When the news broke yesterday about Tina Turner, I went back to read what I wrote almost exactly two years ago now, when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its class of 2021, which included Tina, only this time as a solo artist. At the time, her documentary, Tina, had just been released, and I’ve been thinking about that film, and what she wanted people to take away from it. Because not only was she saying goodbye, she was telling us how she wanted to be remembered, and specifically how she did not want to be remembered.
As noted in my post back then, Tina no longer wanted to participate in the telling and retelling of her legend. In many ways, it didn’t belong to her anymore. And this is what’s so complicated about her legacy, which she acknowledged in the documentary – she experienced so much trauma and grief, but her resilience and determination to overcome her circumstances became inspiration and hope for so many people. Which in turn meant that her story was borrowed, with good intentions no doubt, for encouragement, as the model for others seeking to emerge triumphant from their own tragedies. Tina’s personal tragedy had already left a scar on her own soul, but her public identity was inextricably linked to the thing she worked so hard to heal from. What do you do when the worst thing that happened to you and what you did to free yourself from it becomes the source of inspiration and admiration literally for millions of people who keep reminding you of it? Even just writing this feels like a betrayal.
The reason Tina even shared the truth about what she experienced was out of pure necessity. In the late 70s and early 80s, before Private Dancer, Tina couldn’t sign a record deal, people weren’t interested, she was doing game shows and playing sh-tty clubs to make money to support herself and her children. She decided to open up about her marriage because she wanted to establish herself as a solo act and convince music executives that she could thrive as a performer on her own. She never expected that her revelations would follow her for the rest of her life… and in death. As is often – maybe even always – the case with fame and celebrity, she wasn’t entirely in control of her own narrative.
Tina, the documentary then, was one of Tina’s final acts of agency. In agreeing to the film and in particular in saying what she says at the end of it, she made the call on how she wanted say goodbye. She dropped the mic on her own story.
If you haven’t seen it, put it at the top of your watch list for the weekend. If you have seen it, watch it again. It’s streaming on HBO Max and on Crave in Canada.
Yours in gossip,