Tina Turner, by Judy L. Hasday
Does knowing someone’s life better make you appreciate their work more? That is the sort of question that one has after reading this very short book that nonetheless tells a lot about the ups and downs of Tina Turner’s life. One gets the feeling after reading this book that the author is trying to make the reader feel sympathetic to Turner, but in reading this book I was struck by the fact that like all too many people who manage to achieve fame in the world of music or other creative arts, Turner’s push for superstardom was born out of hostility to work, her life was marked by intense brokenness and her own behavior proved to be highly disordered in ways that cannot be blamed merely on Ike Turner being an immensely abusive person. Obviously, this book makes Ike Turner come off badly, but there are plenty of reasons why Tina Turner herself doesn’t come off all that well. If her resilience can be praised, a lot of her life decisions do not bear up to moral scrutiny. And one gets the feeling that the author honestly believed that it would, which demonstrates a certain lack of moral understanding that is common if lamentable.
This book is a short one at 100 pages, and it begins with a chapter that discusses Tina Tuner’s big Grammy night in 1985 as marking a sign that Turner’s life was a success, helping to undo a life of struggle and trouble, far more weight than the Grammys themselves can bear (1). This is then followed by a look at the author’s youth in rural Southwestern Tennessee (2), and her troubled family background. After that comes a look at her survival skills in the midst of the disasters her family suffered (3), as well as her experiences in St. Louis joining Ike Turner’s band (4). After this there is a look at their initial pop success thanks to the song “A Fool In Love” (5) as well as the success that Ike & Tina Tuner had as a duo (6). At that point the book discusses the period of tough years after Tina Turner left Ike (7) and then her successful solo career (8). After that the book ends with a chronology, discography, bibliography, and index.
The proper way to judge people is not by the color of their skin or by the attractiveness of their legs but by the content of their character. And how one thinks about the content of the character of Tina Turner varies widely. This book certainly shows her musical talents and her understanding that having learned how show business works from Ike, she was able to make it on her own. The book makes a lot of Tina Turner’s artistic identity and her ability to take on a lot of styles, but the book emphasizes that she did not do a lot of her own songwriting. The author finds some quotes from people (like Bryan Adams) who had a lot of nice things to say about her, and Tina Turner shows appropriate gratitude to those who helped her when she was penniless after she left Ike. It would appear as if there are a variety of ways that the author tries to earn the sympathy of the reader, by pointing to questions of race and class (no dice here), appeals to pity with Tina as a battered wife, which contrasts with her own self-image as someone who chose to stay in that situation for a long while, and the celebratory mood towards the end of the book does not mask the bad moral decisions that the subject continues to make.