City Paper is not for tourists
Quincy Jones loves and is lovedand, as they say, you can look it up. The handy index to his just-published autobiography, Q, makes it simple: Frank Sinatra (“QJ’s love for, 316”), jazz legend Clark Terry (“love for QJ, 39”), his daughter Kidada (“QJ’s love for 328-29”), son Quincy Delight III (“QJ’s love for, 328-29”), brother Lloyd (“QJ’s love for, 35”), and a slightly downgraded Michael Jackson (“QJ’s praise of, 228-29, 230, 239, 240-41”). There’s “Peggy (wife),” “Jeri (wife),” and songstress Dinah Washington (“QJ’s affair with, 102-4”).
But there have been bumps in the road. After producing Jackson’s Thriller, the top-selling pop album in human history, and toughing out a brief spat with Steven Spielberg (“Steven and I had become as close as brothers”), a burnt-out “Q” retreated to a Tahitian archipelago privately owned by Marlon Brando (“my old friend”) to get his spiritual thang back together (“Alice Walker had given me The Rays of Dawn by Dr. Thurman Fleet. I also read The Essene Gospel of Peace, translated by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely”). Sure enough, even in Tahiti he couldn’t escape the love jones, but this time the maestro found himself unable to conduct:
A sweet, beautiful girl named Vaea, a gifted painter who’d been brought to Tahiti by Roger Vadim, came to me one day, looked into my eyes and said in French, “Let’s make love.”
“I can’t.” The words choked in my mouth.
She looked deeper and said, “Your kundalini is gone.”
I said I didn’t know what she was talking about. I will always remember her by a beautiful large painting she gave me of a duck…
Fortunately, Q got it back together to crank out another Jackson album, executive-produce Bill Clinton’s first inaugural celebration, attend a state dinner for the emperor of Japan with Oprah Winfrey, father a child with Nastassja Kinski, launch Vibe magazine, get a professorship named after him at Harvard, and be awarded the French Légion d’Honneur.
So Quincy Jones and his unnamed team of ghostwriters haven’t exactly come up with My Struggle. Still, 412 pages is an awful lot of kundalini. There are 13 pages of acknowledgements (Nadia Boulanger, Lloyd Bridges), 18 pages of awards and honors (USA Today’s 1990 Entrepreneur of the Year), and 20 pages of that index full of whoppers (Malcolm X, Prince Rainier, L. Ron Hubbard, Marlene Dietrich, John Foster Dulles, Alexander Pushkin).
There are full-chapter tributes from his ex-wives (“I dated Elvis Presley, who was very sweet, and Paul McCartney, who was savvy….But Quincy was my biggest love. I still love him”) and his children (“I think my love of music is an outgrowth of my love for him”). And there’s an appropriately staggering amount of sexual derring-do (“It got so out of control that at one point I was in love with and dating Marpessa Dawn, the leading lovely from Black Orpheus; a Chinese beauty; a French actress; Hazel Scott, the gifted, cosmopolitan ex-wife of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.; and Juliette Greco, the Queen of French Existentialism, all at the same time”).
It’s that precious “in love with and dating” that elevates the book from My Life as a Dog to its own plateau of existentialism: Call it Being and Nothingness. Quincy scores by day (arrangements for Frank Sinatra) and scores by night (hanging out with Frank Sinatra), but the whole is a lot less than the sum of its very many private parts. How exactly he fled the crushing poverty of his childhood (“Rats eaten by, 1, 5”) to become the most sought-after popular music arranger and producer in the world gets lost in the surge of Q’s overweening fabulousness. One minute he’s a kiddie thug stealing candy; the next he’s lounging at the German castle of Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis.
Worst of all, what’s a celebrity autobiography without some dishing of dirt? Q is painfully discreet about the otherworldly weirdness of Jackson, the man-boy whose dozens of millions of record sales transformed Jones from music whiz to international mogul honored by Jacques Chirac. And he completely sidesteps the insider controversiesthe yearslong squabble over who played the drums on, and thus deserved the massive royalty checks from, Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” why the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince didn’t take part in “We Are the World”that music fanatics would want to buy his book for. Eddie Van Halen took on a couple of six-packs to record the guitar solo to “Beat It”? That’s, well, pretty small beer.
So, Q, if by chance you’re reading this, here’s a modest proposal. We know you’re a beautiful cat who likes to help out unknowns. And we know you’ll remix a tune 50 times, if need be, to get it just right. Give me a call here at the Washington City Paper and let’s have another shot at your incredible life story. You bring the chicks, the talent, and the love, and I’ll bring the kundalini. As soon as I figure out what it is. CP