Tina Turner’s second memoir, following 1986’s “I, Tina,” is filled with the lessons that can only be delivered by someone who has been around the block a few times and lived to tell about it.
The first lesson is, run from snakes. Born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tenn. in 1939, the country girl who would become a rhythm and blues icon learned early that when a snake reared its head, it was time to skedaddle. “Something always told me when to run,” Tina says in a prologue to “My Love Story,” though readers will sometimes wish she’d listened to that voice more.
Because hovering over this book is the outsize figure of the late Ike Turner, also a seminal musician (his “Rocket 88” is often credited as the first rock-and-roll song) yet best known for having married, managed and nearly killed his more famous wife. Like the demonic figure in Disney’s “Fantasia,” Ike looms, leers and strikes when Tina and the reader least expect it.
Tina describes two weddings in “My Love Story.” The first is a quickie marriage to Ike in Tijuana; in a portent of what the future holds, Ike drags her afterward to a live sex show at a brothel. (The second ceremony, a Kardashians-on-steroids affair in which Tina weds record executive Erwin Bach years later, is described much more elaborately, even if it fails to engage reader interest as much as the Tijuana fiasco does.) Soon Tina is installed in Ike’s L.A. mansion along with three mistresses, all named Ann. “You can’t make stuff like that up,” writes Tina. “He only had to remember one name.”
Hooked on cocaine and peach brandy, Ike threw hot coffee in Tina’s face, broke her jaw, gave her so many black eyes that she can’t remember being without one. She was a frequent visitor to the emergency room, where she was victimized a second time by the racism of the day. The doctors never reported her “accidents,” because “they probably thought that was just the way black people were, fighting like that, especially husbands and wives.”
And that brings us to the second lesson of “My Love Story,” which is to pay attention. Tina looks for her opportunity to escape, and when Ike falls asleep, exhausted one night after yet another beating, Tina grabs a toiletries case, ties a scarf over her head, runs out of their hotel and across the interstate as trucks thunder past, and seeks refuge in a Ramada Inn, filthy and blood-spattered, with 36 cents and a Mobil credit card in her pocket.
All along, though, she has been watching how other people live and preparing for her new life. As little Anna Mae Bullock, she provided child care for a Nutbush couple who showed her what a beautiful home and a happy marriage looked like. That would now be possible, but first she had a lot of business to take care of, including going through a court battle to gain control over the name “Tina Turner,” which Ike had trademarked.
From there, “My Love Story” stops being a tell-all and becomes a DIY guide to successful branding. There’s actually not a lot about music here. In her telling, Tina’s contribution to rock and soul is a combination of the strength of her personality and a vocal power to match. In a pair of passages, she describes how she stamped her distinctive style on two of her biggest hits, “Proud Mary” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”. But that’s it as far the music goes.
The bulk of this book is about becoming somebody and marketing that person to the world. When Tina emerges from Ike’s shadow and steps finally to the front of the stage, she has every detail covered and leaves nothing to chance, not even the wig she describes as “a critical part of the Tina Turner look.”
She’s so good at branding that producers of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” referred to the movie’s larger-than-life heroine as “the Tina Turner character.”They kept saying, “Let’s get someone like Tina Turner,” until finally it occurred to someone to ask the real Tina Turner to take the part.
And it’s the real Tina Turner who inspires women who’ve gone through what she has to make their lives better. One fan at a concert is overheard saying: “I came because I was looking for the courage to leave the man who beats me. Tonight, I found that courage.”
The last few chapters of “My Love Story” will remind you why you should never ask an older person how they’re doing. Tina describes her dialysis and eventual kidney transplant in as much detail as she devotes to her wedding to Erwin Bach, whose quiet devotion makes him the anti-Ike of the tale. Oh, and this is the only book I have ever read in which the last page is an organ donor form.
Once again, Tina leaves nothing to chance.