BE MY BABY
By Ronnie Spector with Vince Waldron
318 pages, $19.95
RONNIE SPECTOR'S autobiography is subtitled "How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette," but it could well have been called "Ronnie in Wonderland."
Spector's story is one of an innocent abroad in a world every bit as strange as Alice's.
Ronnie Spector, of course, was the voice powering some of producer Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" pop masterpieces in the early and mid-'60s, belting out such classics as "Be My Baby" and "Baby I Love You."
She was also the producer's girlfriend and, eventually, his wife. Meeting Spector was the point at which Ronnie stepped through the glass into the world of weirdness.
Ronnie Spector's throaty voice was (and still is) among rock's most distinctive instruments, but it is Phil Spector's life that has truly become the stuff of legend.
A pop music "genius" and millionaire by age 21, Spector's insecurities chased him into a Hollywood mansion where he built massive fences -- both figuratively and literally -- like the protagonist in his favorite film, "Citizen Kane." Since 1966, he has emerged only infrequently to maintain his reputation as a megalomaniacal flake while working with the Beatles and the Ramones.
Ronnie Spector was caught up in the Spector maelstrom, the object of his obsession almost from the day they met. Phil turned the same obsessive attention to detail that he put into his records to making Ronnie his alone (even though he was married, a detail he neglected for months to mention).
Ronnie admits she didn't resist. She even enjoyed it when Phil made her his sole focus of attention -- although it meant isolating her from her friends, family and home. Growing up of black-Cherokee-white parentage in Spanish Harlem hadn't been too rosy to start with.
She could accept being locked up in the studio control room, apart from the other singers during recording sessions, for the times Spector could be sensitive and attentive.
Spector's attention was so intense, she later found, that he had his private offices in Los Angeles covered from ceiling to floor with photos, posters and blow-ups of Ronnie.
But this is the same man, Ronnie says, who made her drive with an inflatable Phil sitting next to her when he wasn't there, who apparently bought police pictures of his buddy, comedian Lenny Bruce, naked and dead from a heroin overdose . . . and whose mother, Bertha, would continually appear bearing chicken soup.
Spector doesn't spare herself, detailing her drinking problems and inability to deal with her oldest adopted child, and her frankness in discussing her sex life is sometimes a bit too much.
Ronnie eventually tells of her escape from Spector's domination and her long trip toward independence, but through it all she maintains that sense of breathy innocence one might expect from a schoolgirl's diary. Her attitude is one of wide-eyed awe as she goes through the pop music world brushing elbows with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and lesser lights.
In some ways, Ronnie Spector's voyage captures the movement of a whole generation from more innocent times into middle age. And in her case, she gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "What a long, strange trip it's been."