Friday, April 12, 2024

Phil Spector, Even in Prison, Is Still Being Nasty to Ronnie Spector


Ronnie Spector–I could listen to her sing the phone book. It would have been nice if she could have sung her hits from her days with the Ronettes last night at the City Winery. But more than 40 years after she escaped the clutches of Phil Spector, her abusive, controlling producer husband, he still has in it for her. Phil, Ronnie read at the start of the show, will not clear her hits to sing in a theatrical setting. She can sing them in a concert, but not when it comes to dramatic rights. So Ronnie, who’s about to turn 69, performed her autobiographical work in progress show without “Baby I Love You” or “Be My Baby.”

Spector, after lifetime of violence, genius, and insanity, is serving 19 years to life for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Ronnie showed a picture of him from prison without his wig and quipped: “I should have shot him, but I didn’t know where he kept the guns.” The audience got a good laugh.

And you know what? If you’re reading this in prison, Phil: it didn’t matter. The show is a hit without Spector’s songs. We can live without them. The audience — which was sold out–just wants to hear Ronnie sing. And talk. About her crazy life in the 1960s with Phil, who locked her up in his mansion. wouldn’t let her leave or speak to other stars and musicians. He kept her off the final Beatles tour, sending the Ronettes out with a replacement. He wouldn’t let her greet the Beatles when they came to New York, even though it was Ronnie who introduced Phil to them.

The stories of abuse go on and on. When she finally left–before Tina Turner or Katie Holmes made their escapes–Ronnie jogged off Spector’s property barefoot, with nothing from her house. It was like a prison break.

She read at the beginning of the show: “My ex husband is a bitter man” to explain why she couldn’t sing her hits. But she did sing “Walking in the Rain” and Brian Wilson’s “Don’t Worry Baby” to perfection. Also “The Best Part of Breaking Up” and “Do I Love You?” Her unique voice has not lost an iota of power or texture. And her trademark refrain–“uh oh oh”– the predecessor of Michael Jackson’s whoops and Sting’s “e-oh-e-oh.” Ronnie sings Johnny Thunders’s “You Can’t Wrap Your Arms Around a Memory” but maybe you can. She’s so ingratiating that it feels as if she is wrapping you up with reassurance.

So she was able to sing “Frosty the Snowman” from her famous Christmas album, and Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” the single that brought her back courtesy of Little Steven and the E Street Band. She needs to add “Take Me Home Tonight” and “You Mean So Much to Me Baby,” duets respectively with Eddie Money and Southside Johnny.

And while it takes a toll on Ronnie to bare her soul and tell her story, she’s a good actress. Because her singing seems effortless–like Gladys Knight o or Sam Moore or Aretha Franklin. It just spills out of her. Let’s hope the show keeps getting tweaked until she’s off Broadway with a hit. She’d be a bright light on the Great White Way.

photo c2012 Showbiz411

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Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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