The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2021 this year and the list includes Tina Turner. Tina was previously inducted in 1992 but not as a solo artist. So this honour represents her career from 1976 and onward, after her divorce. In those early years on her own, Tina did what she could to support herself and her children – game shows, cabaret shows, she took whatever gigs were available, she hustled her ass off. So her success on her own terms didn’t happen overnight. Those years in between when she first pulled herself out and then becoming the biggest deal in music were tough, were a struggle. A different kind of struggle from what she left behind, but a struggle all the same.
Tina’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announcement is happening just two weeks before the anniversary of Private Dancer, the seminal album that would make her a superstar, a headliner instead of an opener, the Queen of Rock and Roll. Private Dancer came out on May 29, 1984… when Tina was 44 years old. SHE WAS 44. And it’s not that I’m saying that 44 is old. On Tina Turner, 44 was like 24, given her energy, how she was able to project, how she moved, how she dominated her stages. But back then? Considering how the world treats and treated women as they age, considering how the world treats Black women, period, and how the entertainment industry has traditionally devalued women past a certain age, what Tina achieved with that album is nothing less than extraordinary. She would not be denied.
But if you’ve seen the new documentary, Tina, available now on Crave in Canada and on HBO Max in the US, you’ll understand how complicated it has been, and still might be, to process her popularity and its relationship to her past. Because, of course, as you see in the film, it’s impossible to separate Tina’s past and what she endured with her triumph – those years of pain made her subsequent success all the more compelling and that became the narrative. That’s what was repeated over and over again: Tina Turner rises from the ashes! Here’s what happened to her…and by now we probably all know the details.
As shown in the film, the ugliness of Tina’s history is why so many fans related to her, embraced her, because her pain spoke to them, connected her to them. So she’d have to hear about it all the time, not just from the media asking her repeatedly about it but from fans, people who genuinely loved her, listened to her music, embraced her – and the documentary makes it obvious that Tina was not just uncomfortable with it but retraumatised by it. 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 literally for millions of people who keep reminding you of it?
By the end of Tina, it becomes clear that the film is her farewell. She’s done telling her story, a story she’s had to keep telling for decades, in various forms (interviews, a book, a feature film, a Broadway musical, an HBO documentary), a story that should be hers but one that she’s had to share, to the point where it might not feel like it belongs to her anymore. Tina has retired, she’s in Switzerland, she no longer wants to participate in the telling and retelling of her legend. Interesting that the word “legend” can mean both an idol and a myth. Tina Turner’s fame became inextricably linked to a mythology that she never intended to spin.
The 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is in October. Tina released a statement after her inclusion was revealed:
“I am absolutely thrilled to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame amongst such amazing artists. Thank you for all your continued love and support over the years!”
But will she attend? It’s still months away but already organisers have said that they’re not sure if she’ll travel and even if she does, there’s no guarantee that she will perform. She hasn’t performed since she wrapped her world tour in 2009. And if she decides not to, for sure there will be a tribute. On the one hand, of course, it would be thrilling to see her. But on the other… especially if you’ve watched the documentary… even the wanting to see her seems like an imposition now. Something to consider in the leadup to the event.
Yours in gossip,