🕐 25 minutes
August 1st, 2018. It was one of the hottest days of the year. For my first visit to Munich, the Bavarian capital was sizzling under the most brutal and harassing sun. I can never help myself but think about people who have to work outside under such heat, memories of the deep American South, far from where we are today but the starting point of everything for little Anna Mae, the never-ending topic of this blog and of course the reason for my trip.
Stranger on a Train
It all started with a late-night tweet to Tina Turner Blog’s Twitter account that I discovered on a train taking me back home in the dead of night… A recent photo I had never seen before showing a glowing Tina accompanied by a handsome man, unknown to me, and the surprisingly definitive quote: ‘It is time for a new book”.
After a few seconds of disbelief and doubt, I took a closer look at the person’s Twitter profile and asked my best virtual friend Google to give me some more information about this stranger. And as expected, my highly efficient artificial friend knew a lot about him. A German-born journalist, he had been an editor in chief for the famous Stern magazine for many years and had written several books.
Next day at dawn, once I was sure the news was real, that the person behind the tweet was famous, well-established and respected, I wrote a post on the blog and within seconds, the excitement among fans just exploded!
Now a few months later, I’ve been invited to meet the man behind Tina’s new biography in his very stylish Münchener office to talk about ‘TINA: My Love Story‘ and its promotion.
The Man Who Knows So Much
Dominik Wichmann, the man in question, has the Midas touch and turns everything he touches into gold. He is the successful co-writer of the bestseller Zwischen Zwei Leben: Von Liebe, Tod und Zuversicht (Hoffman und Campe) telling the story of Guido Westerwelle, a former German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor who fought for Gay rights among other social battles and who died of leukemia in 2015.
His newly born company Looping Group is a collective of the best storytellers, visual artists, filmmakers, strategists and data scientists. Founded and led by journalists it is already a success with around seventy employees dispatched over three offices in Germany. With clients like Mercedes-Benz but also foundations, individuals and now the legendary Tina Turner, their value proposition is to give brands their own voice in times where everyone can theoretically be a sender of its own messages. Looping Group combines data analysis, storytelling and quite amazing clients, which makes them one of the hippest startups in Germany right now.
No wonder that Tina personally chose him along with Deborah Davis to help her write her memoirs.
Needless to say that it is a great honor for me to have received this invitation and I looked forward to the rendezvous with a tremendous sense of excitement and nervousness. But! Before meeting the dynamic entrepreneur, it was time for a quick lunch with a few Loopers (hip name given to the employees of the Looping Group) in a fancy bistro, close to the group’s new Bavarian offices.
Looping’s Munich office is in the historical city center of Strauss’s birthplace, in one of those typical German streets with charming colorful houses, impressive buildings, and old pavements. As soon as I arrive in front of the number eleven of the Prannerstrasse, I am greeted by Anna, Max and Silvia, three Loopers in charge of ‘Operation TINA’. We directly head for the bistro where we get acquainted…
The L- Team
Silvia, the lovely young lady who I was in touch with and who made the whole thing happen used to work for the beverage company Red Bull in Austria before joining Looping Group last year as Client Manager. Silvia not only has many years of experience in the field of printing, films, and TV, she was also involved in the introduction of the first Turkish-language radio station in Germany. She brings her wings to the TINA project with a great sense of dedication.
In order to pursue his passion for dramaturgy, directing and theatre, Max, the young tech. boy of the gang worked for several years as an assistant director for various productions. After many years in Hamburg, he now works in Berlin as an editorial assistant for Looping Studios. In charge of TINA’s media channels, I look forward to working more closely with him.
And there’s Anna, a tall delicate German beauty who supervises the whole project. A very articulate person, she doesn’t want to spoil certain topics for me, aware that Dominik might be the one who wants to introduce them to me. Being so involved in the project, she met with Tina several times while joining Mr. Wichmann during work sessions at Algonquin, the chic Swiss estate where the Queen of Rock has been residing since 1995.
During the conversation, Anna mentions that she is constantly in touch with Rhonda Graam, Tina’s longtime friend and assistant. Right after telling me this, the fool that I am almost jumped from my seat and declared: ‘Oh please, next time you write to Rhonda tell her I said hello and that I’ll see her in September for the TINA Heritage Days!!!’.
Anna may gracefully smile, she seems a bit surprised by the odd demand but kindly replies she will do so. And, just to let you know and to make things worse, I reiterated my preposterous request as we were saying goodbye… just to be sure… I am ashamed and I guess I should be but I can’t help being a natural… and I really like Ron who must think that I am some sort of virus!
Our intimate conversation revolves around various Tina related topics and for once I feel free to talk about my passion without being afraid of boring people to death. I evoke the Fans Party, how it evolved and how I came to meet many great fans and people from around the world. We talk about music, about other Tina followers, the Beyond projects, Nutbush, the bio-documentary planned for next year and more.
At some point Max asks me how I would succinctly define Tina to someone who isn’t such a huge fan and, without really thinking about it, I simply replied:
‘Tina Turner, the human being is the total opposite of Tina Turner, the stage persona.’
He understood what I meant right away of course and I tried to elaborate my thoughts for a few seconds but, bistro means fast in Russian and the clock is ticking. Dominik has a tight schedule: he is expecting me and you know, Germans unlike the French are always on time.
Shadow of a Doubt
For the time being, I have to confess my shallowness but, I wanted to look good, to look professional, to give a good first impression. I never had credibility as a blogger and this lack of legitimacy has always bothered me. And to get an invitation from the man in charge of Tina’s memoir and more, was nothing short of flabbergasting to me…
Au contraire, with the heat and the anxiety, karma had punished my vanity and narcissism and I was literally drenched in sweat, looking nothing like a pro. Wearing short shorts and summer shoes, I had decided to choose comfort over professionalism. Which was still useless because, by the time I entered the office to meet Dominik, I was literally soaking wet and I could hear Tina’s voice in my head:
“A little fan is always a little nicer…”
And when Tina says a little fan, she is not talking about me who is short as hell but a real fan, to ventilate yourself, and I truly wished I had a fan with me that day… or half a dozen sponges! Rest reassured dear reader I won’t go into any further details about my sudation but the feeling wasn’t really nice and the image projected must have been pretty awful… Back to the studio…
As I access the modern spacious workspace of the office, I pan the room and notice Dominik in the back. At the same moment, Silvia points at the wall behind me with a small grin on her face and winks. I turn and there she is: an iconic framed photo of a younger Tina signed by the rock star herself for Dominik. I take a closer look at the bottom of the frame to discover the five handwritten words: ‘I am always to Dominik’
I am struck by the sentence but I have no time to absorb it and to reflect on it because there he is, Dominik, greeting me with his blue laser eyes, scanning the guy in front of him, and I know right away that despite his friendly smile, you better not try to b.s him. Which is not my intention, I am there to learn.
Dominik: ‘Don’t ask me what she meant by that!’
he tells me right away as he notices the look of surprise on my face, still staring at the photo and the autograph. I do not ask and follow him, and the team, in the briefing room. The coffee is served, the water is poured, the conversation can begin and we go back to the roots of the project.
‘It was Tina’s and Erwin’s idea. They contacted me and Erwin asked me to take care of pulling together the author team, the publisher, the marketing and everything else that comes along with the book project. And Tina told me: ‘I want you to do the book and to take care of it’. I answered I wasn’t sure I would be the most appropriate person, that it was a giant task. I was already very busy building my new company but you know, all things considered, who could say no to Tina and refuse such an opportunity? And I have to tell you, I was once again really blown away by her. We met many times and did hours of recording, sometimes sessions that would last for eight hours where she would talk about her life in every aspect. And she was just perfect, on point all the time. For someone who is nearly 80, it is pretty remarkable. Her brain is a great machine. But we were not alone in this task, we have to talk about Deborah because she is wonderful.’
Deborah Davis wrote the only authorized biography on the Oprah Winfrey Show and was chosen to join the battalion to add her expertise into this complex mission. Miss Davis is the author of Fabritius and the Goldfinch; Guest of Honor, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation; Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X; Party of the Century; and Gilded. She formerly worked as an executive, story editor, and story analyst for several major film companies
Mr. Wichmann is the organizer and head of the project but they both did a lot of research: Dominik mostly in charge of the parts of the book which take place in Europe while Deborah was busy exploring Tina’s American roots. But the book is really a teamwork between Deborah and Dominik. It is something quite unique and special since it is not very often that authors work so close together in one book.
‘She is fantastic, it is a great work relationship. She really gave the sound of the book. We worked on different topics and she could deal with topics a woman would more easily transcript…’
– Such as…?
‘Such as wigs for instance! I mean how can a white bald man truthfully write about black female rock star wigs!? Deborah took care of matters like this. For some other topics, I would send her rough drafts and she would mix the whole thing to give it more truth. Real teamwork, her approach is impressive and always on point.’
– The pressure to deliver a book on time must be enormous, was it a strenuous task or did you and Deborah approach the project with a relaxed spirit?
‘In the USA, ‘TINA: My Love Story’ will be published by Atria, a subdivision of Simon & Schuster and it is the second most anticipated biography of 2018, right after Michelle Obama’s memoirs. The pressure coming from the publishers in countries where the book will be issued is real but Tina was like ‘take it easy guys, no stress’. She likes when things are harmonious and simple.’
I reveal to the team that I met Tina face-to-face only once, very briefly, in Zürich, with lots of other people, some misty years ago. In the few minutes, I had the privilege to share with my idol, I wished her good luck on the upcoming project she was supposed to feature in at that time. A film d’Époque wrote especially for her by filmmakers duo Merchant/Ivory entitled ‘The Goddess’ in which she was supposed to play the part of Hindu Goddess Kali. I have always been sad that Tina’s movie career never really took off. Films seemed to have been a real interest for the Private Dancer singer but thankfully she has never wanted to appear in any sort of B-movies just for the sake of being on the big screen. But ‘The Goddess’ was tailored made for Tina, the Latin/Sanskrit songs composed by Zakir Hussain and the whole spiritual aspect of it were enough to convince me and made me hyper excited.
Unfortunately, this mesmerizing project never came to fruition after the sudden passing of producer and director Ismael Merchant in 2005. I didn’t mention this story to the Loopers during our Munich meeting but I did talk about the fact that during that short moment spent with Tina, more than being starstruck, all I could feel was a radiating energy in the room. I could literally feel it, I can actually still feel it from time to time – I asked Dominik who spends a lot of time with Tina about this sensation.
‘Yes that’s true, there is an energy that emanates from her and maybe I would say that there are three reasons for this. First, it would be the meditation and her spiritual side which is very developed. She doesn’t see things the way other people do. Secondly, her Native Americans roots and then, of course, the fact that she was born an African-American woman in a deeply rooted spiritual land. The combination of the three, the Baptist upbringing and her Buddhist practice, the way she worked on all of this makes her singularly unique.’
Although I am concerned about Tina’s spiritual state of mind and well-being since her oldest son Craig passed away, I don’t dare bring up the topic. But as someone in the room mentions his name, I take the opportunity to ask the author how Tina is doing in these times of mourning.
‘She is like any mother who has lost a child and she is asking herself a lot of questions. She is heartbroken naturally but she’ll find her own way to cope with it. She will open up about this dramatic situation in the forthcoming book. Also, she was the one who wanted to have the picture of her during Craig’s service posted on her social media accounts with the words she wrote. She wasn’t going to let people put words in her mouth once again as it happened in the past during moments of grief.’
For The Love of Bach
I am happy and relieved to hear Tina is still so much involved with her career. We now get to the title of the book, ‘TINA: My Love Story‘, and consequently, the man who has been in Tina’s life for more than 30 years, Mr. Erwin Bach. I briefly evoke the enigmatic figure that he represents for many fans and how I personally enjoy seeing him so protective of our muse and that I appreciate the fact that he is the kind of man who never tried to attract the spotlight to himself, unlike many notorious star’s husbands.
‘It was Tina who chose the title. She is in charge of everything. When you’ll have read the book, Ben, write me the next day and let me know what you think about Erwin. People don’t know him but they will love him. He has done so much for Tina. The two together are an incredible team. He knows everything and has been involved in many things. But I don’t want to go too much into details, everything will be revealed in the book!’
A biography isn’t a real biography if you don’t have any anecdotes, stories from people who are the closest to the Legend. Who can we expect to hear from in ‘TINA: My Love Story‘?
‘We interviewed dozens of people, starting with her longtime manager and friend Roger Davies, Miss Rhonda Graam of course who has been beside Tina forever. Regula Curti, the lady behind the Beyond albums series also shared stories about her Swiss friend and neighbor Tina, and how the spiritual project came together. There are many more contributors of course: readers are going to be surprised!’
Der Blaue Engel
My shabby hostel in Munich is located on a street named Marlene-Dietrich-Straße. The synchronicity of moment and location strikes me as I have often compared the German legend to Tina.
In the latter years of her life, Marlene lived as a recluse in her Parisian apartment, mostly in her bed, lonely, mad against the entire world. I know the comparison ends after the word recluse but you get the ‘Grey Garden‘ image. Tina had the iconic picture of Marlene’s legs displayed on the wall of her screening room at Anna Fleur. When asked in the late eighties who she was a fan of these days, the Oscar-nominated Hitchcock blonde yelled through her bedroom door:
TINA! She is the only one who has balls!’
I know Tina is a peaceful woman, I know that she has no anger and is not lonely contrary to the Stage Fright actress but the two are incredibly strong women who overcame incredible odds in life and who have had a pretty ambiguous relationship with their homeland. And, of course, the legs, the voice, the charisma and simply the fantasy of the never-aging diva, living far away from the rest of us mortals, just being busy building their own immortality by their very remarkable absence.
The Lady From Küsnacht
Silvia intervenes and tells us that she also thought about the Dietrich connection during our lunch conversation. I feel reassured that I am not totally crazy. And with the Tina documentary coming soon, I am thinking about the notorious ‘Marlene’ documentary directed by Maximilian Schell in 1984. The screen legend who had agreed at the time to reflect on her career for the cameras of the ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ actor had changed her mind in the last-minute of pre-production. Her entire apartment had to be rebuilt in studios until she categorically refused to appear on camera. As I mention the infamous movie to Dominik, he tells me:
‘Yeah it’s a great movie, I actually thought about that, a documentary where you wouldn’t see Tina…’
We laugh at the idea and I smile as I fathom the faces of people in 2019 going to cinemas to watch a new documentary about Tina Turner in which she wouldn’t physically appear. Riots! And even if the idea is interesting from an artistic point of view, we all know that’s not what fans and Tina’s larger audience are looking for and probably not what Tali Pelman, producer of both the documentary and TINA, The Musical, would want.
– Will we get more music from Tina?
‘She is retired and she is perfectly fine with that.’
I can’t help thinking that it is a mistake and I simply refuse to admit that Tina’s recording career ended in 1999 with the album Twenty Four Seven. The lady has one of the most unique and amazing voices of the 20th century. It is the voice of the Earth, it is profound, it vibrates, it resonates. It is intense and powerful, Tina and her vocal instrument can bring everything to life and sing pretty much anything. I would crawl begging on my knees from Tours in France where I live to Zürich for a Jazz LP or for the unplugged album that never was, and even, why not, one last true Rock recording…
I wish I could talk about the new biography in more depth, I would love to dwell on the Daniel Lindsey & T.J Martin’s upcoming documentary. I want to mention Roger again, I want to talk about Tina’s legacy, the museum… I am curious to know more about Dominik’s and Deborah’s work relationship with Tina but he has an important phone call scheduled and it is already time to say goodbye. I don’t want to outlast my welcome but secretly wish I could just stay a little longer, concealed in a corner of the office, observing them work and interact.
We say goodbye as I am trying to memorize everything as much as I can, fix the present moment in my head. As I leave, I am overwhelmed by a mixture of feelings, uncertain and hopeful.
A Single Man
My brain is spinning as I head back to my depressing hostel in the scorching muggy weather. I long for a shower. I would have normally already lit ten cigarettes but I haven’t smoked in over two months.
My first text message will be for my best friend Sjef. I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for him and there would simply be no Tina Turner Blog without him. He knows I can not tell him everything we talked about during the meeting and of course he understands and doesn’t ask.
Back inside the fading room, I try to relax as much as possible, I lay on the lumpy bed, missing the comfort of my own shelter in Tours. Although the old military man that I am doesn’t mind a bit of rusticity and roughness from time to time, just to remind myself how fortunate I am.
I look at the powerful sun and I am already thinking about my trip back to Nutbush this September, about the fans gathering in November, the biography and the many other great adventures that are coming.
I am remembering every road that I walked and every word that I wrote to get a tiny little bit closer to Tina – and to those ahead – And so, to pass the time, I start writing these lines. Knowing that in any way, Dominik, I and millions of fans, we will always be to TINA.