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The Strength and Driving Force of a Music Icon: 'Tina'
March 27, 2021  | By David Hinckley  | 66 comments

And so a TV week that began with a series on Aretha Franklin wraps up with a documentary on Tina Turner.

It must force-of-nature week on cable television.

Tina, a two-hour straight documentary, premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO, and while Tina and Aretha were different singers with different stories, it's hard not to notice a similarity or two.

That starts with their sheer power as musical performers. It also has to include the fact that Turner, like Franklin, had to break away from a dominating and sometimes abusive man.

Ike Turner was Tina's musical partner as well as her husband for 14 years, and since Ike was a skilled and influential musician, their collaborations feel as vibrant and fresh today as they did 60 years ago.

From early songs like "Don't Play Me Cheap" or "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" through later crossover hits like "Proud Mary," Ike and Tina became a brand – which is why years later we were shocked to hear Tina say Ike was so mentally and physically abusive that she attempted suicide.

Throw in the hit 1993 bio-pic What's Love Got to Do With It, in which Laurence Fishburne played Ike as almost demonic, and Ike and Tina became embedded in popular culture as the ultimate perpetrator and victim.

So, it was irresistibly sweet when Tina broke through on her own in the 1980s, eight years after she left Ike, with the Private Dancer album and the single also titled "What's Love Got to Do With It."

Tina dutifully follows that whole storyline. In fact, it spends most of its two hours on how Tina fell in with Ike, fell out with Ike, and finally carved out a life of her own.

The story is so familiar to even casual music fans that Tina doesn't have much to add except the occasional random detail. Still, it's well-told, and the producers wisely include extensive vintage music clips that confirm both Ike's musical skills and Tina's performing skills.

Blossoming from a girl who picked cotton with her sharecropping family into the Tina Turner who dominated a stage is quite a story in itself and one on which Tina does not focus.

Sometime someone should.

What gets more direct attention in Tina is the internal contradiction with which Turner herself says she has been wrestling for more than 40 years.

She repeatedly insists, both in vintage interview clips and in a series of new interviews done for this documentary, that she doesn't like talking about the past. Or thinking about the past.

The memories are too painful, she says, whether they concern Ike's actions or her own passive response.

Her hope each time she has told the story, she says, is that this particular telling would finally put Ike in the past and let her focus on the better things that happened after she left him. 

She hoped that would happen, she says, after she first told the story to People magazine in the 1970s.

She hoped it would happen after the Fishburne movie.

She hoped it would happen after her 1980s solo success.

She hoped it would happen after her autobiography.

She hopes it even now, she says, with Tina.

It hasn't, and it probably won't. Each time she resurfaces, interviewers dust off all the Ike questions. The truth is that the first sentence of her obituary, which with any luck won't be written for many years, is almost guaranteed to mention Ike Turner.

Who died in 2007.

So even though Tina was done with Turner's blessing, and even though she talks at the end about how happy she has been in recent years, enjoying the fruits of hard work and the admiration of the music world, she hasn't shaken an undertone of frustration.

Even on the pastoral Swiss estate where she lives with her second husband Erwin Bach, Ike is walking the grounds.

It was under Ike, she admits, that she grew from a small-town Tennessee farm girl into the singer who could work a stage until she owned it.

Ike always maintained that he created Tina, and self-serving as that sounds, there's a measure of truth in it. The lurid celebrity dirt aside, he's part of her music and part of her story – just not as big a part as she is.

When Tina divorced Ike, she reiterates here, the only thing she wanted to take with her was the professional name he gave her.

That was enough.

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