace Jones, 27, and French artist Jean-Paul Goude, 38, has been a kind of organic miracle. Under his influence as lover, director and producer, Grace has improved her disco act and scored at Studio 54, Roseland and gay haunts like Les Mouches. She’s even sterilized it enough for television (Dinah!, Merv Griffin and Midnight Special). As a cult star, Grace Jones has moved her career far beyond the point two earlier singles (I Need a Man and That’s the Trouble) took her.
That very success ironically has meant problems for Jean-Paul. He is an innovative painter and former art editor of Esquire, but “Now people have a tendency to think I’m the boyfriend she drags around, the French one for whom she seems to have the little weakness,” he complains. “I never had that before.”
Their affair began in August 1977, when Grace, a Jamaica-born former model, called on acquaintance Jean-Paul for esthetic advice on her act. The sexual dalliance begun during their collaboration later blossomed into romance. “She’s the only woman I can work with or talk to,” says Goude. “I’m not interested in cupcakes anymore.”
Grace, who grew up learning to assert herself against six siblings (“I had to or they’d beat me up”) is certainly no cupcake. Goude discovered that midway in the ensuing tour when he offered a suggestion she took as personal criticism. He told Grace to forget it and pushed her. Humiliated, she raked her fingernails across his face, and Goude grabbed her by the throat. “Her tongue was sticking out,” he recalls, “there was blood all over and some guy got so scared he ran to call the police.” He attributes his outburst to the strain of the tour; Grace just says, “I’m very hardheaded.”
Scenes like that have blessedly given way to a somewhat more serene relationship (“We haven’t had a fight in 10 days,” Jean-Paul brags). Perhaps their unusual domestic arrangement is partly responsible. Grace has kept her own midtown apartment, but spends most of her time (and keeps her birth control pills) at Jean-Paul’s $1,000-a-month loft penthouse near Union Square. “It’s rare that we don’t sleep together,” she says. There both also work on their separate projects—Grace on song lyrics and her third album and Jean-Paul on a book of his photographs as well as on her act. They regularly eat out. “I’m not into cooking,” explains Grace.
Jean-Paul has been fascinated with women like Grace since his youth. The son of a French engineer and an American-born dancer, he grew up in a Paris suburb. From the moment he saw West Side Story and the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, he found himself captivated by “ethnic minorities—black girls, PRs. I had jungle fever.” He now says, “Blacks are the premise of my work.” A fashion illustrator in Paris before Esquire lured him to New York in 1969, he lived with an Ailey dancer and a string of black models who served as in-house muses for his photographs, painting and sculpture. When he first saw Grace in performance, he admits he was bowled over by her close-cropped androgynous look. “Men think she’s sexy,” he explains. “Women think she’s a little masculine, so they’re not jealous. Gays think she’s a drag queen.” After painting a portrait of her for New York magazine two years ago, he kept her in mind. “She’s the manifestation of all my fantasies,” he says. “She’s the face of the ’80s.”
For her part, Grace has always had an affinity for European men. Raised in Jamaica and Syracuse, N.Y. (where her father is a Pentecostal minister), she lived by turns with an Italian, an Austrian, a Belgian (a hairstylist whose New York salon created her near-bald coif) and a Frenchman (the manager of the restaurant in Paris’ chic Club Sept). “I’m a foreigner myself and there’s more mystery and curiosity with them than with Jamaicans or Americans,” insists Grace.
The alliance she and Jean-Paul have formed may be a bit one-sided. “She is rushing things,” friends say. Indeed, Grace, who has always cut off relationships short of the proposal stage (“At a certain point men want to own you”), now says, “If I were ever to be married it would be to someone like Jean-Paul.” They’ve discussed marriage and children, but Jean-Paul sees the relationship pragmatically: “With Grace, it’s a big holiday. I love the contacts, and an artist needs a woman with him.” He offers the traditional French demurrer: “Marriage is a serious commitment. I’m not ready for it.”
Much seems to depend on Grace’s future. Jean-Paul has largely shelved his own work to concentrate on Grace’s career (right now he lives primarily on a salary from her and his own savings). He feels that if her new album is a success, there will be less need for elaborate sets and gimmicks for her disco act—and thus less need for him. Neither seems worried about the future. “We’re both very loyal people,” says Grace. “If Jean-Paul didn’t want the commitment, he’d tell me.” He agrees: “Grace is more romantic than I, but I’m older now. If I think about someone all day and care about them, then I’m in love. There don’t have to be the mad heartbeats I had when I was 20.”