When I was in the 7th grade, the Ike and Tina Turner version of Proud Mary was the anthem of the girls who smoked in the bathroom. I was the good girl they somehow adopted, seeing through to the outcast in me, I guess. When we sang the words between puffs, they always started with Tina’s intro: “We’re gonna start off nice and easy. And then we’re gonna sing it nice and rough.”
Even for the “bad” preteen girls in those days, those words hinted at a sexuality we did not yet understand, but it was scary and thrilling, and somehow, we felt she was speaking directly to our future selves.
Tina filed for divorce in 1976, the year I started college. She went public about the fact that her marriage was an abusive one. By then, celebrity divorce was nothing new, and every campus had rape crisis centers, their numbers plastered in every dorm. But going public about domestic abuse was new, and unsettling. Naming her abuser, at the cost of destroying his career, was unheard of. It ripped the glossy, star-dipped skin from fame, force us to look when we had been taught to politely avert our eyes.
She reminded us of the courage it takes to get out of an abusive relationship
The story of Tina Turner – the one she (or her scriptwriters) chose to tell us – was a variation on the success story of a talented woman who struggled, overcame adversity, came out on top.
But Tina was more than that. She was a woman who showed us her scars and, at the same time, refused to let them define her. She never asked to be a role model, never asked others to follow in her footsteps. But of course, she was more than a role model. She reminded us, as well, of the courage it takes to get out of an abusive relationship; that there can be a price to pay. She never told us her way of going forward was the best way, only that she did it in the best way she could.
Forty-five years after Tina Turner finalized her divorce, it still takes tremendous courage for women to come forward when they are battered and threatened by domestic abusers. It takes courage to name abusers to the police and in court. There is still a backlash, a price to pay. “It’s gonna hurt me for a long long time,” as Tina herself, would sing.
But she also sang:
Time to move on with my life now
Leaving the past all behind
I can make my own decisions
It was only a matter of time
Sometimes I look back in anger
Thinking about all the pain
But I know that I’m stronger without you
And that I’ll never need you again
(When the Heartache is Over)
She insisted on being only herself, and yet she led the way. She remains, in more ways than one, a tough act to follow.