Tina Turner: Tornado. Treasure. There was no one like her.

Turner blows the stage wearing a sandy top and tights that would be a big deal in Bedrock Town and a silky golden wig that looks like the back of a Shih Tzu. His first song isn’t his redefinition of “Proud Mary” or his urgent dismantling in the trenches of “Help” (stick around). His first song is “Foolish Behavior”, the nightmare of Rod Stewart who kills his wife, and Tina rips his head off. Presumably, the devil stayed in his lake that night.

More ingredients: chutzpah, irony.

This energy could work a crowd, make it say “Yeahand “oh” and “ooh” just for her, make her scream. Tina was an average height – 5′ 4″, maybe. But here is where a ladder fails. Put her in an arena, she scratched the skies.

I’ve seen the footage of what happens when thousands of people greet her at once, often mostly white people – in London, Osaka, Sweden and Los Angeles, I’ve heard them on “Tina Live in Europe”, from 1988. And I’m crying. They lose their minds for her, this black woman raised in the hollows and the back roads of Tennessee, in Nutbush. It’s something – to witness its captivating masses, to rock them; to see an “Oprah” audience go mad with awe, as if she were a wonder of the world.

What is this? It’s survival—from poverty, from Ike, from the tuberculosis she didn’t know she had. This is hard-earned freedom. That’s how the songs promised she would survive: “It’ll work out fine.” But there is more: she loved herself, loved being herself. We wanted to catch some of that. Page 133 of “I, Tina”: “I began to think that maybe I was such a mixture of things that it was beyond black or white, beyond cultures – that I was universal!”

Arena Tina, Universal Tina, is the Turner I had: “Private Dancer”, “What’s Love Got to Do with It” Tina. The first time I saw her was probably “Friday Night Videos” when I was 8. And here is this woman lying in a leather miniskirt, stockings, heels, a denim jacket and hair as big as a lion’s head. My little me wanted to be her strutting down the street in this “What’s Love” video, one leg almost completely crossing the other. She looked bad, certain of her naughtiness, strong – but also sweet, the way she would lean back into a dancer and shimmy with her homie and then shimmy with another dude. When she won all those Grammys in 1985, I wanted to look like the woman who accepts them. Was it continental-south? Caribbean Showbiz?

She was a new Tina, polished, witty, with a devastatingly elegant voice and image rendition. Her rebirth was a statement of command – it wasn’t wigs up there, it was headdresses. This energy – it had been reinterpreted as wisdom, wisdom that rumbled, wisdom that would rule Thunderdome. The lava had chilled some of them. The soft fire of this new life and its sound – rock ‘n’ roll with the sheen of synth pop – had a musical point: “Show Some Respect”, “Better Be Good to Me”. So we did, so we never stopped.

It just occurred to me what else “me, Tina” is. I read this seedy book, but I really had never thought of this title. It’s a statement, yes, staking a claim. It is also the start of a wish. To live, I think. To live so fully, so galactically, so contagiously, with so much boldness, candor, zest and, yes, energy that no one will ever believe it when you die.


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