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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Earworm Weekly: Grace Jones' "Demolition Man"

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2016 at 2:03 PM

click to enlarge GETTY IMAGES/BOB KING
  • Getty Images/Bob King
A friend of mine is job-hunting. He recently asked for help in crowd-sourcing an answer to a screening question that a popular job site likes to ask its candidates: “If one song could play as your anthem every time you walked into a room, what would it be?” I declined to provide an answer, in part because I haven't held a desk job in nearly a decade. But, it got me thinking and I realized that if I were forced to answer this question myself, I'd choose Grace Jones' version of “Demolition Man.”

Sting wrote the song and gave it to Jones, who released her version as a single in 1981. The Police also recorded their own version of the song and released it on their album Ghost in the Machine later that year, supposedly because Jones' success with the song irritated them enough to try to do her one better. But although the band's take is faster and more reckless, it lacks the taut menace Jones packed into her version. The Police play the song as if it were a boast; Jones sings it as a mission statement.

Part of my attraction to Jones' version is its built-in androgyny. The title, after all, is “Demolition Man,” and yet it's sung by a female. And not just any female, but one with a deep singing voice, a crew cut, dramatic makeup, and a men's suit jacket with nothing at all underneath (watch for a brief nipple slip in the video if you're into that sort of thing). I'm quite sure that the first time I saw the clip from A One Man Show I wasn't sure whether she was a man or a woman – and soon after, I realized that I fundamentally didn't care.

I will admit here that for years I thought that the line “I'm a three-line whip” was actually, “I'm a feline thing.” Watching Jones stalk across the stage, it's an easy mistake to understand. For your next music trivia night, know that “three-line whip” is not an S/M reference: It's a term nicked from British parliamentary politics. The more lines, the more important the issue and the harder your political party will lean on you to show up and cast your vote according to instructions. Think of it as a triple-underscore “or else” and you're on the right track.

Now nearly 70, Jones is still going strong as a performer. Last year she released the cheekily-titled tell-all I'll Never Write My Memoirs, filled to the brim with juicy behind-the-scenes stories of nearly 40 years of performing, including thoughtful discussions of A One Woman Show, the performance that spawned the video of “Demolition Man.” She headlined the 2015 Afropunk Festival and is reported to be working on a new album.

“Demolition Man” is my secret anthem because, simply put, it makes me feel like a badass. In reality, I'm more of a plush and cuddly teddy bear, but when I hear this song I can't help but swagger. It's impossible to be anxious or shy when Grace Jones is snarling out the lyrics in my head. But I have a nagging suspicion that recruiters and HR departments are looking for something a little more current, a little lighter, and a touch more accessible. Who wants to hire a “walking nightmare” or an “arsenal of doom”? But if you're interested, I'm available. Call me.


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Lori Selke

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