Before I describe Ike Turner’s Takin’ Back My Name–and I will do so briefly, because I respect you–it’s important to note that how much I love the movie What’s Love Got To Do With It. Ignoring all the other reasons to worship Tina Turner, from her enormous talent to her ability to wear nude hose to her own autobiography, I, Tina (co-written with Kurt Loder, before he became a born-again Breitbart), she has always have a special place in my heart for having her life story turned into the rock’n’roll Mommy Dearest. It’s not that Ike Turner isn’t a bad guy; but if you read I, Tina, you know that as bad as Tina’s version of Ike is, he is cartoon evil in the movie, like a 3D Snidely Whiplash with relaxed hair, while Tina is so saint-ified it’s surprising they didn’t just give her an actual halo.
In the way Mommy Dearest is a camp classic that is essentially about child abuse, What’s Love Got To Do With It might be about an abusive relationship, but lines like, “Tina, if you die, I’ma kill you!” put it right up there in the camp pantheon with “No! More! Wire! Hangers!” I know my point of view might seem harsh, but I think it really springs from having read I, Tina and seeing how far from reality and into cliché the film version goes. After reading Takin’ Back My Name, however, I realized that perhaps Tina was just being nice and Ike really is a mustache-twirling, black-wearing (and hand-belt-buckle accessorizing) old time-y villain.
The book cuts between Ike’s first person voice and and paragraphs of exposition (provided by co-author Nigel Cawthorne, who “was first to chronicle the sexual peccadilloes of President Clinton,” and that’s from the jacket description, so he must be proud of this). Everything you need to know about the book comes in the fifth chapter, where, after spending the first part of the book describing all the women he’s had sex with before the age of 12 and the time he tried to flat-iron his sleeping mother’s pubic hair, the exposition explains that most people weren’t aware of Ike’s talents as a pianist because, “despite his ebullient nature, he is in fact chronically shy.” It is all uphill from there.
Like Phil Spector--maybe more than Spector--Ike Turner’s genius as a musician really can’t be denied, and he deserves to be known as more than the caricature that the film portrayed, but not too much more, i.e., “Ike Turner is one of the originators of rock and roll who wrote great songs but was a failure as a human being.” While this book does get into his musical history and accomplishments, it’s way more of a self-indictment of his character; when he attempts to defend himself by explaining he never wanted to be with Tina (she seduced him while drunk!) and only stayed with her because she got pregnant, his pure asshole-ishness prevents him from comprehending how that just makes him look so, so much worse.
He admits to drinking, drugging, and womanizing too much, but like an addict who hasn’t made any real attempt at sobriety, he accepts no blame for anything, instead faulting Tina, or his skin color, or women in general, or bad luck, or Zod (not really, but if you can think of someone who isn’t him, something he did is their fault). He claims he invented the strobe light (?), never really married Tina (!?), and, best of all, can sum up all of life with this theory of “the hole:”
“Everything is based on the hole. You got a hole in the head of your penis, where you pee from. The penis and the vagina, another hole, get together and out comes the baby. The baby comes out of the hole into a whole -- the whole world. You see out of a hole, eat out of a hole, pee out of a whole.... And when you die, where you going? Right back in the hole.”
If Quentin Tarantino didn’t secretly write this book himself, he’s pretty damn jealous.
Ike Turner “went back into the hole” in 2007 having never truly succeeded in taking back his name. He should take a rightful place in music history, however, even if he does so with the reputation, reinforced by his own book, as one of the biggest jerks, not just in music, but the universe.