Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Cougar and the Horse

What's Love Got to Do With It - Tina Turner (mp3)
River Deep, Mountain High - Tina Turner (mp3)

Tina Turner used to scare the shit out of me.

Tina was my universe’s First Cougar*, the woman who stood there looking all older and shoving all that intense sexual experience in your face and daring you to not be impressed with her.

In 1984 I was 12. Ike started beating Tina before I was even an itch in my daddy’s pants, and she’d dumped him before I hit Kindergarten, so I knew nothing about her previous musical existence. When she released “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and walked down those city streets with enough teased hair to snare birds and small twin-engine airplanes, I knew nothing of her past. That video was my introduction to Tina. And she scared me.

Whereas older guys saw Tina struttin’ around The Big Apple as her way of reclaiming territory, of repossessing her rightful throne as the Queen of Rock, I just saw this scary big-haired black woman to whom I damn well better say “yes ma’am” when replying to her.

Most people focus on Tina’s legs -- because they are a damn fine pair of legs, especially at a time when most women were covering theirs up with leg warmers and spandex. But I never could see her legs for her hair, teased up and blonde and electrified.

To this day I can’t see what made “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” or its video popular. Nothing in the lyrics was terribly memorable. And the instrumentation, even by ‘80s standards, is hardly worth raising an eyebrow. It’s just this one long stretch of mellow rock that only once or twice gives you a chance to even appreciate her voice. And seriously, the video is pretty awful.

This won’t get me backstage passes with Tina, but I didn’t find her the least bit attractive. To be fair, the guys from The Fixx or Men At Work were nothing to look at either, but I don’t recall members of the opposite sex drooling all over them. Tina’s video did. Everywhere she walked, men worshipped her, and I simply didn’t get it.

This is the woman who sang “Proud Mary”? This is the woman who sang “River Deep, Mountain High”?? Hell, Tina and Bryan Adams covered the same general subject matter with their 1985 song “It’s Only Love,” a much more infectious song.

In hindsight, and with the benefit of a broader musical education, I get it. That song was her return, and it almost didn't matter what song she returned with, because everyone in music was cheering for her.

Fortunately, if I was initially turned off of Tina because of crap, she won me over with crap as well. Her role in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome as Aunty Entity was just perfectly awesome. That's the kind of character that fit my idea of her: vicious and nasty on the inside, but able to cover it with some smiles and sensuality, a kind of new age Cruella De Vil. The movie dragged on too long in parts, but her scenes, and the scenes in the Thunderdome, were awesome. And she almost looked good in that metallic dress with the low cleavage.

But nothing about Tina, and I mean nothing, could have rendered me as aghast as 1989 video for “Simply the Best.” The song, I like. But the video almost kills it. If Tina is indeed the Queen of Rock, then this video is her homage to Catherine the Great. It’s her visual love song to a horse.

I still can’t figure out exactly what the director is trying to do. Are the horse and Tina kindred spirits? Is he saying the horse’s legs are as sexy as hers? Is it an homage to Seabiscuit? Enquiring minds need to know!!

* -- With the possible exception of Rue McClanahan’s character Rose from “The Golden Girls.”


Bob said...

Interesting to note that "Private Dancer," the title track and one of the big hits off of Tina's comeback album was written by, meh, Mark Knopfler. It is certainly a far more sophisticated track, both lyrically and instrumentally, than "What's Love Got To Do With It?"

Anonymous said...

Betty White played Rose. Rue played Blanche. ;)

Billy said...

@Anon - Would you believe I caught this mistake the day after I posted it but decided not to edit in the hopes someone, anyone out there might admit to knowing enough about "The Golden Girls" to correct me? You only get half credit, though, since you remain anonymous.