Sunday, March 28, 2021

Tina Turner and the Twilight of the ’80s Rock Gods

Last night I watched Tina, an HBO documentary about Tina Turner I had been eagerly anticipating (and they had been eagerly promoting) for weeks. But instead of coming away from the show reveling in the awesomeness that is Tina Turner, I came away profoundly sad. The Tina that was interviewed in the documentary, surrounded by clips of her earlier performances and enormous success, didn’t look like Tina Turner. The huge wig was there but her face seemed somehow swollen and her eyes sunken into it. Her voice was the same, but I didn’t recognize the woman it was coming out of. I know she’s in her early ‘80s now, but I still had the 1984 image of Turner stuck in my head.

Just a week or two earlier, I had watched her triumphant farewell concert, filmed at London’s Wembley Arena, on PBS. There was the Tina I remembered: confidently strutting across the stage as thousands of fans cheered her every move. (Indeed, I had seen that tour myself in New York and also cheered her every move.) I came away from that program so inspired that I bought her book on Buddhism and quickly read it. (I still don’t understand the chanting thing but, hey, whatever works.)

Why was I so sad now?

1984 was a remarkable year in pop music history. MTV had just started three years earlier and was now hitting its stride, and a number of artists were having their most successful year ever, largely thanks to MTV. In addition to Turner, there were Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, George Michael, and Cyndi Lauper. Where are those people now? Several of them (Prince, Michael, Whitney, George) are dead—and they weren’t that old! The ones who didn’t actually die are either a pale imitation of their ’80s selves or have become elder statesmen. Springsteen and Lauper have discovered Broadway (where ’80s rock stars, including Tina, apparently go to reinvent themselves or resuscitate their careers) and Madonna’s been eclipsed by Lady Gaga.

Meanwhile, ’80s songs are now being used on retirement commercials!

So what are the options here?

One can either die tragically ahead of one’s time or survive into irrelevance (or, worse, pity). This is the human condition writ large.

I’m not knocking Tina. God knows, I love her. I’m somewhat sad she’s chosen to retire, but I can certainly understand her decision, at the same time I’m thinking of some of her contemporaries (Cher, Barbra Streisand) who never seem to age and are still (sort of) working.

Maybe I should adopt her Buddhist philosophy—life is suffering—and leave it at that.