Tina Turner - Interview
Ebony, Sept, 1996 by Lynn Norment
With boundless energy, Tina Turner prances into the spotlight and throws loud kisses to the 50,000 cheering fans packed shoulder to shoulder in t he soccer stadium in Bremen, Germany, "Tell me what you want!" she screams repeatedly at the crowd. "You, Tina! You, Tina!" they yell back. And then, dressed in a short, silver, metallic, T-strap dress and high heels, she gives it to them as she sassily sings "Whatever You Want," a hit from her new album, Wildest Dreams.
For two solid nonstop hours, the ageless rock diva gives an electric performance that encompasses 20 songs, six costume changes, three dancers, and a barrage of continuous video and sound wizardry that bedazzles the crowd but does not tire Tina.
The new album, just recently available in the United States, was released overseas last spring, and Tina started performing in Europe in May after rehearsing and kicking off the tour in South Africa. In the Bremen audience there are grandparents alongside people in their 50s, 40s, and 30s. And, yes, there are plenty of twenty-something fans as well as a smattering of teens and kids.
No one leaves disappointed. Against an elaborate and gigantic golden-eye backdrop, which takes its theme from the 1995 James Bond GoldenEye film for which Tina recorded the theme song, the tireless performer goes through a varied repertoire of new songs and favorite oldies. Among them are the beautiful ballad, "On Silent Wings," with clips from the video filmed in South Africa, the sultry "Private Dancer" and the sassy "Whats Love Got To Do With It," which heralded her comeback into the limelight. She also sings the triumphant "We Don't Need Another Hero," the theme from the movie Mad Max: Beyond The Thunderdome, in which she co-starred opposite Mel Gibson, Al Green's "Lets Stay Together," and "Proud Mary" from her like and Tina Turner Revue days. Through it all, she and her perfectly formed legs keep the audience thoroughly entertained with shimming, dancing and throaty vocals. And she loves every minute of it.
The next day, while relaxing in a suite in a luxury hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark, Tina reflects on the performance, her career, her life - and her mildest dream. "I've lived it," she says, smiling warmly with sparkling eyes. "My wildest dream, after I got my divorce, was for all of this to happen," she says, making a sweeping motion with well-manicured fingers accented with subtle gold polish. "That was my wildest dream - to pack a stadium, to walk out on stage to that many people who came to see me, to know what that feels like. Now, that's a dream!"
She says audiences throughout Europe seem to enjoy her more, and they are more supportive of her work even when she does not have a hit record. "I almost can say that I don't really have an audience in America like I have in Europe," she says while sipping hot tea and snacking on caviar. "I have a drawing, but it's not the same drawing that I have here because of my style of work, and that's just how it is. It was never that big in America, even at my biggest, as it is in Europe."
She say's she moved to Europe in the '80s because "the energy was gone for me in America," and she was not able to get a producer to work with her or the attention of a record company. When she went to Europe, however, "everybody was jumping up and down" to work with her. "If you don't get a hit record in America, it's a loss to actually work there, to really try to get a decent shot," she says, referring to her years of struggle after she struck out on her own in the late '70s. "That's just how it is. I don't mind it. You know why? I spent, let's see, 35 years in America performing. I've already done it in America they remember me. I've done some good stuff there. So, now I'm in another part of the world. If you are not successful in your own country, go where your success is."
Many Tina Turner fans would disagree that she is loved less in the U.S. than she is in Europe. Without a doubt, the legendary performer is revered and respected as a survivor, a comeback queen, a Grammy Award-winning recording artist and as a talented performer who has sold more than 50 million records during her solo career.
For 10 years, this 57-year-old Tennessee native and grandmother of London, then lived in Europe, first in London, then in Germany and now in Switzerland. She also has a house in France. She acknowledges that her decision to make Europe her home was influenced by her relationship with German Erwin Bach, an executive with EMI Records, her European label. (In the U.S., she is represented by Virgin Records.)
The diva and the record company executive met when he was asked to pick her up at the London airport in 1986. They hit it off immediately and shared lively conversations and laughs as he tooled her about London. Later, she invited him to celebrate her birthday. and before long they were dating steadily. She says the transcontinental relationship was very hard at first. "I was never home. He was never home, and all that flying! I loved him, so I just said, `I gotta go.' I was excited about it," she explains.
She says even if she had not met Bach, she would have moved to Europe. "I would have moved here eventually, but I was able to root myself because I had a friend," she says. "So it helped me anchor myself rather than moving without a boyfriend."
Just as she moved from London to Germany to be with Bach, Tina recently moved to Switzerland for the same reason. "I left Germany because my boyfriend's company moved him to Zurich," she reveals. They, live in a five bedroom, five-story house with a small swimming pool and a lot of acreage. When she's not working, she stays busy decorating, which is a passion and hobby. "It has five floors, but the rooms are very small," she says, "and I couldn't get any of my furniture to work. I had to switch everything around and buy a few more things. The house looks big, but its small. Its a beautiful house, a wonderful house. I'm enjoying it very much."
And she's also enjoying her relationship with Bach, who, she readily admits, is 16 years younger than she. "He's very mature at 40 years old," she says. "When we got together, he was 30, and I was going on in years. But he was always a little bit slower than I, you know, conservative, stuck in certain ways. And, of course, I'm American. It wasn't easy I wasn't sure about our relationship when we were that far apart. But if something happens and two people get along, the separation is nothing because it gives you that space, and you look forward to being together to make the thing new all over again.
Turner goes on to say that Bach is a "good companion," that their relationship is stress-free, and that it doesn't matter that he makes considerably less money than she. "There is no stress because we are both independent," she says. "He works, he has his money. I work, and I have my money. He makes contributions to help me as much as he can with the expenses and how I live. Its impossible for him to, per se, pay the way. He's an executive with a company; I've been working for years, and I make far more money than he makes. But his contribution is in areas that he's comfortable with, and I live my life as I live it."
The international diva says she is comfortable with Bach because he's part of her happiness. "So I don't worry that he's not a man with money, so to speak. We laugh a lot. He's typical German who doesn't have a real good sense of humor. I've changed him a lot, and he often thanks me for changing him and making him a better person. So it's a good, healthy relationship. There's no stress."
Is marriage on the horizon for Tina and her beau? "I might many again, but I don't need to," she says. "Marriage would not make it any different. I'm safe. If I leave, I take what I've got, and he takes what he's got. It's healthy."
In addition to touring Europe until the end of the year and the release of her Wildest Dreams album in the U.S., she and her famous legs also are starring in a Hanes Hosiery advertising campaign that kicks off in September. Cathy Volker, president of Sara Lee Hosiery U.S., says that in a Hanes survey, Tina Turner's legs surfaced as No. 1. "When you think of a woman's legs, you think of Tina Turner," says Volker. "We wanted to introduce a new product, which is about strength and beauty. Tina Turner is strength and beauty. She is everything we wanted to be about - she is a woman we admire, a woman who appeals not only to me, but also to ms mother in her 70s and my niece, who is 18. She is a lovely, charming and gracious woman as well."
Tina says she was excited about doing the Hanes ad campaign because it was an opportunity, to promote a product that she actually uses. When asked if she has "great legs," Tina tells how it took many years to overcome her ingrained view of what constituted pretty legs. "I was in my 40s before I really stalled to feel good about wearing a short dress because I had good legs," she says. "I still wear more trousers than dresses."
She says when she was growing up in Nutbush, Tenn., she envied girls with "big, pretty legs," the girls, she admits, who got all the attention from the guys. Ironically, she says that it was "White people" who first praised her legs "because they like thin, long legs and all that stuff they talk about." She says that during her years of performing in the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, "No Black person ever said anything to me about having great legs. You know how Black people are about legs. Mine were long, skinny legs. I didn't have those hammer legs like some of our Black women have. Those pretty legs."
Now, after personally gaining appreciation for the legs that are known around the world, she says she realizes that they are an important part of her show-biz appeal, her stage persona, and her success. "Yes, my legs are important," she says, "because it's the first visual attribute, because it's a leg thing and everything today is about sex." But, she adds, her legs are "not something I would insure. If I'm going to insure something, it would definitely be my voice."
Tina Turner's husky-honey voice, like her legs, is legendary. She says she takes care of her voice and her body by watching what she eats and living a healthy lifestyle. Other than the exercise she gets while traveling and performing, she has no particular fitness routine. There is "walking machine" in her home, but she seldom uses it.
Tina says people often think, mistakenly, that she's had cosmetic surgery and liposuction. "I started holding in my stomach in the 10th grade, and I've held it in," she says. When asked if she's ever had plastic surgery, she says: "I have not. There's not a piece of plastic in me." She acknowledges that after the birth of her second son more than 30 years ago, "I had my breasts done, but believe me, it was just to put them back like they were."
When asked if she thinks she is beautiful, she simply says. "No." Does she look good for her age? "Yes. I acknowledge that," she says. "I'm a healthy person I've got a great personality. That would make any person pretty or whatever you want to call it....Sometimes people think I'm more attractive than I am because they put the age thing on you first. At my age, I'm in great shape, and I look really good for my age."
In the past, she says, she's been chided for wearing minidresses. "I think your mother doesn't wear minidresses because your mother isn't me," Tina says she told one person who said, during the early days of the minidress, that she was too old to wear such short dresses. "I said, `This is how I am. This is the type of work I'm into. I can do this well. There is nothing wrong with how I look.' There is no strict regimen that says when you are in your late 40s you cannot wear a minidress."
It was her unique voice, not her legs, that got the attention of Ike Turner when she was a naive, 16-year-old Anna Mae Bullock. And it was that voice, and Tina's romping stage persona, that made the group famous in the '60s and '70s with hits such as "A Fool In Love," "River Deep, Mountain High" and "Nutbush City Limits." According to her autobiography, I, Tina, the basis for the 1993 movie starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, Tina married Ike Turner in 1960 and literally ran away from him in 1976 after years of what she calls physical and emotional abuse.
She steadily rebuilt her career and at first eked out a living by performing in small clubs. With children to support, at times she lived on food stamps, and at other times she kept house for Hollywood celebrities. Eventually she went to Europe, where she discovered at she was still enormously popular. In 1982, she recorded the single, "Let's Stay Together," which became a big hit in Europe, and then the album, Private Dancer (1984), which has sold more than 11 million copies.
From that point, Tina Turner has not looked back, and she is grateful that her fans did not forget her. She says fans in South Africa remembered that she performed there 16 years ago. "They were all very happy that I came back," she says of the reception she received last spring. "It's changed a lot. It's very much like America was...when I was born....There is not that depressed look like there was 16 years ago. Before, there were signs, `No dogs or Blacks allowed here.'"
In South Africa, she says she performed with "wonderful Black male dancers," and she was happy to give one of them a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey Dance School in New York. "I said to him, `What do you want?' she recalls. And he said, `I'd like to go to the Alvin Ailey School.' He didn't think I was going to do it, but I said, `You got it!' He was so excited."
When she's not working, Tina enjoys decorating her homes and reading books on spirituality, fitness and health. She says she still wants to do movies, and she definitely wants to write another book. However, this time the subject matter will cover "what I've learned about living" and her holistic lifestyle. She wants to reach those people who are "inspired by the fact that I've gotten this far," those who are seeking to better their lives, those who want to move on to the next plateau.
"They can't do it like I did it," she says. "You have to do it your way. Find the thought and make it happen. Whatever I did wouldn't be your way. Maybe you don't need a Roger Davies [her manager] in your life to help you get where you want to be. It could be your husband, your son. The Bible says once you ask, you receive, and its true. You've got to be taught to be spiritually aware. God is within you. I'm at a good place in my life spiritually."
And she's at a great place in her life in regards to her career, and she has no plans to retire anytime soon. "I've lived my wildest dream," she says, reflectively, a peaceful ambience settling over her smooth, golden-caramel complexion. "The next part of my life is just keeping it in that perspective. To retire on the top would be beautiful."