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Tina Turner saved my soul

‘To say I am a fan would be a massive understatement,’ says Globe film critic Odie Henderson, who once camped out for concert tickets hoping to see her up close

Tina Turner performs in a concert in Cologne, Germany on Jan. 14, 2009. Turner, the unstoppable singer and stage performer, died Wednesday after a long illness at her home in Küsnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, according to her manager.Hermann J. Knippertz/Associated Press

You know you’re getting old when your heroes start to die. I received a reminder of my own mortality when I learned Tina Turner died Wednesday at the age of 83. She leaves behind a legacy as one of the most successful recording artists of all time, a star who created hits in a solo career and as part of the revue run by her ex-husband, Ike. A survivor who spoke out about domestic abuse, she was a symbol of strength and perseverance.

To say I am a fan would be a massive understatement. Tina Turner was the first singer for whom I camped outside a concert venue hoping to score tickets. Experiencing her live was a must — I got a jolt of energy every time I put the needle down on one of her records back when I was a wimpy kid.


The opening of 1971′s “Proud Mary,” with its slow, bluesy hook and the promise to “never ever do nothin’ . . . nice and easy,” sent shivers up my spine every time I heard it. Such delicious anticipation grew from that spinning piece of vinyl, even before the song segued into its energetic finale. That buildup gave a bullied kid strength. Because I was used to getting it “nice and rough.”

The energy that emanated from that unmistakable voice growling out of my rinky-dink record player speakers — I needed to experience that in person. I had to feel the roar so powerful not even Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound could contain it on “River Deep — Mountain High.” I wanted to breathe the same air as the woman whose performance as the Acid Queen scared the everlasting gobstopper crap out of me at age 5 when my cousin took me to see Ken Russell’s 1975 movie, “Tommy.”


Singer Tina Turner (right) performs with Beyoncé (left) at the 50th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 10, 2008.ROBYN BECK

Being in the same arena with Turner was going to put hair on my chest. Her soulful stylings and outrageous rock-outs would toughen me up. Her frenetic performances would take my breath away. In short, Anna Mae Bullock from Nutbush, Tennessee, was going to save my soul.

These were childhood ruminations. I was going to have to wait a while to see if they held true.

Turner’s multiple Grammy-winning comeback album, 1984′s “Private Dancer,” was a major event at the end of my sophomore year in high school. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” may have been its biggest hit, but the track I was obsessed with was “Better Be Good to Me,” a song whose title wasn’t a polite request. It was an unmistakable demand. Like “Proud Mary,” the song built slowly, with Turner’s slithery vocal enticing the listener. And then: “WHAM!” It sucker-punched you like a good power anthem should.

The next year, she set my Blaxploitation-loving heart afire with her powerhouse performance as the hero that era never got, Aunty Entity in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” Aunty ran Thunderdome, the place where “two men enter, one man leaves.” Having a Black woman in charge of an entire civilization was representation of the finest order. I could barely contain my excitement. (Plus, she ran the place wearing an 80-pound metal dress and heels, which spoke to my inner drag queen.)

Turner’s vocal versatility is not spoken of enough. “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” opens with her on the soundtrack singing the Grammy-winning “One of the Living,” a hard-as-diamonds, guitar-filled rocker that might have suited Pat Benatar — but no one could have pulled it off better than Tina. The film ends with another of her biggest hits, “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” a strange and mournful ballad of sorts, complete with a kiddie choir at the end. She nailed both styles.


Tina Turner holds up a Grammy Award, Feb. 27, 1985, in Los Angeles.Nick Ut/Associated Press

Turner made the Beatles’s boisterous “Help” into a much slower soul song. “Nutbush City Limits,” a song she wrote about her hometown, is a honky-tonk-inspired classic. And the way she drags out her voice on the word “Goldeneye” in that 007 movie’s theme song is part Aretha Franklin, part Shirley Bassey — but still all Tina.

Was there anything Tina Turner couldn’t sing?

Lest I forget, Turner got the royal biopic treatment in “What’s Love Got to Do With It” in 1993. She was portrayed by Angela Bassett, who co-starred with Laurence Fishburne as Ike. Both received Oscar nominations; Bassett should have won. Adrienne Warren did win the Tony Award for playing Turner in the spectacular Broadway musical “Tina.”

I’ve built this up enough. I got those tickets to see Tina Turner. I was 17. It was the Break Every Rule Tour in New York City. The seats were not great, and I needed binoculars more powerful than God’s eye to get a great look at her. (Screens and my regular binoculars helped.) But no matter! Her voice found me and practically lifted me off the floor. Love had nothing to do with it — this was an unbridled musical lust that empowered the still-wimpy kid who’d once played her records on a toy phonograph.


Tina Turner in concert at Madison Square Garden in New York on Dec. 1, 2008. Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

It was one of the best concerts ever.

Unfortunately, my chest is still hairless. Tina Turner couldn’t do everything I’d asked for as a kid, I guess. But my soul is definitely saved. And I’m a bit less wimpy. So thank you, Ms. Turner, and may you rest in peace.

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.