BOOK REVIEW | "BE MY BABY: HOW I SURVIVED MASCARA, MINISKIRTS AND MADNESS, or MY LIFE AS A FABULOUS RONNETTE" BY RONNIE SPECTOR AND VINCE WALDRON
photo by nacrowe
it's difficult to read RONNIE SPECTOR's memoir BE MY BABY (HARMONY BOOKS, 1990) and not come away with an appreciation for just how staggeringly horrific her years as a young adult were at the hands of her ex-husband, legendary producer PHIL SPECTOR.
i don't want to make too much of him since this is not his story, but it's important to get a sense of his character in order to understand her struggle and eventual success in transcending his influence. PHIL is without a doubt a record producer of the first order. his work with 60s GIRL GROUPS like THE RONETTES and THE CRYSTALS and later THE BEATLES are legendary for his use of his WALL OF SOUND technique. essentially he would stack tracks upon each other to create swirling, hypnotic orchestrated compositions that were unlike anything before or since.
in much the same way that he utilized the studio to bend to his will, his relationship with RONNIE was conceived under equally SVENGALI-like terms. she was a player in his warped fantasies and because he held the key to her career, their relationship was a toxic codependency with dire consequences. he would literally stop at nothing to control her:
1) high walls lined with barbed-wire and security
2) a car with a mannequin made to look like him to accompany her on drives
3) surprise adoptions and use of custody as means of control
4) psychological warfare
his most devastating tactic was to promise recording sessions for new songs that never came to be or were shelved indefinitely. her power was her stage presence and he sought to change her into a housewife with limited means of expression, identity or contact with the outside world.
one detail that i found super interesting was that he would watch ORSON WELLES' classic film CITIZEN KANE obsessively and largely the plot of that movie resembles their marriage. one were a rich, powerful man buys everything for his wife without regard for her desires, dreams and ambitions. essentially fame and wealth stunted growth.
the fact that she suffered immensely during and after her marriage, both personally and career-wise (which never fully recovered or reached the same heights again unlike peers such as DIANA ROSS), only further emphasizes the cost of independence.
thankfully she does find bliss eventually in domesticity and motherhood, cliche as that may sound. but i feel that for her finding an identity within a health family construct was something she searched for since childhood as the daughter in a single-mother household. i just like the fact that the memoir ends on a note of creation, something she determined. not a wall that was created around her that ultimately attempted to snuff her out.
to me this book is about struggle and survival and the mental cages we put ourselves in for any number of reasons: fear, loyalty, finances, comfort. people are complicated and the reasons they stay in toxic relationships is equally mercurial and personal. i feel it is a mark of incredible bravery for RONNIE to make a statement like she did in this book especially back in early 90s, almost 30 years ago when this was written long before ME TOO and TIME'S UP and modern advocacy efforts regarding DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, GASLIGHTING and CHILD GROOMING. she is worthy of being admired.
great read. i recommend her memoir highly whether you are a fan of THE RONETTES or not. but honestly, you should be a fan of THE RONETTES.
artwork by nicholas crowe
our DEER GOD RADIO episode exploring the music of 1960s GIRL GROUPS is now available. brian provided much insight from an engineering and music production perspective on the technical aspects of PHIL SPECTOR's much-heralded "wall of sound" as well as the practical implication of MOTOWN's rhythm section mentality embedded in the "K.I.S.S." (Keep It Simple Stupid) system.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.