At least with Quincy Jones you get the unadorned truth | Rebecca Nicholson | Opinion

Published on February 11, 2018

Quincy Jones has spent the last two weeks singlehandedly reviving the sagging corpse of the celebrity interview. The pop culture polymath has been talking about imminent tributes to his life, now that he’s almost 85 – there’s a biopic, a TV special and a Netflix doc in the works – and he’s done away with the kind of platitudes usually presented in promotional interviews about “the craft” and how grateful that person is to be here doing what they do. Instead, he’s served an acid-flecked, neon-streaked potted history of the 20th century.

He told GQ and later New York magazine the most extraordinary stories. Elvis couldn’t sing. The Beatles couldn’t play. Truman Capote was “racist like a motherfucker”. Malcolm X sold him drugs. Leni Riefenstahl told him the Nazis were all on cocaine. He narrowly avoided being murdered by the Manson family when he forgot about dinner at Sharon Tate’s house. Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra would put away seven double Jack Daniel’s and Cokes in an hour.

One of the things the past few months have taught us is that rose-tinted nostalgia for the golden age of fame is only ever going to be romanticising a facade; that the glossy sheen on tuxedos and private jets in any part of the entertainment industry is all too easy to scrub away. So in among all of Jones’s historical gold dust, I still winced when he talked about being “a dog” towards women; when he told GQ’s Chris Heath that he doesn’t date women of his own age, because “I got some technology out there that keep fat and old away from here”; when he implied that he knocked back Marilyn Monroe because he didn’t like her breasts.

But Heath is brilliant at his job and digs deeper to get the background. There’s no judgment and plenty of understanding. We hear about Jones’s mother, a brilliant woman who died in an institution, and the cruelty of his stepmother, whom he calls “Precious”. Jones says he thinks that’s why he treats women the way he does.

It’s not necessarily the big splashy revelations about the most famous faces of the 20th century that stood out most to me, but the complicated frankness that comes with power, age and experience. Jones doesn’t employ a room full of advisers telling him how to approach controversial topics with maximum, internet-friendly blandness (and if he did, they’re certainly not employed now). As a man who has seen the world and then some, he tells it like he, Quincy Jones, sees it. Some of what he says is unpalatable; plenty of it is astonishing. But – and this feels increasingly rare – at least he’s not seeking anyone’s approval.

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