I’m Not Done Talking about Ike Turner

I thought I was, but then I read Donald Fagen’s obituary for him and it made me mad and upset all over again.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had anybody you loved really lose control when they were hitting you. But it’s like there’s this moment when the violence ceases to be about whatever it is that you’ve done and becomes something transcendent for the person who’s hitting you. It’s both about you and has nothing to do with you. It’s like being at a fucked-up exorcism, where the possessed person attempts to raise the Devil out of you.

It’s terrible, because it’s such a betrayal of what love should be–you should be safe with the people who love you and you should not have their issues opened up on you like standing in front of a blast furnace–but it’s also terrible because there’s nothing you can do to stop it but ride it out.

And the waiting for it can be unbearable.

Often, it’s easier when you see it coming to provoke it early, in order to get it out of the way, in order to drain it off before it has a chance to build to maximum pressure. Other times, it’s best for your self-preservation to do nothing to provoke it; to show a face that says you cannot be reached.

Often, when I hear people who’ve never been abused talking about abuse, it’s like they’re just talking about a person smacking around another person like there’s just some misunderstanding about how we treat people. I don’t know if they get that kind of blast-furnace fucked-up-ness.

I honestly don’t think that they do.

Because, if you’ve witnessed it, I don’t see how you can believe that a person can be redeemed from that.

And yet, when you love someone, you desperately need to believe that there is some redemption possible, I think.

It’s hard to look objectively at someone you love and say to yourself that he’s just a man that does that shit or she’s just a woman who does that shit and that he or she might love you in his or her own way, but it just doesn’t cut it.

I know I can’t.

But I think it’s one thing for a person to have to make a little myth out of the fucked-up person they love in order to get by, it’s quite another thing for strangers to make myths out of ordinary men in order to feel okay about liking their art.

I’d much rather see Fagen just mourn the passing of a great artist than to try to craft some story of possible redemption for the man, just because the myth is so obviously built on lies.

Shall we enumerate them, just to keep from counting our own aches?

–The Mississippi Delta is no magical place. It’s just a dirt-poor corner of a dirt-poor state.

–Robert Johnson didn’t sell his soul to the devil. Or Papa Legba. Or anybody.

–The Devil and Papa Legba aren’t interchangeable.

–Just because Robert Johnson was reputed to have sold his soul to the devil (or so some white men say), doesn’t mean that everyone from the Delta who’s had some success sold his soul to the devil and there’s something inherently intellectually dishonest about associating Johnson’s myth (which, probably, rightfully belongs to Tommy Johnson anyway) with Turner.

–Ike didn’t beat Tina because he wanted organization. He didn’t beat her because “Obviously, there was something Ike just didn’t get about the whole hitting problem.” There wasn’t some part of Ike that was failing to understand that pounding on your loved ones is wrong. Dude wasn’t an idiot, so let’s not excuse his actions as if he was. He beat her to have power over her and feeling powerful was more important to him for whatever reason(s) than doing right by his loved one.

He beat her for the same reason anyone abuses a loved on–because it made him feel powerful and in charge.

That’s the truth. That’s the line that’s crossed, from it being about you, as the person at the receiving end of the blow, to the person giving it. You do whatever (or nothing) and the person who hits seizes on that opportunity to feel powerful and in charge. It’s a rush for them.

And that’s why it’s hard to stop domestic violence, not because abusing someone is an effective way to run your life, but because feeling powerful and in charge feels so damn good.

–Ike Turner was just a man. He didn’t sell his soul to Anyone. No one but him was using his personal demons against him. He was just a man.

That has been a hard lesson for me to learn about my own family.

Speaking of folks from the Delta, I think it was Robert Gordon’s biography of Muddy Waters that helped me understand that about my progenitors.   Not that my people had much in common with him or his people, but sometimes seeing how it works for others lets you see how it works for the people you’re too close to to get any good perspective on.

And this is what I know.  They’re just people.  Just people who needed to feel powerful and in control and who didn’t put protecting their children from their worst excesses ahead of of that particular excess.

It’s hard for me to articulate what I’m dancing around here, though, it seems I’m dancing as hard as I can to old Ike’s tune.  Just that I’m afraid of that in myself and too suspicious of it in other people.

And that it’s hard for me to talk directly about it.

This is what makes me angry and sad.  It makes me angry and sad that the deal seemed to be tolerating what went on in exchange for being kept safe from the outside world and yet, all it did was fuck people up about the outside world, and not keep anyone safe from anything.

My cousin J. once said to me something that made my blood run cold precisely because I’ve heard something similar from my dad on numerous occasions–“Our family is like in the Bible, like some Old Testament clan.  It’s like the things that happen to us are part of some big plan on God’s part.”

But, you know, we’re just men and women, too.  It would be nice to think that there’s some Divinely ordained reason for the way we are with each other and ourselves, but there’s not.

There’s just us, ordinary folks, fucked up ordinary folks with no myths to make sense of why.

It would be nice to know why, I guess.  To be able to draw some sure thick line between, say, how recalcitrant the recalcitrant brother is and a woman born deaf and possibly raped and definitely married off to the man her dad gave her to, but who even knows how true that story is?

It’s like being caught in a wake, watching the waves ripple outwards, and being able to tell a few things about the boat that went by, even though you didn’t see it.

And still, I wonder, doesn’t pointing back to her, a woman whose name I don’t even know, allow me to conveniently avoid looking the generations between her and me square in the face and saying, “You did this”?

I feel my grandpa with me a lot.  I don’t mention it to my dad because I don’t want to hear yet another myth of how great he was, except…

He was and he was.

He was great and he sucked.  He was just a man.

That’s what I feel, when I feel him with me, some defiant anger and a long, resigned sigh, and just a man I really didn’t know and never really spoke to except for once, who’s got nothing better to do than to watch the ripples he caused roll on down through us.

I still love him.

I still love his son.

I love them easier now that they’re smaller than they used to be.

And that, my friends, is why I am opposed to making Ike the size of some epic myth.  Some folks, you can only love when you can finally see them for the size they really are.

13 thoughts on “I’m Not Done Talking about Ike Turner

  1. Thank you, B. This is reason number umpteen why I love you. You just gave me an internally weepy* moment of introspection that just may help me be a better husband and father.

    *I’m in the firehouse. No external weeping allowed without loss of limb.

  2. Nice post B. Very thought-provoking. The images of the boat’s wake and the dancing around this dark material are both very resonant. …

    Mythology is a much prettier trap than the gritty reality of the wounds inflicted by the mean spirited souls that walk the road with us. There’re plenty more guitar playin assholes out there too, just like Ike. God’s plan or Satan’s? You decide. Or not.

  3. That’s… That’s good stuff. Resonates. Damn, it’s only if we’re lucky and work very very hard at it that time and physical distance can shrink them, whoever they are, to their real size.

  4. Yeah, and Ron, I should make it clear that I don’t believe that forgiveness or hard work is an obligation of folks at the receiving end of that.

    I want to be clear about it, because I think it’s a bullshit move we sometimes pull, to insist that the people hurt do more work, do more forgiving, etc. so that “they can move on” or “put it behind them” or whatever.

    Appropriately focused anger can be clarifying and being able to withhold forgiveness can be healing.

    Not always, of course, but it can be.

    And I think we owe it to ourselves and each other to let each person, as long as their way of working through what’s been done to them doesn’t involve doing similar things to others, work through it in whatever way’s necessary.

  5. I don’t believe it’s possible to “withhold forgiveness.” Once you feel it, it has already happened. We don’t forgive as a way of making the other person feel better, we forgive to make ourselves better.

    I grew up in a abusive environment. My father regularly hit us, and my mother. I was terrified of him most of my life What was startling to me was my siblings reaction to my mother years later, after my father died, they resented her for all sorts of imagined slights. Anyway, I have to respectfully disagree that all violence is about power. I mean, it may be, but to me its important to differentiate exactly what is the conscious motivation for it. (Shit, I have to bow out right now, SuperMousey just called sick from school, I will try to get back to this later.) Sorry.

  6. OK, where was I? Yes, conscious motivation. My father already had all the power he needed. His frustration manifested itself, sometimes, into physical violence. It was probably his default mode, given HIS upbringing. Anyway, I say all of this because I also know all of the good things he did, and his death seemed an inappropriate time to define the man as a wife-beater. It didn’t solely define him. I sure as hell don’t want to be defined for all the fucked up things I’ve done to people. I know what he sacrificed, what he went through, and what he was trying to do for me and my siblings.

    I don’t hit my kids. I’m sure they feel terrified when I just yell, but i bet they don’t feel unsafe. Believe it or not, neither did I. I knew i was about to catch a beating, but I wasn’t going to be injured or killed. I knew there would be a roof, food, and love in whatever form he could muster. I don’t know if his violence is why i abhor violence now, and don’t perpetrate it on my loved ones, but if that is the reason, I’m cool with it.

    I can’t do this all here, but sometime i will talk with you about other types of abuse that seem go all but ignored.

  7. B, I gotta say that this seems to me like a good description of what it feels like to grow up with an abuser. That identifying with and even exalting all the family’s shitty history is a part that rarely gets mentioned. I also gotta say that while I don’t for a moment question Mack’s response to a violent father, I’d say myself that someone who can only lash out isn’t mustering love in any form.

  8. Mack, I hear you and, sure, for me, it’s a lot easier to overlook the stuff that happened to me irregularly than it is for me to get over the shit that happened all the fucking time. For me, it’s easier to ignore or explain the handful of times things got out of control physically than it is for me to ignore the constant undermining.

    But I understand that things are different for other people. Someone else in my family might tell you that the physical stuff was barely bearable and someone else might say that the leaving and the threats of leaving are what he can’t get past.

    But again, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love the folks who did that to us, that I don’t understand that they also did and do incredibly generous and loving stuff.

    What I mean by withholding forgiveness is, like in the case of Tina Turner, where there’s been so much speculation about whether she’d go to Ike’s funeral, about whether she’d have some profound statement to make at his death, etc.

    It’s one thing for a person to get to a point in her own life when she or he finds that they’ve moved on and forgiven what went down. That’s up to each person.

    But it’s another thing, and one I see frequently and think is bullshit, for other people to want you to forgive a person so that those other people can feel okay about liking them or their music or whatever.

    You don’t have to answer, of course, but is it really so hard for you to understand why, after your father was safely dead, your siblings would turn on your mom?

    I love my grandma dearly, but it took me almost all of my life to even begin to come to terms with her staying with my grandpa.

  9. Well, thats kinda the funny part. They didn’t “turn” on her for staying with dad. I’ll never forget the things they blamed her for that were convenient excuses for their fuck-ups.

    I see your point, but if Tina had called me (she rarely does anymore) I probably would have counseled her to go, and speak her truth, whatever it was.

  10. Yeah, there’s that, too. The last really bad fight my dad and the recalcitrant brother had ended with my dad slumped over in a dining room chair at two in the morning saying something like, “Even if I am the worst dad in the whole world, you have to decide if you’re going to let that define your whole life.”

    I think that’s wise, though I go back and forth about how realistic it is.

    I guess the thing is, you can not undo what’s done to you, but maybe you can learn to stop making it harder on yourself.

    That’s what I hope, anyway.

    As for Tina, it’s been thirty years. Maybe she didn’t figure she’s got any truth left about the situation that remains unsaid. She wasn’t his only wife or even his last one.

    Bleh, this thread is a real downer, huh? I always feel ambivalent about my parents’ visits and this one, being Christmas and the first anniversary of my cousin’s death, is stirring up a little more shit than usual.

    Sorry about that, folks.

  11. Man, that was hard parental truth spoken right there. You can make some awesome fuckups and still hope that you’ve prepared your kid to be an autonomous adult despite (and because of) all that. You pin your hope on the idea of deliverance and pray that your errors are part of some cosmic methodology. I think that’s where the necessity of reinterpretation comes in, the reconstitution of stories to try to make art of the stones thrown at us.

    Part of learning to see my parents at their real sizes was trying my hand at the parenthood thing.

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