Review of Tina Turner's Happiness Becomes You (2020)
When I was sixteen years old I began going to live music concerts. The three I remember are The Police, General Public, and Tina Turner.
Each of the concerts was wonderful in their own right. But Tina’s concert was the only one I came away from with a t-shirt. It was black and featured that ultra-famous photo of her seated facing the camera with her legs-for-days outstretched. I’m probably dating myself and that's great!
It was The Private Dancer Tour and I went to see her when she came to New York.
I realize now that at the time, it was the during the peak of Ms. Turner’s singing career.
She was electric.
For at least two hours I and thousands of other Tina Turner lovers screamed, sweated profusely, and sang along. By the end we were drenched and exhausted, but also jubilant and transported.
At the time I had no idea of Tina’s story. I didn’t know about her childhood abandonment by her mother, nor the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, Ike. Nor did I know that she was Buddhist. I just knew I loved the song, What’s Love Got to Do with It? and even more, Private Dancer.
It was a moment in my early life—one that was tucked away with countless others that have shaped the person I am becoming.
Some of those memories returned to me after several years of practicing meditation and reading about Buddhism, while suffering from the malaise of alienation from the majority white sanghas that I had in-person access to.
The more I read about Buddhism the more I tapped into the fact that American convert sanghas weren’t the exclusive domain of middle class white people. I learned more about The Buddha, who did not call himself a Buddhist, btw :) (akin to the fact that Christ was not a Christian). I learned about the many places very far from my little corner of the world where Buddhism has a very long history. I wanted to learn more about those places.
And then I remembered watching the biopic, What’s Love Got to Do With It? (1993) starring Angela Bassett many years before. If you’ve seen the film then you’ll remember that the strength she found to leave Ike came, at least in part, from the Buddhist chanting practice that she was introduced to by another Black woman who had found the strength to leave the abusiveness of the music business. The chanting that she took up, “Nam myoho renge kyo,” is part of the Soka Gakkai tradition, based on the 13th century Japanese Buddhist tradition of Nichiren. Soka Gakkai boasts one of the most diverse spiritual populations in the United States. I found Tina on Youtube chanting and wanted to learn more.
It’s been several years since those encounters with Tina in concert, in film, on Youtube. I never felt the compunction to read any of her biographies—and there are at least three that I know of. That changed when I saw her latest offering, Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good (2020), a cross between self-help, autobiography, and Buddhist and everyday wisdom offerings.
The book details Ms. Turner’s “spiritual journey with Buddhism since the 1970s.” It features stories from her life, including her marriage to Ike, her current husband, Erwin Bach’s selfless donation of his kidney to her, a stroke, and her suicide attempt. Some of what is included is, of course, also part of her earlier works, but the context and purpose are different.
The stories that she tells of her life challenges are not the focus, but rather illustrative of the point that she makes in the book’s introduction: that “There were so many external circumstances and forces I couldn't change or control, but my life-altering revelation was that I could change my way of responding to these challenges. The most valuable help comes from within, and peace comes when individuals work on becoming their better selves.” In addition to her personal stories and lessons learned along the way by way of Buddhist philosophy, the book is peppered with inspiring quotes from icons like Ruby Dee, James Baldwin, Oprah Winfrey, Mother Theresa, and Jane Goodall. In the center of the text is a collection of photos from over the years, including one with Cher, another with her two sons, one of whom she lost to suicide, her singing days, and of course, several of her chanting.
I first grabbed a copy of Happiness for my kindle, but loved it so much that I ordered a hard copy. And then as I am wont to do I became a little obsessed and rewatched What’s Love Got to Do with It? And then to wash those horrible images of abandonment and abuse out of my head, watched the most recent HBO documentary about her, simply titled Tina (2021). To top it all off I listened to a Still Processing podcast episode, We, Tina about the documentary.
Check out her email interview with USA Today
Not done yet, Ms. Turner is 81 years strong, still gorgeous, and has this year, for a second time, been inducted in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, an honor well-deserved!