Tina and the Spoken Word

My stylized version of Tina, 1981. Probably the only thing we had in common was that fringe flew.
My stylized version of Tina, 1981. Probably the only thing we had in common was that fringe flew.

Gary and I were friends in Bloomington and we both moved to San Francisco about the same time. He told me recently that one of the reasons he moved here was to see good music. It wasn’t the reason I moved but in retrospect it has been one of the great benefits. I’ve attended hundreds of performances over the last 40 years.

Among the best was Patti Smith in 1976. It was my first month in this apartment and she was on my block, at the Boarding House around the corner on Bush Street. It was torn down in 1980 so they could put up luxury condos (sound familiar?) I was also at Winterland for the Sex Pistols the night of “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated.”

Along those lines and two decades later I saw Loretta Lynn in Santa Rosa. She had a cold and did the whole set seated in a chair. At one point she talked to the audience and apologized, “I’m just sorry you folks had to pay to see this.”

One of the most startling performances I ever saw was Tina Turner at the Old Waldorf around 1979. I was going to say electrifying but she’s always that. She went well beyond her norm that night.

She was in her fallow period, after Ike but before Private Dancer, and she was playing smaller clubs to pay off her debts. I was doing my part to keep her name before the public by performing her numbers like Heard it Through the Grapevine (from her 1969 Live at Basin Street West) or Contact High (from Come Together). They were kind of obscure, not sure how much help I really was.

At the Old Waldorf she did Proud Mary. The 15 second introductory speech on the record became a three minute (pleasurable) ordeal in person. Her basic premise was “I know what you want but I’m not giving it to you.” It went on and on, she wouldn’t let go. I’ve never seen a crowd, which was frothing at the mouth, teased and controlled like that.

That version of Mary is in this clip from 1982. It’s a couple of years later so the patter sounds a little more set, not raw and fresh like the night I was 20 feet from her. The clip captures her wonderfully incongruous, Bell’s Palsy facial expressions. What it doesn’t capture is the tension that was in that room. Everyone wanted the big payoff, the uptempo finish and the dancing. Like a skilled dominatrix she edged us for an eternity.

One of the few embarrassments in Tina’s career was a 1960’s single called A Letter from Tina. It’s a junior high school-ish recitative about how much her man means to her. She is completely devoted and acknowledges that when things go wrong it’s her fault because she hasn’t taken the time to understand him completely. Obviously it was written by Ike.

Some of my favorite moments are the awkward transition from spoken to sung verse in “you control every movement.” It could have been a commercial for Ex-Lax. Then she has trouble with the word heartily in “I trust you heartily.” It sounds like “I trust you hardly” which may have been a subliminal message to her husband. Finally there’s the sign off, “yours, lifetime.” You know she means it.

If your heart has a warmth for the perverse like mine does, please click this link for A Letter from Tina. She can make even bad material memorable.

(p.s. I thought of Tina’s Letter because I had to write one to my landlord about the entry system not working and started wondering if the art of correspondence was dead. It took everything I had not to end my letter “Yours, lifetime.”)

Next: Go Ahead and Call it Frisco, What the Hell Do I Care
Previous: The Great Un-Quashed
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Contact: ellistoellis@gmail.com

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