Archive for Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ike Turner is both reviled and revered

December 16, 2007


Cultural icons can't choose what they come to represent. Ike Turner was an icon; that was his burden and his punishment. Loving him was not a possibility for many who discovered his genius after his repellent secrets had been revealed. Appreciating him requires coming to terms with the double bind of rock and soul-era sexuality, a liberating force underpinned by racism, female objectification and machismo.

For the first half of his life, Turner was known as one of rock 'n' roll's inventors -- a dazzling pianist, raucous guitarist and ingenious showman whose songs pushed the blues into a new era. Then, in 1986, his ex-wife and musical partner, Tina Turner, published her autobiography, which recounted his mistreatment of her in horrifying detail. The book and its 1993 film version became key to feminist reassessments of rock and soul, and central to the growing literature of abuse survivors.

Tina, once stuck within an image of primal sensuality, was reborn as a self-possessed heroine. Ike sank further into obscurity. He was in prison in 1991 when the pair were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Over the subsequent decade, though he kicked the drug habit that apparently fueled his volatile temper, his image just got worse.

Then came the comeback. After 2001, when Turner returned to the stage and made the Grammy-nominated "Here and Now," he became a symbol of something else: the maligned rock hero. A victimizer, yes, but also a victim of those who'd privilege personal stories over musical ones. Turner's strong later albums and performances gave credence to his rehabilitation. The critical reassessments that followed refocused fans on his role as a musical groundbreaker.

Turner's return was also part of a swing of the pop pendulum, away from the questions about power and freedom raised by revisionists like Tina herself and toward a less "uptight" view of both music and sexuality. New looks at figures like Turner (or Led Zeppelin, to cite another example) acknowledged these artists' troubling qualities but demanded that the magic of their music not be denied.

The thing is, the magic and the troubling stuff can't be separated. Ike Turner's fierceness was rooted in brutality: a childhood that included witnessing his father's lynching and an adulthood as part of a "hard" music culture in which male leaders whipped their bands into shape and might also slap their wives around. The same cycle of pain and survival informs today's hyper-macho hip-hop artists, some of whom emulate Turner's icy-suave style.

I saw Turner twice during the comeback years. He didn't seem like an evil icon; more like a time-tempered, if unrepentant, old man. His music was joyful -- part escape from the hard world, part confident confrontation. But the dynamism of his act still relied on the tension between female heat and male swagger, a conflict at the root of some powerful notions of sexiness and also some forms of abuse.

Ike Turner's music taught us much. So did his sins. We should remember both.


freeordie 10 years, 5 months ago

Lounger, he only would have been forgotten by people who don't know anything about music or music history. Flippant comments by people who don't know what they're talking about are standard on this forum though.

trinity 10 years, 5 months ago

after reading this, i plan to surf a bit&learn more about ike and his part in music history. sounds really interesting, to me. may he rest in peace.

lounger 10 years, 5 months ago

Without tina Ike would have been forgotten years ago...

lounger 10 years, 5 months ago

Trinity-Id love to spar with you on music history - so dont be so sure of yourself!!!

lounger 10 years, 5 months ago

Ooops I meant that last comment for freeordie!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 5 months ago

As long as you're throwing out hypotheticals, lounger, it's also equally possible that without Ike, we'd have never heard of Tina.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 5 months ago

Again here is another instance of does being a really lousy husband make you bad at your job. I really hate what this man did in his personal life, but he was an excellent musician. It's too bad he didn't have as much talent for relationships.

Kyle Neuer 10 years, 5 months ago

RIP to one of the true founding fathers of rock and roll. His contributions as a musician, band leader, arranger and A&R guy/talent scout are top notch.

And "lounger" has it exactly backwards. Nobody would have ever heard of "Tina" without Ike.

Buggie 10 years, 5 months ago

He was not a founding father of Rock and Roll by NO means. I agree with lounger. He may have done alot in his career however it was Tina who made him a public icon. I am a music buff and although he had accomplishment he abused that fame and thought it could get him whatever he wanted. He treated women as objects not humans. To me music is how you are as a person inside and out. Tina didnt come out with the autobiography for several years after their split up. Where were the accomplishments then. There werent but a few. I agree that Ike discovered Tina as Radiohawk states however it was Tina's heart, soul, and her own talent and accomplishments that have gotten her where she is today.

Buggie 10 years, 5 months ago

I also want to say that there are other musicians out there and what they have said or done (ex. Dixie Chicks) have gotten them shunned by society even thought they are talented artists. This man not only mistreated his ex but the people who worked around him and for him. An icon will take all of the aspects of their lives and make sure that reflects who they are as a person. If you cant live privately you should not be living publicly. Britney spears is one of those people as well. They are all around us. There are icons who have done drugs or abused alcohol (ex. Johnny Cash, Elvis) however they were not abusive to others only themselves. I can still respect those people. Tina is not the only victim in Ikes book of meaness and cruelty.

BrianR 10 years, 5 months ago

Hmmm, judging by the comments, Ike was both reviled and revered.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 5 months ago

Just because he was an a**hole doesn't mean that everything else he did was just wiped from existence, including help make Tina a star. Sure, she was as successful as she was because of her talent, but that doesn't mean that his contributions weren't instrumental at a crucial time in her career.

BrianR 10 years, 5 months ago

I loved Savoy Brown. I have A Step Further, Skin "N" Bone, Hellbound Train and Looking In on vinyl.

beatrice 10 years, 5 months ago

I believe Rolling Stone magazine called Ike's 1951 song "Rocket 88" the first rock and roll record ever made. If you make the first of something, how can anyone deny his place as a founding father? He had a band already going when Anna Mae Bullock (Tina Turner) joined as a backup singer. It wasn't the other way around.

Ike's accomplishments afford him a place in history and, to a degree, a bit of fame. Tina's comeback, book and movie, however, made him infamous.

His music should be enjoyed, but his life is not one to admire. Need we admire the artist in order to appreciate the art?

Confrontation 10 years, 5 months ago

No loss here. This guy was an abusive idiot. I don't care what he gave to music.

lounger 10 years, 5 months ago


Yes Tina's output in the 1980's was forgettable. If you doubt her amazing performances go check out the mid 1970's Who movie Tommy and give a listen to her performance of acid queen-wow!

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