When people think of Tina Turner, they probably hear her rumbling, raspy voice and visualize her spangly dresses and long legs. They might think of her notoriously abusive relationship with Ike Turner and how she launched a solo career in her 40s. What people (including me) may not know are small details such as she was born Anna Mae Bullock in a town called Nutbush, Tennessee. While the bulk of 2018’s Tina Turner: My Love Story tells Tina’s life story, it is bookended by her loving relationship with Erwin Bach, as well as, unfortunately, her illnesses that resulted in needing a kidney transplant later in life.
In terms of music, Tina Turner is a rock and roll legend. She sold more than 100 million records worldwide, earned 12 Grammys (including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award ), and was the first Black artist and first woman to grace the cover of Rolling Stone. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – with Ike in 1991 and as a solo artist in 2021. She was also a 2005 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and Women of the Year award.
When Tina describes going from a very sad childhood to meeting Ike Tuner, who we all know abused her beyond comprehension, it’s hard to read but also fascinating because she exemplifies undeniable strength and courage. Ike was so controlling that he even registered a trademark on the name “Tina Turner” so he owned it and her. It’s awful. A major theme in Tina Turner is that by the time she escaped Ike (which took 14 years and a lot of guts) her career was so tied to him she had to start again. As a result, people thought of her as an “overnight sensation” when it was really just her second act. It’s interesting that as she became a successful solo performer – a designation that was long overdue – she heard from Ike less and less. After “What’s Love Got To Do With It” hit number one on the charts, she never heard from Ike again. “Not a single word up to the day he died on December 12, 2007” which clearly was when she finally got some peace.
Another major theme is a lifetime of feeling unloved which is horrible, and clearly informed her life, but is also one of the reasons we root for her. “I wanted to be loved. Childhood – never loved. Past relationships – never loved. My whole life – never really loved. More than anything, I needed to feel that Erwin loved me.” My heart hurts for her and I’m glad she experienced a love story before passed away in May of this year.
Although Tina is no longer alive, her then-current happiness and hopefulness bleeds through. Her writing is conversational – like she’s explaining her life to a friend rather than writing a biography: “How exciting it was to have people sing along with me when I performed…onstage.” That being said, for someone who wrote very few of her own songs, she definitely had a lot of help from co-authors Deborah Davis and Dominik Wichmann.
An aspect of the book that wasn’t my favorite was how her sons seemed to be a bit of an afterthought. When she and Ike were on tour, the kids were looked after but the affection with which mothers usually talk about their kids is not there and it makes me sad. This story clearly isn’t about them. “As for my sons, well, they’re adults with their own lives, and I’m only a call or plane trip away.” But she is grateful for her success as a singer and the barriers she had no choice but to bust open as a Black female rock and roll singer in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Fun Facts + Stories:
- Tina had an interesting relationship with Mick Jagger. In the book she claims that she and her dancers taught him the Pony and other dance steps but apparently Jagger credits his mother. There’s also a bizarre story about him pulling off Tina’s leather miniskirt at Live Aid as some kind of risqué act that I still don’t fully understand.
- The now legendary beginning of “Proud Mary” was improvised.
- “Physical,” the song made famous by Olivia Newton-John, was initially offered to Tina but she passed on it.
- David Bowie got Tina back on the world’s radar when he told record label EMI/Capitol that he was going to see his favorite singer – Tina Turner – in concert. In addition to Bowie, Rod Stewart and Keith Richards were in the audience. In the book, Tina describes that night as a “rock ’n roll dream.”
- She was always bigger in Europe than in the United States – and then Private Dancer propelled her to worldwide stardom.
- Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits wrote the song “Private Dancer” and gave it to her.
- She can’t swim.
“I also felt my chains lifting when I started paying attention to matters of the spirit and the soul.”
“My longest love affair has been with my audience.”
“I’m in a different place now, literally and figuratively – a different seat, and a different state of mind.”