The Awful Truth

Ike Turner --The Sorrow and the Pity

Published September 9, 1996 6:12PM (EDT)

ike turner, famed wife-beater and purported musician, gave his first show in New York in 20 years recently. I went with my friend Crisco, a greaser of the highest caliber, a staunch social critic who wears his belt buckle sideways and swoops his hair all up like a buffet ice sculpture and has pointy boots with leather workings as ornate as a Botticelli bedframe. It was an important moment that needed witnesses, Crisco argued. This was a circus of dismay, a terrible thawing of a career that should have remained cryogenically frozen. Ike was returning to the razor eye of his audience, sopping with personal disaster and swampy backroom scandal, like a known mobster making a wholesome appearance in Supreme Court, assembled out of shiny cardboard by his legal team. We all saw the movie, Ike, the assembling audience seemed to say. We know you trounced Tina so hard she had to become a chanting Nam-Yoyo tape-loop Buddhist in order to relate to being human again. She does our Chrysler and pantyhose commercials because she's our HERO and you're the leering stimulant ghoul that tried to rope the great woman down. Still, you're a creature, and we appreciate the stone-cold creatureness of you, even if we are watching you through several plates of bulletproof irony. Go ahead.

Ike has a new wife, the first member of the band to Watusi onto the stage, who is a bleached blonde with a big flat wet mouth, wafting a willful marrow-deep perversion that was all we could talk about for the first 10 minutes. She conjured images of a rusty trailor in a desolate yard filled with dirty toys, hedge stumps, angry dogs and chicken wire. A womanchild born wanting to explore the wonders of Mickey's Big Mouth and the various places to stick eggs and cigarettes. Sudden flashes of super-eight stag films paraded in our minds, her creamy pink blondeness decorated by fountains of rapture provided by eight hairy brutes and a wild boar. Her voice was a blister attempting the Janis Joplin third degree burn. Her cubic-zirconian smile and desperate jerky dancing betrayed her desperate need for star-like attention. We wanted to wrap her in a white quilt, take her to live with the nuns and blast some of the hardened dinge of Torrid Ambition off of her with a powerful fire hose. It was hard to watch.

Ike, in his infinite mercy, had made his bride an Ikette. With horror, I found myself inescapably imagining their bedroom conversations: "Ike, when are you going to put my name next to yours on the bill?" "Baby, I let you sing the first three songs! What else could you want?" "Yeah, but then you make me stand in BACK of the other Ikettes for the rest of the set!" Harsh words about her clumpy dancing, all elbows and knees. Her thin white voice, her genetic lack of groove. Tears, vindictive bottle-throwing, drunken apologies, raunchy conciliatory intercourse. A few more quiet mean words while naked, brief argumentative relapse, reluctant truce, pills, sleep. This woman clearly believes that such suffering is endurable, because Ike is her ticket to The Top. Tina had to scale this wretch during her climb, and obviously this chick is trying to stick her painted hooves in the same little stiletto dents that Tina stomped into Ike on the way up. As God is her witness, she will never take the bus again, and she has the big vulgar diamonds to prove it.

Ike stood in his famous "back to the audience" stance for most of the set, wearing a red Nehru-cut suit and an abundance of gold, flanked largely by the two Other Ikettes, who were lovely African-American women, one plush and curvy with powerful Tina-esque thighs, one skinny and model-ish with a handsome overbite, both seething with one part embarrassment to one part boredom to three parts animosity. At one point, the skinny one was forced to give an unconvincing and over-rehearsed soliloquy about a particularly feral bout of back seat "lovin'" that did not succeed in making the audience aware that we were all naked under our clothes. She had been dramatically instructed to scream at certain lines, and drag out the "oooooooo" in "smooth" and other such forcible entendre, but it was tantamount to a poor hypnotist trying to convince a crowd that a box of frozen chicken and a four-pack of Seagrams Gin N' Juice was the Feast of All Saints. No pants a'fire, Ike. Can't "Stroke It" with a plastic pitchfork.

The band drudged their way through some tepid covers -- "Proud Mary," "Yackety-Yak," and other exhausted Bar Mitzvah favorites, lending nothing new and nothing attention-worthy to any of the above, except for the one point at which Crisco leaned over to me and said "Did you hear those lyrics?!" He was clearly shocked and appalled. "No, what were they?" "Smoked a lot of coke in Memphis,
Popped a lot of 'tang down in New Orleans.." "You're JOKING!" I screamed. Crisco shook his head a regretful No. "Popped a lot of 'TANG?!?" What was Ike trying to tell us? That stockpiles of worthless virgins in the South whirred by him on a rubber conveyor belt, where he riveted out their hymens with his bedevilled prong in a graceless act of automated lust so jaded and foully routine that the girls were reduced en masse to the moniker of "'TANG?!" I wanted to saw Ike into dice-sized cubes and put his parts into the institutional chili at a women's prison. I wanted to volunteer him for chemical castration for the good of humanity. I can hate women as much as the next guy, but the 'Tang bit threw me over the line. Your mama, Ike.

The last woman to mount the stage was a proud bull moose of a church woman in a sequinned Patti LaBelle prom dress, with a powerful and Godly wail worthy of the old soul material, which Ike perverted to his own aim by forcing her to take part in a grimy sexual dialogue with him on the stage. There was something just so WRONG about it -- you knew that the woman was the best singer in a sweet wooden church somewhere, the voice that could pull down the mountains and the heavens, and Ike wanted to roll over her with the balding tire-tread of his own vice-inflicted red-light district of musical smut and corrupt her divine talents by paying her to infer onstage that she was begging him to perform a lewd act with her that even HE was shocked by, which by the end of the night, given the precedence of the back-seat porno-logue, the frequent appearance of his succubus wife, and his apparent history of "'Tang poppin,'" could only be a moral atrocity too complicated and venal to imagine without an ambulance nearby. While she and Ike sweatily pawed at each other with viscous bedroom rhymes from across the stage, we felt as if we were watching the wings of an angel being dipped in McNugget sauce and chewed off by a team of alcoholics in raincoats while her halo was tossed like an Ultimate Frisbee into a churning lake of Shame.

The greatest part of the evening was the sheer, guileless wonderfulness of the opening band. Little Isadore and the Inquisitors were bursting at the seams with Real Soul, in a hearty, underdog, homespun way that nearly made you cry if you were tuning into the sincerity of it. This was a group of die-hard misfit characters assembled by the true Gods of Doo-Wop: various greying and paunchy guys with bandannas covering their baldness and pastel joke tuxedos, and Little Filamina, a 60-plus-year-old woman in a sequinned smock with big plastic secretary glasses and a tight ponytail in a terrycloth knot over her head. When she opened her voice, it was as if a 15-year-old earth-angel with the highest, most sparklingly true babygirl tone had come down from her golden desk at Mount Olympus Junior High just to share her true teen pain with us. We were wrecked. Crisco cried. We stood and screamed for her after every number and would gladly have kissed her hem and rings.

Little Filamina was finally introduced in her true Holy form as Little Isadore's MOTHER. Our hearts filled with visions of a yellow linoleum kitchen in the Bronx charmed with the voices of a high school boy and his adorable young mom and his friends who joked around with her, rejoicing in an atmosphere of sheer love of harmony and that silly kind of music that almost everyone has forgotten and nobody sings anymore. True beauty sprang forth that evening like a perfect daffodil growing between the thighs of a slain hooker. We were redeemed.

By Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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