“Warm Leatherette”: Iconic artist Grace Jones’ “sassy tribute to the pleasures of ultraviolence”

By on September 1, 2017

Back in the 1980s, Night Flight occasionally collected some of the most innovative videos by creative music artists who we thought were regularly pushing the boundaries in their art. On September 3, 1988, we shared some of those in our “Mega Video Vault” episode, which originally aired on September 3, 1988. You can now watch it streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

One of the artists featured in this particular episode was one of Night Flight’s favorite artists, Grace Jones, and the video we featured was actually her live performance of the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” excerpted from her 1982 concert film A One Man Show.

We told you all about Daniel Miller and the Normal in this previous Night Flight post, and encourage you to go there to read more about the song (based on British sci-fi author J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel Crash).

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While Sophie Fiennes’ ten-years-in-the-making 2017 documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami continues to be screened on the film festival circuit, we’re reminded that interest in Grace Jones’ music and her life story remains high after decades in the spotlight.

In the early ’80s, that spotlight was frequently aimed at the statuesque Jones, whose recorded “Warm Leatherette” for her 1980 album of the same name (and released it as a promo-only 12″ single).

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Here’s what Pitchfork’s Eric Shorey had to say about Jones’ version of “Warm Leatherette”:

“In Jones’ hands, the song becomes a sassy tribute to the pleasures of ultraviolence, queering the original text from a self-serious and mega-ironic love poem into a campy exploration of black female sexual identity. By subverting the tropes of white, male, anglo sci-fi, Jones turned the Ballardian porno-nightmare into a celebration of perversion via the intersection of technology and sexuality.”

Jones’ version of “Warm Leatherette” became the opening song in her 45-minute A One Man Show, which collected performances shot in 1981 at London’s Drury Lane Theatre and at the Savoy Theater in New York City on her first world tour (also called “A One Man Show”).

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Not only did Grace Jones stand apart from everyone else because of her Amazonian height, her androgynous looks and her race, her vast and varied career — as a disco queen, singer, actress (she’s particularly memorable as “May Day” in the James Bond flick A View to a Kill) and model — truly made her an icon unlike no other.

Read more about Grace Jones and “Warm Leatherette” below.

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In her 2015 autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, Jones — born Beverly Grace Jones on May 19, 1948, in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, Jamaica — describes herself as “an ominous hard-eyed samurai filtered through something occult and African, the killer clown interrupting some mysterious ceremony.”

A One Man Show — directed by Jean-Paul Goude — was comprised of ten songs from three of her early ’80s albums, each produced by Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell (1980’s Warm Leatherette, ’81’s Nightclubbing — the title track a cover of Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s tune — and ’82’s Living My Life).

Six songs were performed live on stage, accompanied by four studio music videos.

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“Blue-Black in Black on Brown” (New York, 1981), cover art/photo/design by Jean-Paul Goude for Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing

The film begins with a series of chronological images from her childhood up to the then-present day — most of them from the late ’70s and early ’80s, including the iconic “tiger in a cage” portrait and the “arabesque” photo — all of which were shot by, or illustrated by, French photographer and conceptual artist Jean-Paul Goude, who Jones had met in August of 1977.

They became professionally and romantically involved in a relationship that was often turbulent and fraught with emotional outbursts (Goude was also the father of Jones’ only child, Paulo, born in 1979).

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For “Warm Leatherette,” as you’ll see, Jones first shows up wearing a gorilla costume, perhaps an homage to the 1932 film Blonde Venus, when actress Marlene Dietrich was similarly costumed.

She stands atop a back-lit staircase, beating on a snare drum strapped around her neck and looking like a full-size mechanical toy monkey.

Jones eventually takes off the gorilla head to reveal that her now looking like a New Wave heroine in her flattop haircut and dark sunglasses, dressed in an Armani suit jacket (and no shirt).

She continues to perform the song in an icy contralto while her black-gloved hands wielding mallets crash down on strategically-placed cymbals.

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A One Man Show was used to promote her newest album Living My Life, before being released on VHS and laserdisc in 1982 (it was later re-released as State of Grace, then also including its promo video).

The collection was nominated in the Best Video Album category (for long-form music video collection) for the 26th annual Grammy Awards, held on February the 28th, 1984, in Los Angeles, CA.

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Jones didn’t win the award (it was the first year that the category had been added), which went to Duran Duran instead (Toni Basil was also nominated for her Word of Mouth video album).

A One Man Show remained unreleased on DVD until March 2010, when it was finally released (on CD too) as Live in Concert.

By the way, Fiennes’ film promises to be, in one reviewer’s opinion, a “stylish and unconventional look at the Jamaican-born model, singer and New Wave Icon.”

(“Bloodlight” is patois for the red light of a recording studio and “bami” means bread, or “the substance of daily life.”)

Hopefully one day we’ll also be able to share this new documentary with her fans over on our Night Flight Plus channel.

Watch Night Flight’s “Mega Video Vault” — also featuring videos by Devo, David Lee Roth, Elvis Costello, Chaka Khan and much more — now streaming on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.