Quincy Jones’s GQ interview is nearly as quotable as Phantom Thread: From the zany to the hilarious to the awfully bizarre, Jones’s memories are a history lesson, a pop-culture family history, and a Who’s Who all at once. Jones talks about it all, from his 22 (!) girlfriends, to that time Prince tried to run over Michael Jackson, to Marlon Brando dancing in Harlem, to how Jones’s family was so poor when he was growing up that he had to eat rats (with baked beans). He gives his unfiltered thoughts on Taylor Swift, Truman Capote’s racism, and the time Harvey Weinstein double-crossed him. He talks about buying drugs from Malcolm X and seeing Ray Charles shoot heroin into his testicles. He reveals that Hal Ashbrook tried to teach him to direct so Jones could make a movie about interracial love with Robert De Niro. He talks about being a playboy, and turning down Marilyn Monroe because she “had a chest that looked like pears.” It’s a lengthy conversation worth every minute of your time, but here are the best moments.
Here is Quincy Jones going out of his way to blow up Stevie Wonder’s spot
When discussing Ray Charles, Jones said that Charles was “the most independent blind man you could ever witness — he’d go cross the lights, go to the supermarket, shop, count his change no help.” Conveniently, however, Charles would suddenly need all the help in the world when a woman was present. Jones also added that another one of his friends pulls this move, too: Stevie Wonder.
Here is Quincy Jones talking about his 22 girlfriends
Quincy Jones is 84 and has 22 girlfriends. They’re all over the world, they’re much, much younger than him, and they all know his game. “Cape Town. Cairo. Stockholm — she’s coming in next week. Brazil — Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, and Rio. Shanghai — got a great girl over there from Shanghai, man. Cairo, whew.”
Jones never really confirms their ages, but does say that two of his daughters — Rashida Jones and Kidada Jones (43 and 41, respectively) — give him new age ranges from time to time. “Well, my daughters gave me new numbers, because they kept saying, ‘Dad, you can’t go out with girls younger than us.’ I said, ‘Y’all are not young anymore …’ So the new numbers are 28 to 42. They gave them to me.”
Here is Quincy Jones talking about Taylor Swift
At first, Jones doesn’t even say anything about Swift, he just makes a face that GQ described as “somewhere between disapproval and disdain.” But then he comes around to explaining why he’s not into her: “We need more songs, man. Fucking songs, not hooks.” And then he diagnoses Swift’s problem, which you have to read in full to believe:
Some people consider her the great songwriter of our age.
He laughs. “Whatever crumbles your cookie.”
“Knowing what you’re doing. You know what I mean? Since I was a little kid, I’ve always heard the people that don’t wanna do the work. It takes work, man. The only place you find success before work is the dictionary, and that’s alphabetical.”
So if you were producing a record for Taylor Swift, what would you have her do?
“I’ll figure something out. Man, the song is the shit—that’s what people don’t realize. A great song can make the worst singer in the world a star. A bad song can’t be saved by the three best singers in the world. I learned that 50 years ago.”
Plenty of people talk as though Taylor Swift has great songs.
“But they don’t know, man. They don’t know. I’ve come and gone through seven decades of this shit. Seen all that. Seen how that works. Ignorance is no thing.”
Here is Quincy Jones complaining about Michael Jackson’s pets
Bubbles the chimp was Jackson’s most famous pet, but Jones met and was annoyed by all of them. He was especially afraid of Muscles, Jackson’s boa constrictor, but Bubbles was the most irritating: “Oh, [Muscles] scared me to death, man. I ain’t gonna lie. And the chimpanzee, whatever the fuck it was, he was a pain in the ass. He bit Rashida. My poor baby.” He continues:
If that was my daughter, I’d be kind of angry.
“Yeah, I was angry.”
What did you say?
“Well, what do you say? Shit. After it’s already happened, what the fuck can you do? I remember one day we were out there working at Hayvenhurst, and we couldn’t find Muscles, and we went downstairs—they were refurbishing this room down there — and here this cat, man, is hanging out of the parrot cage. His mouth is inside, but he just ate the parrot so he couldn’t get out of the cage. So he’s just hanging there till he digests it.”
This is Michael’s parrot he’s eaten?
“Michael’s parrot. The snake didn’t want to hear that shit.”
Let that sink in. The snake didn’t want to hear that shit.
Here is Quincy Jones calling Jeff Bezos “Jeffrey”
“Elon Musk was my neighbor for ten years. Great guy, man. He’s a fearless motherfucker. Every week we’d have two or three dinners with Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin and all those cats. Jeffrey Bezos,” Jones makes a kind of exhalation noise. “Bezos — the richest motherfucker in the world now.”
Here is what Quincy Jones says after coming across a photo of himself and Bill Cosby
“Cosby … Jesus,” and nothing else.
Here is Quincy Jones talking about buying drugs from Malcolm X
When Jones was a teenager, he toured with band leader Lionel Hampton. Everyone was doing drugs, and they had a go-to dealer in Detroit. “Every time we’d go to Detroit, at the Majestic hotel, standing in front, with his Italian shit on and amber glasses: Malcolm X. Detroit Red,” Jones told GQ. “That’s where we bought our dope. It was before he went to prison.” He went on:
So you would personally buy drugs off Malcolm X?
“Personally?” He nods. “Shit, everybody in the band bought it! The junkies used to call cocaine ‘girl’ and heroin ‘boy.’ That’s because they said cocaine would take you from your woman.”
Jones said he’s tried everything — amyl nitrate, methedrine, benzedrine — but quit heroin after he fell down five flights of stairs. He also said he stopped drinking last year.
Here Quincy Jones talking about everyone in the Third Reich doing cocaine
Jones said that German director Leni Riefenstahl, who directed propaganda films for Hitler, was “one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived.” Riefenstahl once told Jones that everybody in the Third Reich was on cocaine, and that she witnessed Hitler doing the drug. This really made sense to him. “See, I worked for pimps when I was 11, and they used to do that, too — they’d take cocaine because it raised the propensity for violence, from the primate brain. That’s the primate in us, the four F’s: Fright, Fight, Flight, and Fuck. I never understood why sex and violence were so commercial — it’s the primate brain, the animal brain. Heavy.”
Here is Quincy Jones talking about a meeting between Michael Jackson and Prince
Jones wanted Jackson and Prince to record a duet for Bad. Prince agreed to a meeting, and arrived to Jackson’s home at Hayvenhurst with a gift for Michael (whom Prince called “Camille,” and whom Jones called “Smelly”). Inside the gift box were cuff links with Tootsie Rolls on them, but Jackson threw the gift away later because “he thought there was some voodoo in there.”
“[The meeting] started off funny. Michael said, ‘I never been to Minnenapolis.’ [Prince] said” — snapping angrily — “‘It’s Minneapolis!’ Oh God … man, this is not going too well. Then Janet went by. [Prince] said, ‘Relax your lips, girl.’ And it was not going well, that’s for sure. Then we went upstairs, and he saw the chimpanzee and the snake, he said, ‘Now, that’s interesting.’ And then he says to me, ‘He doesn’t need me on this — it’s going to be a hit anyway.’ Which is true.”
Here is Quincy Jones talking about Oprah
Jones and Oprah are friends, so this isn’t shade. When discussing his talent for cooking, Jones says Oprah had his “Thriller ribs” on the show four times. Why are they called the Thriller ribs, GQ asks? “Oprah dramatizes everything.”
Later, Jones confesses that he was also uncomfortable talking to his father about his parents because his dad was the product of rape. Jones’s grandmother was an ex-slave and had three biracial children, likely fathered by her white owner. “It’s heavy,” he said. “My people were from Mississippi. Oprah and I kid all the time — we call each other ‘two motherless motherfuckers from Miss’ippi.’”
Here is Quincy Jones talking about himself
“I always get in trouble, you know. My daughter Kidada calls me LL QJ — Loose Lips.”