INTERVIEWER: I’d like to touch upon some of the dark sexual themes in the song.
TURNER: Frank sexual themes.
INTERVIEWER: “You’ll be our private dancer / Our dancer for money / You’ll do what we tell you to do.” — How did this track come about?
TURNER: Years back, I had a Border Collie named Griff. Love of my life. Anything I thought I could do, he could do better. One day I noticed he wasn’t acting himself. His left rear paw was more swollen than usual. 41 hours later Griff was dead.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sorry.
TURNER: Before we cast his ashes in the pool, I commissioned a, what do you call it, not an autopsy…
TURNER: Necropsy. I decided to place a bet on a necropsist I flew in from Kentucky who made his name on the biggest dead horses. After his examination he’d even brand them with one of those cigarette lighters you find in cars, what do you call them, but he had his sigil monogrammed on it. This way the authorities would know the horse, as was invariably the case, had been, authoritatively, much too pumped with performance enhancers or dehancers to make for what they call "safe second use.” You know, board-certified. And he was the board — judge, jury, executioner. You remember that show Luck?
INTERVIEWER: The HBO thing?
TURNER: Right. Years later, my grandson, he’s a huge cinephile, big fan of Michael Mann. When they were on the verge of closing down production, I rang the necropsist — he was a consultant — to see what he could do, but it was already too late. My grandson was disappointed, but they did send him a hoof. The name “Ms. Turner” still means something in this town after all. [laughs]
INTERVIEWER: So this man flies in to LA to examine Griff.
TURNER: Yes. We take him into the dog’s room, and he lifts Griff’s paw with his tongs and straightaway says, “Brown recluse.” Naturally, I’m like, that’s all I fucking need. Until I got to thinking, and that was how “Private Dancer” was born.
INTERVIEWER: Can you explain?
TURNER: Just the relationship between the spider and the dog’s foot. It’s always hard to talk about where creativity comes from. But obviously it took a more sexual direction, with this couple, and their dancer. I think part of it might have even come from those milk carton ads at the time.
INTERVIEWER: Weird Al even did a parody song, “Tiny Dancer.”
TURNER: The video where the dancer is extremely fat, right. Al Yankovic and I have gone back for years. I was very flattered.
INTERVIEWER: I’d heard that the lyric was originally supposed to be: “Our dancer for doubloons.”
TURNER: That was an early version of the song. I liked the consonance. “Our dancer for dollars” could have worked, but all the characters would have come off a little cheap.
INTERVIEWER: What was the initial reaction from your colleagues?
TURNER: Well, it was very touching. Mr. Spector sent me a stripper pole with a 24-karat handcuff attached, and a really sweet note. Michael Jackson sent over one of those Sony Aibos, years before they were in the market, but it broke, so I keep it in the garden. I know you shouldn’t hold on to old electronics, with the mercury and everything, but it was from Michael. And robotics were always so special to him.
INTERVIEWER: What’s your fondest memory of Michael?
TURNER: Well he was planning on building a 30-foot replica of himself that would roam Death Valley. If you don’t believe me, google it. It was going to run off solar power, and kind of stalk the desert for eternity. But that was the thing about Michael, he was always so childlike. I think in the end he only got the ankles built. He always had this sense of wonder and possibility — but, you know, he’d just get started on something and then one of the giraffes would get sick. And of course he loved Nintendo.
INTERVIEWER: Did you know Elizabeth Taylor well?
TURNER: Ms. Taylor was an angel. The first perfume she came out with, one of the members of the Saudi family threw a gala in her honor, $70,000 a plate with all the proceeds going to AIDS research. This was before most people even knew how to spell AIDS. All of Hollywood and the Middle East was there. During the prince’s speech, he announced he'd be picking up the tab for all of the plates. Six months later the Elizabeth Taylor Epidemiology Center of Riyadh opened its doors. They might have have done so much.
INTERVIEWER: Was her obsession with jewelry so all-consuming?
TURNER: Ms. Taylor had only one love in her life: it wasn’t any of her husbands, it wasn’t Monty Clift, it wasn’t Michael Jackson, it wasn’t David Geffen, it wasn’t Randolph Scott, and it wasn’t Merv Griffin. It was jewelry, plain and simple, jewelry, and Ross Perot.
INTERVIEWER: Ross Perot?
TURNER: Honey, there would be no Apple Watch without Ross Perot. And if you don’t believe me you can google it. I think Ms. Taylor would have loved the Apple Watch. Never set an alarm clock in her life, but that’s what made Ms. Taylor Ms. Taylor.
INTERVIEWER: Among your contemporaries, who do you place in your same league?
TURNER: Oh honey I don’t look at it that way. This isn’t a competition, it’s a team sport. Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love… I know they had their experiences with Mr. Spector as much as any of us did, but he was a complicated soul. Very insecure beneath those wigs. Tended to wear his heart on his rifle-barrel.
INTERVIEWER: Bad place to wear your heart.
TURNER: Good place if you’re vulture-hunting. And Mr. Spector was always circled by more than his share of money-grabbers. Grifting little bitches, some of them. They’d see that ring on his finger that said “PS” and it was “I love you.” I know that’s a Beatles song, but you can see the pun.
INTERVIEWER: Years later he would work with The Beatles and, separately, John and George.
TURNER: Well John brought him in one day, and, to Mr. Spector’s credit, John said that Mr. Spector did the best he could with being handed the shittiest bag of shit, which you can google. Those were the Get Back recordings. Paul didn’t care for this. It was just another letter on the wall.
INTERVIEWER: Is there truth to the rumor that you recorded an album with Gil Scott-Heron?
TURNER: No. But we did run into each other once at a fundraising lunch for Dukakis. Despite being an event, it was fairly uneventful, besides the fact that we were both crashers, which we had a laugh about. He was very charming.
INTERVIEWER [laughing]: Gil Scott-Heron or Dukakis?
TURNER: Gil Scott-Heron was to Mike Dukakis what Dorothy Lessing was to Tupac’s hologram.
INTERVIEWER: That could have been an incredible collaboration, you and Gil.
TURNER: Well, you know, we did have a very nice conversation, shortly before he passed.
INTERVIEWER: Do you mind if I ask what you talked about?
TURNER: Michael Phelps. [laughs] It may seem odd, but we had both been following his extraordinary run of swimming.
INTERVIEWER: Were you taken aback by the success of “Private Dancer”?
TURNER: Flabbergasted. Simply, incontrovertibly, flabbergasted. Those themes had never been explored before in the Top 40, let alone the Top 10. “Let me tighten up your collar”? Please.
INTERVIEWER: Do you wish you’d spent more time pursuing your Hollywood career?
TURNER: When the time comes to close the book, I’ll have no regrets. I’ve seen so many live so poorly, and so many die so well. And that was just at MGM. The movies aren’t the same as they used to be. The studio system, the glamor. I thought Orion Pictures had a shot for a while, but even then… Well, what can you do. What is it the kids say these days, that they’re hash-oil-blessed?
INTERVIEWER [laughing]: I think it’s hashtag-blessed.
TURNER: Well, honey, then I am hashtag-blessed a hundred times over. Hashtag-blessed, hash-brown-blessed, sunny-side-up or over-easy, side of rye and a rasher of bacon. It’s the big chef-in-the-sky’s call. It’s not for me to stock the chuck wagon. But I still take a certain kind of stock. When all the ships have sailed, what will remain? “Orinoco Flow”? Maybe. Bless Enya's heart. “We Don’t Need Another Hero”? Now more than ever. And we'll always have a certain “Private Dancer,” dancing for money. And when we crack that whip, you better damn well believe he’ll skip.