Monday, December 21, 2009

You, Baby

Michael and I had a great time at the Ronnie Spector Christmas Party Saturday night, arriving at B.B. King's in Times Square just as a huge snow storm hit the city.

Sticking mostly to the formula that has made the event a New York mainstay for years, Ronnie -- looking fit in black slacks and a post-bouffant wig -- slid onstage on a "Sleigh Ride" Wall of Sound, and then kept the crowd smiling for nearly two hours with a set list that features songs by the Ronettes ("Be My Baby," "Walking in the Rain," "Baby, I Love You," "The Best Part of Breaking Up"), her solo career ("Say Goodbye to Hollywood," "There Is an End") and, of course, the famed Phil Spector Christmas album (her version of "Frosty the Snowman" is the definitive). The highlight of the show, however, was when she did a medley of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" and the Ronettes' "You, Baby" (major kudos to whoever came up with this idea -- just wonderful stuff!).

I'd be lying, however, if I didn't say that I was a little concerned about Ronnie's well-being. Never the most stable person (you try going from being a teen star to being imprisoned in your psycho husband's mansion for a decade and see how you turn out!), I'm wondering if her current husband's failing health along with the death earlier this year of her sister, fellow Ronette Estelle Bennett, who suffered from anorexia and schizophrenia, and was sometimes homeless, hasn't taken a serious toll on her. Admittedly, I missed last year's show, so at 66 she's two years older than the last time I saw her perform. Still, the difference was like night and day. She had to sit down between EVERY song, and was no longer able to hit any of the notes. (To her credit, she had the right backup singers and knows how to "fake" her way through the songs so they're nearly as fun as ever.) But even her usual nonsensical banter was far more out there than I ever remember. (And a lot more bitterness about missed opportunities.)

Most alarming was that she seemed to be slurring her words, a la Anna Nicole Smith. Michael said she was probably tired from flying back from Los Angeles (she told the crowd she's been on Jimmy Kimmel the night before), but knowing that she'd actually been on Jimmy Fallon -- two nights before -- I immediately had visions of oxycodone dancing in my head. I hope I'm wrong, Ronnie. I know you know how much your fans adore you. (The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wanted you, baby.) What do you say we keep this party going for a at least a few more years?

Early in the night Michael (who else?) spotted Bernadette Peters sitting in the booth right by our table. Having loved her since I was in elementary school, I spent the majority of the show watching her watch Ronnie -- and plotting when I could move in for my photo-op. I waited till the end of the show, but when the lights came up, there was a sudden panic around Peters' table as she and the staff crawled around on the floor looking for something she'd lost, which appeared to be the stone from her ring. When she was eventually smiling again -- I'm assuming she found whatever she was looking for -- I made my move. I told her that I used to beg my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch "All's Fair" and she smiled. But the second Michael lined up to take the photo, some absent-minded guy stood directly between Bernadette and me and our photographer. Worried that she'd get impatient, I kind of (not-so-gently) pushed the guy out of the way, at which point her turned around and said, "What happened? It was at this point I realized it was Lou Reed(!), another of my youthful favorites. (Oops!) Lou headed backstage but when Bernadette and her date followed suit, the bouncer didn't seem to know who she was and when he didn't immediately let her in, she seemed like she'd had enough. (Her boyfriend tried to flex some star power, but she was over it at this point.) We waited another minute or two to see if Ronnie would come out. But when we caught a glimpse of her behind the curtain -- wig completely off, hair in a net and looking like she was in no mood for any company whatsoever -- we hightailed it out of there!


Mr. Ed said...

Kenneth, you look great in this photo with BP. You usually don't smile enough! I want to see bigger smiles from now on! Oh, and I remember All's Fair too, with Martin Mull.

Anonymous said...

I meant to suggest you choose Darlene Love over Ronnie Bennett when you posted about the two a short time ago.

Darlene Love can still sing. Bennett's is pretty much gone, and it was when she played Glasgow a couple of years ago. Darlene may lack Ronnie's iconic rock star image, but she is a Singer with a capital S and she never disappoints.