Great article published yesterday in The New York Times!
What books are on your nightstand?
I keep my favorites in my prayer room, the place where I chant and meditate. The shelves are spilling over with books I turn to over and over again for inspiration: “The Teaching of Buddha,” anything by the Dalai Lama or Deepak Chopra, Taro Gold’s “Living Wabi Sabi,” Frederick Lenz’s “Surfing the Himalayas,” Richard Bach’s “Illusions” and stacks of other books I have come to love over the years.
What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?
My funniest experience with a book was when my sons were growing up. I was flashy onstage, but offstage I was very proper, dressed in ballet flats and trousers. In fact, the boys always called me “Mother.” One day, I decided it was time to teach them about “life,” so to speak. It was Ike’s job, but he was always in the studio. So I sat them down at the table and pulled out a serious book about sex. As soon as I said the word “puberty,” they started laughing (probably because they knew everything already), then I started laughing. And that was it. I still laugh when I think about it. Do books like that even exist today?
What book, if any, most influenced your decision to become a songwriter and musician or contributed to your artistic development?
One day, I was walking through an airport with Ike when I spotted a book in a shop. It was a beautiful coffee table book called “Ancient Egypt,” and for some reason I felt a spine-tingling, instant connection, especially when I saw a picture of Hatshepsut, one of the first female pharaohs. Then a psychic told me that I had been Hatshepsut in another life. The thought was so empowering! Several years later, Jeannette Obstoj, Rupert Hine and Jamie West-Oram wrote a beautiful song for me, “I Might Have Been Queen,” based on my feelings about my Egyptian past.
What books might we be surprised to find on your bookshelves?
People are always surprised to hear that Jackie Kennedy is my role model. I love reading about her childhood, her time in the White House, her sense of style and even her insecurities — it is comforting that someone as seemingly perfect as Jackie could be self-conscious about her imperfections. Her combination of vulnerability and strength has been an inspiration to me. I have a whole collection of books about her, from “Jackie, Janet & Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill,” by J. Randy Taraborrelli, to “What Jackie Taught Us,” by Tina Santi Flaherty, and I always learn something that makes me admire her more. I met her once, an experience I will never forget.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite book? Most beloved character?
I was a terrible reader as a child. I know now that I suffered from a learning disability, so that’s why words and numbers were hard for me. But I always loved stories. The first time I saw that books, magazines and culture of any kind could be an important part of life was when I was a teenager working for the Hendersons, a lovely white couple who hired me to help take care of their baby. I developed a lifelong addiction to magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Women’s Wear Daily. I wanted to improve myself, and the magazines were my teachers. That’s where I learned how to dress, how to wear makeup and how to develop a personal sense of style.
The little prayer book a friend gave me when she first introduced me to Buddhism. My life changed when I learned how to chant. For one thing, I found the strength to leave Ike and start my journey to independence.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
I would encourage the president (and everyone else, for that matter) to find a book that would help him to be more spiritual. Maybe “The Power of Compassion” or “The Art of Happiness,” by the Dalai Lama. So many people get scared when they hear the word “spiritual.” They think “church” or “religion.” But I found that cultivating my spiritual side through Buddhism helped me to open my mind and my heart in ways I never imagined.
What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
In 2017, my kidneys were failing and I went through a prolonged period of dialysis. Every time I went to the clinic, I brought the same three books with me: “The Book of Secrets,” by Deepak Chopra, “The Divine Comedy,” by Dante, and a book of photography by the extraordinary Horst P. Horst. I needed something for the spirit, something for the intellect and something for the senses, and the ritual of studying the same books while I was undergoing treatment was comforting to me because it imposed order on a situation I couldn’t otherwise control.
I like a dinner party to be a lively mixture of different kinds of people — young, old and everything in between. So my first choice would be Dante — after all my years of studying “The Divine Comedy,” I need to ask him a lot of questions! I could be his Beatrice! Since I can’t choose between Anne Rice and Stephen King, I’d set places for both of them. Their books have kept me awake for many a night because there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good scare! And I’d definitely serve Thai food, because I like things spicy.
What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?
I’m waiting for Mick Jagger to write his autobiography. We’ve been friends since the 1960s, when we were very young, and I know he’s lived quite the life. Mick is a great storyteller and he can outtalk anyone on the planet. That’s the book I want to read, and so will everybody else. Mick?
What do you plan to read next?
I’m a big fan of horror and suspense stories, so I’ve always wanted to read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” the book that started it all. I heard that she came up with the idea while she was in Switzerland, which is now my home. And I’m looking forward to “Alaïa,” a new edition of the book on the fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa, which is coming out in the fall. We were very fond of each other — he created some of my iconic looks — and I’m so sad that he’s gone.
Who would you want to write your life story?
Me! And I have. It’s called “My Love Story”— I found myself at a time in my life when I could really think about everything that’s happened to me. You know, my first book, “I, Tina,” told part of the story. But a lot has happened in the years since then and I wanted to tell the whole story, and get it right this time. I also wanted to make peace with my past, including Ike. I’ve had some life-or-death experiences lately, and I discovered that I look at things differently when faced with my own mortality.
Photo Credit: Jillian Tamaki