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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Be My Baby: The Ronnie Spector Story


Be My Baby:  How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts & Madness, or my Life As A Fabulous Ronette.
by Ronnie Spector
w/ Vince Waldron
Introduction by Billy Joel
Foreword by Cher
p. 1990

   I think it's worth throwing out there the idea that the "Phil Spector story" is the primary narrative in the story of popular music in the 20th century.  First of all, Spector encompassed a large swath of the actual history of popular music in the 20th century:  He has equally interesting chapters dealing with the pre-rock Brill Building songwriters/music industry,  had huge hits DURING the rocknroll era (1953-1963),  recorded a Beatles record and ended up becoming a tabloid specatacle.  What more can you ask for?  And like any good mythic figure, you can look at the story from multipe perspectives.  I prefer to see Spector as a Pre-Christian god:  Remote, Foreboding, Violent Tempered and quite monstrous at times.  Not a god I would choose to worship, but embodying the kind of mythic characteristics that one associates with gods and god-like figures.

      Knowing that Spector is currently serving a life sentence for murder makes the story all the more mythic.  My thought though is that if you were to do say, a film, about Phil Spector, the main setting would be the mansion where he kept Ronnie Spector nee Bennett locked up for a decade or two.  And who better to give a perspective on that location then Ronnie herself?  At least, that seems to be the thesis behind Be My Baby, the clumsily subtitled (How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts & Madness, or my Life As A Fabulous Ronette) "auto"-biography from Certified Rock and Roll Survivor Ronnie Spector.

      This is book is fascinating because Spector is the Queen to Spector's King- quite self-consciously, I think.  I mean, she kept the last name, through it all.  I totally understand, but Spector's lack of agency is the headline in Be My Baby.  Truly, she was manipulated from the start by a master manipulator.   In my view the key to understand the Phil Spector/Ronnie Spector relationship is 1) Phil Spector hated his mother:  His father committed suicide when he was very young, and it's not hard to imagine that he blamed his Mother, who was also very pushy and bossy well into his adulthood.  2)  Ronnie Bennett wanted to be famous, and she believed that Phil Spector could help her achieve that goal.

    The smell of race and money permeates Be My Baby.  Spector places emphasis on her upbringing in a single-parent household, and her status as a mixed race child in a majority African American environment. Spector was working towards a career as a singer of popular music, but Phil Spector was the first person to really "get" the potential of Ronnie Bennett's voice/style.  To give but one of several examples, an early Brilll Building affiliated writer/agent said that the early Ronettes could be like the Andrews Sisters.  That guy... was just clueless.  The Phil Spector/Ronnie Bennett story has some similarities to the Barry Gordy/Diana Ross story.  In both instances, the male producer was LOOKING for something specific, and was operating in an environment where there was competition among aspiring musicians for music industry attention.
       The Bennett/Ross figure is DRAWN to the male figure by his POWER.  On the other hand, the Spector/Gordy figure is drawn to the physical characteristics of the Bennett/Ross.  In one sense that is "OK"(Spector said to Bennett after hearing her sing "that's the voice I'm looking for.") and in another sense it is creepy and weighted with power inequalities and sexual exploitation.  Shrug.  That's life, or at least- it was back then, because the same facts repeat themselves over and over again with female popular music artists.


Darren S said...

You're just reading this now?

Anonymous said...

What Darren said. Also, that's the totality of your assessment of Phil Spector and the events recounted in the auto-biography? And your total summary of it? Etc. This is a shockingly flawed and lacking review or analysis or whatever the eff you thought you wrote.

P.S. Writing book reviews when drunk or high or at 4am is a bad call, always. That's the only explanation I can come up with for the epic fail of this post.

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