It has come to my attention that the generation born in the 1980s has barely even heard of Rickie Lee Jones. This is an embarrassment and a tragedy. Jones should be in the same holy club as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Kate Bush, Kathleen Hanna, and Carrie Brownstein. Especially if you are a lady person, if you haven't done so yet, make a little space in the altar of your teenage heart for Jones, who surely deserves some room.
She was a wild child from the get-go, born in 1954 into a family she describes as "lower-middle-class-hillbilly-hipster." Her paternal grandfather was the vaudevillian Peg Leg Jones, a one-legged tap dancer and acrobat. As a teenager, she'd run away from home on a whim. She told Rolling Stone, "I never knew when I was going to leave. I might be walking over to a kid's house, then of all a sudden I would just stick out my thumb and hitchhike across three states."
Her place in music history often seems intertwined with her tumultuous and passionate relationship with Tom Waits. They got together in 1977, and Waits, Jones, and their friend Chuck E. Weiss ran around Los Angeles being wonderful bastards. Weiss once described a time they walked around a party full of bigwigs "with cocktail dip hidden in our palms," shaking everyone's hands. Jones is the red-jacketed blond being pinned to the hood of a car by Waits on the back of his 1978 album Blue Valentine. When her poppy/jazzy self-titled debut came out in 1979, she shot up into a new stratosphere of fame. Time magazine dubbed her "the Duchess of Coolsville"; everyone wore her signature beret. When she and Waits broke up, she poured the darkness into her follow-up album, Pirates, which was melancholy and beautiful.
Her voice is bizarre—it's like a rough edge just barely coated in smooth honey, baby-new and ancient at the same time. She slurs words, trips over and transforms consonants ("Singer first, speaker second," she told an interviewer who called her "slurry").
She left the spotlight of LA for France, married, divorced, then moved with her daughter to Washington State, releasing albums all the while—cover albums, a concept album about Jesus, a triphop album called Ghostyhead.
She's still a poet in interviews—"Birds really like me and sit near," she told the Guardian in 2011; she called her recent stripped-down cover of the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" "one devil with one guitar." She often refers to herself as a cowgirl or a pirate.
Fierce and magical, Jones seems an obvious candidate for idolatry, yet her throne in the musical pantheon is somehow not guaranteed. I'm begging you: Please rectify this immediately.