What becomes a sex goddess most? - profile of singer Tina Turner; includes related article - Cover Story
Tina Turner bounds up the steps of her manager's suburban Los Angeles home with the energy of a schoolgirl, running in pointy-toed black-suede heels, pumping those amazing legs with practiced precision. The wig she is swearing today is strawberry blonde, cut short in a shag. Her loose white blouse is sheer, showing a white lace bra underneath cupping perfect breasts that still point to the sun. The jeans are skintight, with those deliberate rips designed to make the new look old and torn, a bit wild and ragged.
What other 53-year-old could pull this off? At once punk and suburban matron, sexy and pure, basic and classy, Tina Turner has always managed to contradict our expectations.
I admit I'm expecting someone other than this gracious woman who is somewhat prim and properly making tea in the kitchen of her manager's hillside Sherman Oaks home. Where's the raunchy, bawdy, soul-belting singer of my teenage youth? The better half of that Ike and Tina Turner Revue, which snaked through the sixties wailing those low-down, gut-bucket blues? That performer, as we knew her, is dead and gone. Resurrected in her place is the timeless Tina Turner, recharged and reinvented, a soul survivor who proves every day that living well is still the best revenge.
It's been nearly ten years since Tina Turner shot back onto the charts like a flaming meteor with her stunning 1984 solo album, Private Dancer, which earned her three Grammy Awards and a brand-new generation of fans. Incredibly, the hit single from the album "What's Love Got to Do With It?" was the first number-one song Tina Turner had had in an extraordinary career that has spanned more than 30 years and been, alternatively, in the words of the song she herself made immortal, "river deep" and "mountain high."
The story of Tina Turner's remarkable life is being brought to the big screen this month in the motion picture What's Love Got to Do With It? She is also releasing a sound track of the film with a new updated recording of her sixties classics. Based on the autobiography I, Tina: My Story, the film documents her stormy marriage to the man who first made her famous, Ike Turner. "Of course I'm honored," Tina says. "I'm trilled that someone thinks my life is interesting enough to make into a movie. Usually that comes much later. After you're dead. But at least I'm here and can defend myself". She laughs a deep, throaty laugh, easy and confident.
Tina Turner is in many ways a woman beyond defending. Her saga has become by now a well-known cautionary tale of love and hate, sex and violence suffered in an abusive marriage. The screen version stars Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne and has a running time of about two hours. That's not a whole lot of time to tell the complex and complicated story of the girl from Nutbush, Tennessee, named Anna Mae Bullock and the man who became her Svengali and husband.
"How can you put 16 years into two hours?" Tina wonders, saying that she would have preferred the story's being told on the smaller screen, with the longer running time of the TV miniseries. Then she quickly adds, "It could be fantastic, so I'm not going to say anything bad about the movie. The message I want to have come from it is that I was a strong woman. I wasn't just a battered woman."
Indeed, Tina Turner has never fit neatly into either stereotype or fantasy. She is as honest as she is gutsy, and just as she refuses to be a victim, neither does she waste a lot of time assigning blame or looking back. "I'm not worried about anything from the past," she notes. Clearing the inside is what makes dreams come true."
Tina likes to say she is "just a country girl from Nutbush who had a dream." But when she emerged on the music scene in the early sixties, she also had an act that would seduce a generation. Like the Godfather of Soul, she was one of the hardest-working performers in show business. Pumping and pulsating across the stage in swinging wigs, spike heels and slinky minis, she and her backup singers, the Ikettes, crafted by the crafty Ike Turner, were the rock-and-soul singers whose very style and stance spelled s-e-x.
Yet Tina Turner, the performer who exudes pure sexuality onstage, is not at all comfortable with the sex-image persona. "It's not something I've been proud of--having sexuality as an image--because mine usually gets associated with raunchy," she explains. "And it's based solely on what people see when I'm onstage. Even I have thought, God, look at the picture. What else can you think when you can look up from the audience and see someone's crotch?"
Tina, however, has learned to accept the image. "I realized I would have to accept it and let it pass because I know how I feel about myself My performance is sexual if you want to see it that way. Some see it as high energy, some see it as athletic. For me, it's just fun. I've always danced with a lot of energy--that's just how I am. If I'm singing "Hot Legs," then I'm going to have hot legs. If I'm singing "Honky Tonk Women," then I'm going to be a honky-tonk woman. I like to give the people something visual, but it's an act--the other side of Anna Mae Bullock. I like to play. But I don't see myself as sexy. Dorothy Dandridge was very curvy and beautiful and sexy--I'm not at all like that."
Her fans, of course, do not agree. At 53, Tina Turner has the toned, taut body of a 25-year-old. Thirty-odd years of winding and grinding during nonstop two-hours-at-a-stretch performances around the world have kept the machine a perfect, well-tuned instrument that struts, glides and shimmies on legs that have become as legendary as her music. Performing, in fact, is her only exercise. "Do I need anything else?" she asks, chuckling.
In addition to the great body, there is the great face, which has weathered the storm of abuse with astonishing flawlessness. The high cheekbones, sensual mouth and smooth caramel skin show not a scar from the years of beatings suffered at the hands of a violent husband--testament to the combination of good genes from both her African-American and Native American ancestral stock.
Tina has grown philosophical about those years spent with Ike. "I've forgiven Ike," she says, "but I haven't had the need to sit and talk with him. If I see him, it's 'Hello, how are you?' but there's no conversation. I've done all of that. I was a friend. But now I'm finished with that person. There comes a time in your life when you don't invite certain vibrations back."
Ike, the guitar-playing leader of the band that accompanied what came to be known as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, was the Svengali manager--husband who created Tina Turner, then became the nemesis wife abuser who tormented her. "Ike was very good to me at first, when we were friends," Tina explains. "Then we had a hit record ["A Fool in Love," which rose to number two on the R&B charts in 1961], and he became obsessive and afraid that someone would take me away from him. I think that interfered with the friendship. And then drugs interfered. I told him that I wouldn't leave him. It was his shortcoming that he didn't realize I'm loyal and I gave my word. That's why I stayed. I was in control of staving. Intellectuals can put any kind of label on it they want to: I was a victimized woman, battered, blah, blah, blah. I don't give a crap about that. I did what I had to do there. And I finished it."
Tina stayed only partly beause she wanted to see Ike make it to the superstardom he so desperately longed for. "This man had had a hard time," she explains. "He had a lot of anger as a Black man growing up in Mississippi--this is a man who walked from Mississippi to Tennessee when he left borne. He should have stayed a producer, but he wanted to be a star, and I felt he deserved that. And he became that."
But there were also Ike and Tina's four sons to consider (two were Ike's by another woman, one was Tina's by a former boyfriend and one was Ike and Tina's together). "I loved Ike," Tina says of what perhaps finally kept her around. "But I was never in love. On some level it was a form of addiction because I depended on him. He was very good to me when we were friends."
It was when Ike and Tina became lovers that they stopped being friends and trouble started. "We definitely would have had a longer-lasting relationship if sex had not come into it," Tina believes. She isn't sure exactly why sex changes things, only that it does. Issues of power and control suddenly become paramount, insecurities are heightened, vulnerabilities exposed.
What Tina is sure of, though, is that she and Ike Turner have been around the dance floor before--in another lifetime--and that their years together in this life-time represented some karmic debt owed, some unfinished business demanding resolution. "I'm a practicing Buddhist and I believe in karma and reincarnation--that there are other lives, that the soul goes on. There is nothing else that makes sense in terms of Ike and me being together in this life. I was never attracted to him sexually, and he was never attracted to me sexually."
For a woman who has become the closest Black America has had to a bona fide sex goddess, sex has never been particularly on Tina Turner's mind.
Nor has Tina been particularly dependent on the love of a man to define her, her years with Ike notwithstanding. "I wasn't born with that weakness," she says. "That's never been my orientation. Unfortunately, too many women today, don't value their own independence.
Tina clearly does. She credits the strength she gained from the discipline of Buddhism (a member of the Ikettes introduced her to the religion in the early seventies) as giving her the courage to finally tip and leave Ike in 1976. They were in Dallas on the first stop on a national tour. Ike had beaten her bloody en route from the airport to the hotel. After he'd fallen asleep in the hotel room, T threw on a cape to cover her bloodstained suit, put on sunglasses to mask her bruised face, wrapped her head in a scarf and ran out of the hotel onto the streets of Dallas with 36 cents and a Mobil credit card in her pocket. She found refuge in a nearby Ramada Inn. After she told the manager who she was, he put her up in his best suite. She then called Ike's lawyer in Los Angeles, who sent her a plane ticket back to L. A. and gave her a place to stay there.
Thus began the slow climb back from marital violence to freedom, independence and the kind of mainstream superstardom that had always eluded the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. For several years after leaving Ike, Tina made a living doing everything from cleaning and organizing the homes of the various people kind enough to take her in to appearing on game shows and then doing cabaret acts. Ann-Margret, the singer and dancer who was a regular hit on the Las Vegas circuit, was pivotal in helping Tina break into that lucrative venue.
At the time of the split, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue had begun the crossover move to big club and hotel acts and also found a large and appreciative audience in Europe, thanks largely to their 1969 tour with the Rolling Stones. As a solo act Tina turned out indeed to have that undefinable quality known as star power, but her lounge-act seemed a throwback to the sixties, and she had yet to make a record since leaving Ike. That changed in 1979 when she met Roger Davies, the Australian manager who would take her career in hand and firmly guide it straight to the top. Davies first made her get rid of her band and most of the dancers--the old bump-and-grind routine was dated. And most daring of all, he changed the music she sang: The bellowing rock and roll and rhythm and blues that had been the Tina Turner trademark were replaced with a slicker, more polished mixture of rock and pop.
The new Tina Turner still gives off much heat during her performances; there's still the sexual magnetism, though her famous legs are now just as likely to be wrapped in tight leather jeans as exposed in slinky minidresses. There are still the wigs-shorter and shag-cut now. "I've had weaves and I've worn extensions," Tina says without guile or hesitation. "What can I tell you? I like the freedom and ease of wigs. I have mine custom-made and I buy a very good quality of hair-from Africa, from South America, Europe, everywhere."
Since her Grammy-winning Private Dancer album, Tina has had two major world tours; c-ostarred in a Mel Gibson movie, Madmax Beyond Thunderdown; and been the subject of a music documentary about her life that aired on the Disney channel last March. She's now set to make history as a living Black woman whose story is being told in film.
What else is there, except maybe the love of a good man? Tina has that too, with Erwin Bach, a German she has been seeing for about six years who is a record-company executive and 16 years younger than she is. "You would think that he's older than his years," Tina points out.
Is love with a white man different from love with a Black one? "Nobody's ever asked me that, but I'd have to say that love is love," Tina answers slowly. "Something else might sometimes interfere-culture, for one thing. And the attitudes that go with the culture of white people are different from the culture of Black people. But I haven't really had enough Black men to compare. Relationships with white men have been a learning process. I've learned how they think, and I've been treated very nicely, in a feminine sort of way. I've been made to feel that I'm cared for."
These days Tina Turner wouldn't have it any other way. Marriage, however, is not a priority in the relationship. "I've been married," Tina notes, "and my attitude about marriage is that people do it for a few reasons: It's a ceremony, it's a crutch, it's a dependency, and I don't need any of them--neither does my boyfriend. We're both independent. We're together. We don't need the vows. I'm happy that I have a mate."
What Tina Turner would really like is to take off for about five years from the grueling grind of globe-trotting performing. "I've been everywhere except to another planet," she says, laughing, of her rigorous touring schedule. She has also broken records for the sheer number of screaming, adoring fans who show up at her concerts. In 1988, for instance, a record-breaking 182,000 ticket holders jammed Maracana Soccer Stadium in Brazil during her colossal Break Every Rule tour. Tina, like many African-American stars, plays to a much more devoted following abroad than in the States, and as a result, she divides her time between Los Angeles, Germany and France, where she has residences. "We're appreciated in Europe because we're considered artists. And Europe has always appreciated its artists."
Truth be told, fans have always appreciated Tina Turner on both sides of the Atlantic. But now she's finally starting to get her propers. This tough lady just keeps on burnin'.
Angela Bassett Plays Living Legend Tina Turner
Suddenly last summer, the casting call spread like wildfire across the land. For reenacting the rags-to-riches life of one Anna Mae Bullock -- who would grow up to enthrall the world as singer Tina Turner--was a challenge that lured the likes of half the actresses in Hollywood. Head shots from Tina-wannabes poured into the Disney offices. But the coveted role finally went to 34-year-old Angela Bassett, who last year played Katherine Jackson in the television miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream and Betty Shabazz in the film Malcolm X. It was the challenge of playing a character from ages 15 to 53--a rarefield opportunity for a Black actress a la Roots, Queen or Sounder--that enticed that Florida native to answer the call. And, yes, she plays the diva with "Proud Mary" precision.
Q: How did you prepare for this high-energy role?
A: I had a dialect coach, a singing coach, a choreographer and a personal trainer for 30 days before the filming began. I lifted weights for two hours a day, six days a week, and went on a high-protein, no-sweets diet--egg whites, tuna without mayo, vegetables--to get Tina's incredibly muscular physique, If I had two months to prepare, I think I would've been able to enter a bodybuilding contest afterward. I have to admit, though, once filming began and I saw the results of the all the hard work I'd put it, I was like, "Wow, this is great!'
Q: How did you feel about playing a living legend?
A: Well, both Betty Shabazz and Katherine Jackson are still alive. But playing Tina was a real challenge because I'd never played a character of such great sex appeal before. I was really skeptical about the role until I met her.
Q: What was your one-on-one impression of Tina?
A: I met Tina Turner for the first time only a few days before my audition at a recording studio in Los Angeles. She had just flown in from Germany. When I walked into the room, she immediately hugged me and told her manager that she thought I was "beautiful," and then she started showing me some of the dance routines from her days with the Ikettes. Once you really get to know Tina, you see that she's just warm, down-to-earth person. Her sex-goddess image is only a public persona. In fact she's dedicated performer who loves what she does for a living. Seeing her energy, her serious work ethnic and just how beautiful she really is up close was all the inspiration I needed to be able to take on anything. When I walked out of that room, I was flying on cloud nine and I knew I would give the part everything I had!
COPYRIGHT 1993 Essence Communications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group