No Ike Turner Day in St. Louis: But What's Truth Got to Do With It?

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay titled his recent blog entry on the Ike Turner Day affair "Spiked Ike." Apparently "Turner Burner" and "Wife Beater Repeater" were too subtle.

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In the blogospheric tradition of "fisking" -- to quote The Observer: "savaging an argument and scattering the tattered remnants to the four corners of the internet" -- here's a point-counterpoint critique of Slay's rationalizations for denying Izear Luster Turner Jr. an honorary day in the city whose music he helped put on the map.
Nearly a hundred newspapers across the country (and countless blogs and forums) have picked up a story about my decision not to name an "Ike Turner Day" in the City of St. Louis, when Mr. Turner headlines the annual Big Muddy Blues Festival on Laclede's Landing in September.

Only eighteen words in and Slay offers his first evasion: It's not wholly true that Slay decided against an "Ike Turner Day." The truth is that the Office of the Mayor initially okayed an Ike Day request from the Big Muddy Blues Festival. But not long after Big Muddy executive producer Dawne Massey sent out a press release stating as much, Slay reversed his own office's decision.

In the normal course of events, I probably would have.

But what was abnormal about this course of events? Slay doesn't say. Could it be the knee-jerk reaction of activist groups and others who called and e-mailed the mayor in the hours after the proclamation was made public?

Slay's aide, Cathy Smentkowski, who had green-lighted the proclamation, told me, "Once [the announcement] came out to the forefront, then we started getting calls about it. I was like, 'Oh, apparently this isn't that routine, and I really need to cross my t's and dot my i's."

Based on interviews with Smentkowski and Big Muddy's Massey, the timeline went something like this: Massey made her request in early June and received approval from Smentkowski via e-mail a few days later. On July 17, Massey sent out her press release, and the proclamation was made public. The next day, the mayor's office reversed the decision, forcing Massey to send out a correction to her initial press release.

After all, I am presented with hundreds of requests for proclamations a month.

True -- and the mayor's office regularly approves them, without Slay's imprimatur and, presumably, without a background check.

This one, though, was different.

Right. There was a backlash after the announcement was made public.

Ike Turner is a great musician, but it is for his troubled history as an abusive spouse that most younger people know him.

Slay seems pretty confident about what "younger people" know of Turner. True, Tina Turner's fictionalized biopic What's Love Got to Do With it thrust the issue into the public eye in the early 1990s. But isn't it possible that as many youths today can sing along to "Proud Mary" as can recount his sordid history? Either way, the mayor's flip-flop and ill-informed statements amount to a self-fulfilling prophecy: They only serve to keep a younger generation ignorant of Turner's music.

To my knowledge, he has never expressed any remorse for that past nor made any amends. And, that's too bad.

Slay is wrong. Moreover, he is reinforcing the clichéd and false picture of Turner as a conscienceless monster. Turner has expressed remorse for his actions -- many times in interviews, and, he has stated, directly to his ex-wife Tina and his children. Some may not like the way Turner has said he's sorry; some may not find his regret sufficient. (And how could it be?)

But is Slay implying that if Turner had expressed regret (he has) and had tried to make amends (he has; see below), the mayor would reconsider?

A person of his stature in the music and entertainment world would be a powerful voice calling attention to the issues of domestic and family violence.

It's unlikely that the mayor's office has the resources to monitor Ike's every move. But for the record, Turner has been active in charities: He has worked with the Blues Schools program, for one, preaching a hard-line, stay-in-school-and-off-drugs message. According to his management, he has also contributed to childhood-disease research and to college scholarships for disadvantaged black youths.

I would not sign a proclamation naming an "Ike Turner Day in St. Louis" to mark a performance, however memorable, at a music festival. I would, however, sign one honoring a Turner visit in support of the work of the Family Justice Center.

Slay's hypothetical is disingenuous. Sure, an Ike Turner Day would "mark a performance," but it would also honor the man's music.

If you follow Slay's reasoning, past blues performers at the Big Muddy -- and recipients of honorary days -- should have donated their earnings to causes like alcohol-abuse prevention or the American Cancer Society.

As others have argued, Ike Turner is a musician, and he should be recognized for the best of his musical and cultural contributions. In the 1950s, when he was gigging regularly (often twice a night) in St. Louis, Turner demanded that racist club owners allow both black kids and white kids into his shows. And they did. Ike's music has always moved people to change, to move and to feel. Today Slay should be moved to recognize the hypocrisy of his official decision and to change it. He's the mayor of St. Louis, after all, not the judge of a man's soul.

-Roy Kasten


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