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My Night at Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever AKA Dreams Do Come True

This is sort of a Throwback Thursday post, since it happened last month but I was so amped up and busy that I just kind of blew past it, but because I want to preserve the memories, and I want you to know, and THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW, here it is, in full: My Night at Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever.

Sometime early in the semester, I was looking up something online and I saw that Ronnie Spector was playing a concert in Milwaukee sometime in November. I thought about going, but was like…I’ll probably buy the ticket and then something will come up and I will have wasted my money. But a few weeks ago, when I was feeling pretty down and out about my prelims and totally bummed by the election, I looked it up again, and realized that it would be on November 29, which would be after Thanksgiving but two days before prelims were due, and a) I would be in Madison, and b) I had nothing scheduled, so I did something I don’t normally do…bought tickets to the show, no regrets! It was only $52, and I’d need to drive to Milwaukee, but I got a floor seat and OMG I DON’T CARE I’M GOING TO RONNIE SPECTOR. I sat on my hands about it for a while, not telling anyone, and was hoping to finish my prelims over Thanksgiving and then have that be my reward. I ended up not finishing but getting pretty close, but I decided to reward myself anyway.

So, come November 29th, I go to teach, and then, I’m off to Milwaukee, to the Northern Lights Theatre at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino. I was kind of nervous at first…I mean, this is a big deal, would I get to meet her? What would I do? What would I say? Also, would this place be weird? (I mean, it’s a casino I’d never been to before…) But anyway, I ended up getting there plenty early, and there was plentiful parking, and I headed inside, passing all the machines and bright flashy lights – those places really are mazes. But I was determined to get to that theatre.

Though the casino was full of smokers, the theatre itself was quite lovely. I was guided to my seat in Row F, given a $10 voucher which I didn’t use, and paid $3 for a Coke. The seating was around little tables, and I guess I got lucky, because my table mates were so much fun; like me, they were also teachers, and also like me, they weren’t drinking because they had to teach in the morning (well, two out of three, one of them had just retired). We quickly got acquainted and chatted up a storm while we waited for the concert to start. I was seated next to Harry, the school principal; next to him was the school guidance counselor, whose name was either Marilyn or Marlene; and their retired Spanish teacher, Evie. We didn’t get too much of a chance to talk because the lights came down…

And when they came up, three backup singers dressed as the Ronettes were onstage, as was the band, and they broke out into “Baby, I Love You.” At first, I thought it was just an opening act, but then, Ronnie Spector emerged in all of her black leather glory, and I actually did start crying a little. I mean…Ronnie Spector, the original bad girl of rock and roll, a living LEGEND, was on a stage just yards away from me. Marilyn and Evie giggled as Harry and I passed tissues back and forth through the first song, but then I composed myself. Interspersed with the songs was some lovely Ronnie banter and projections of interviews and TV appearances by the Ronettes in their heyday. She made a lot of funny jokes, and sang all the classics, with several tributes: one to her late sister Estelle (“How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?”), to the late Amy Winehouse (“Back to Black”), and something in honor of the Beatles, which I can’t remember at the moment.

Right when the show was really getting hot…it happened.

Bum, ba bum TSS…bum, ba bum, tss…

Yep, “Be My Baby.”

I was instantly up out of my seat, dancing like a fool, and singing along with the chorus, and thinking to myself, “holy cannoli, Jacob, you are actually listening to Ronnie Spector, singing ‘Be My Baby’ RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW LIVE. It will not get any better than this.”

Minimal crying occurred.

Then she had a costume change and launched into some Christmas tunes (after all, it was a Christmas party) and now a lot of audience members were up and dancing, not just me. And in the middle of her last song, she knelt down and shook hands with the people in the front row, and I was like…”now is your chance, Jacob, just do it…” so I impulsively ran down front, hoping not to be hauled off by security or anything, and squeezed in next to the stage, and I got to be the very last one to shake hands with Ronnie Spector. She even pointed to me and mouthed something like “I saw you dancing” as we shook hands (I think I might have blubbered something like “thank you, I love you”) and she gave me a thumbs-up before finishing the song and heading offstage. I will never forget that handshake…her hand was sort of soft, sort of leathery, but it was still warm from holding a mic and OH MY GOSH I WAS JUST LOST IN THAT MOMENT. The only thing that would’ve been better would have been to get a picture with her, or a hug, but her acknowledgement of my presence was a present in and of itself.

She might be 73 years old, but she’s still got that rock n’ roll. Two thumbs up; I would go see her again if I could.

When the lights came back up, I walked back over to our table, and walked to the exit with Harry, Marilyn and Evie, my new teacher-friends. We somehow managed to get some pictures with the backup singers, who bore incredible resemblances to the young Ronettes. There were a lot of people, so I didn’t manage to get a picture with just me and them, but I have one with all three of them, Harry in between the two who looked most like Estelle and Ronnie, and me standing next to the one who looked most like Nedra. I was hoping that Ronnie would come on out, but it was pretty clear that it was time to go as they whisked us out and closed the door behind us. I stood outside the theater and chatted with some of the other concertgoers about our experiences – I thought that I was pretty crazy for driving in from Madison, but there was a group who had driven in all the way from Indiana, just for this, which is dedication.

Anyways, since there didn’t seem to be any swag on sale, and it was getting late, I decided to exit the casino before I died of smoke inhalation, and headed to Rock Bottom Brewery for a quick snack before heading back to Madison, calling Hanna and my dad on the way, freaking out. Hanna was actually at a party or a gig or something, so I apologized for interrupting, and at first she didn’t register why I was freaking out, but when I told her it was the “Be My Baby” singer, she was like “ooooohhhh wow!”

And that is my story of seeing the original bad girl of rock ‘n roll.

And if you’re reading this, Ronnie…thank you for all the music, I had the time of my life. Next time, let’s dance together or at least get a picture, please.

Baby, I love you.

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One Step Closer to a Dream

It was actually quite an exciting day today.

So, I’ve sung with my friend Hanna’s band twice now, and I’m performing with them for a third time on Saturday. I made a few song suggestions a few weeks ago,` and to my luck, she decided to include one of them in the set list, so for the first time ever, I will get a chance to publicly perform one of the best songs of all time, “Be My Baby.”

I showed her Leslie Grace’s bachata version, and she enjoyed it so much that she chose to adapt it for the band, and at tonight’s rehearsal, we sang it for the first time. The arrangement is a little different than what I initially thought it might sound like, but at least I know the words by heart. We’re also singing it in Spanish, so I have to learn that, but I have six whole days. We practiced my other songs, but spent the bulk of two hours (one just us, one with the whole band) working on getting “Be My Baby” down.

Read more about “Be My Baby” here, at this Classic Song post from awhile back.

I’m pretty darn excited.

Also exciting is another 6-continent day, so the customary hellos to: North America (USA and Canada), South America (Brazil), Europe (UK, Spain, Czech Republic, Italy, and Croatia), Africa (South Africa), Asia (Philippines, India, and Cambodia), and Oceania (Australia and Tonga)!

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Classic Song Sunday: “Be My Baby”

Boom. Ba Boom. TSS.

Boom. Ba Boom. TSS.

Anyone who knows pop music can instantly identify this song just by the opening percussion. Whether you’re a fan of the Ronettes from way back, or have seen Dirty Dancing, you’ve heard “Be My Baby.” 

Written by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich, and Jeff Barry in 1963 and released by the Ronettes in 1964, “Be My Baby” has been called “one of the best tracks of all time” by everyone from Brian Wilson to Time magazine. The tough, punchy percussion, combined with Ronnie’s sultry vocals, awesome lyrics and a catchy chorus, make this song a timeless hit. The only thing that could have made it better was the song’s backup vocalists; for some reason, Estelle Bennett and Nedra Talley, the actual Ronettes, were left out, and apparently Cher and Darlene Love are among the voices on the track going “be my, be my baby.”

Hear the actual Ronettes sing it here:

There are a few covers out there, but the only one that I think is notable is Leslie Grace‘s Spanish-infused bachata remix.

And as a bonus, here’s Ronnie performing it in 2015.

72 years old.

And still utterly fabulous.

Be my baby, Ronnie Spector.

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Hey-La, Hey-La, The Girls are Back

Put another notch in my book belt, because Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound by Alan Betrock is officially in the books, as of today.

I don’t know if it really counts as having read a real books, since it’s less than 200 pages and includes pictures on almost every page, but it’s a great journey through the nostalgia of the girl group sound. The book goes through the major groups, like the Ronettes, the Shirelles, and the Supremes, but also some lesser known ones like the Exciters, the Shangri-Las, the Dixie Cups, and the Angels. There’s also a corresponding documentary you can watch on YouTube that gives you the full story (well, most of it), including interviews with some of the people of the era, including the late great Ellie Greenwich, the supremest of the Supremes Mary Wilson, the lovely Darlene Love, and the rebel queen of rock-and-roll, Ronnie Spector herself. Nostalgia everywhere you turn.

“But Jacob,” you might say, “you weren’t alive in the 60s and 70s, when Ronnie Spector was teasing her hair and Murray the K was on the air.”

I beg to differ.

Even though I was born in the 1980s and grew up in the 90s and 00s, I didn’t embrace the music of the times until high school. Some of my most cherished memories are from car rides to school, to the mall, or to the doctor, singing along with Aretha or Diana on the radio. I grew up listening to the Supremes, the Shirelles, and Martha and the Vandellas. Most kids like to sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” or at least a catchy, pervasive pop earworm – from my generation, it was songs like “One of Us,” “Doo Wop (That Thing),” and “Ironic.” The first song I knew all the words to, however, was “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and I would sing it at every opportunity. In the Napster era (RIP), the first song I ever downloaded was “Respect,” by Aretha Franklin, which is kind of ironic.

Even if you didn’t grow up in the 1960s, there’s no denying that these songs are arguably the best music America has ever offered the world. The lyrics are fun, if a little dark at times, but always break the ice. Plus, their wide vocal range makes them great karaoke choices, or for a cappella groups. Everything about them is timeless, and if you were to repackage them by a popular artist of today, they’d be just as popular.

With that said, here are my top five favorite girl group songs, some of which might have future entries decided to them:

5. The Dixie Cups, “Iko Iko”

4. The Chantels, “Maybe”

3. The Angels, “My Boyfriend’s Back”

2. The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”

1. The Shirelles, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”

And if you don’t want to watch the documentary I linked above, here are the two most important moments.


This entry is dedicated to one of the all-time greatest teen queens, who unfortunately passed away earlier today at the age of 68. She brought us “It’s My Party,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and her own version of “My Boyfriend’s Back.”

Ladies and gentlemen, a moment of silence…

LESLEY GORE (1946-2015)

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Ronnie in Retrospect, Part II

To those of you who didn’t read my previous post with this title, click here.

This doesn’t really fall under the category of book review, but after reading her book, I felt a kinship with Ronnie Spector.

I cheered for her when she had victories; I felt for her when she endured emotional pain, physical pain, mental anguish, and heartache. I’m not locked away in a mansion in the Hollywood hills, but in my normal life here in Madison, I tend to be my own prison guard and lock myself away from the world. Being alone has its positives: time to imagine, to reflect, to celebrate yourself, but if you’re not careful, the negatives can come out, leading you through dark paths and down steep slopes. When she had no audience, she turned inwards, which ultimately did more harm than good.

Mental illness is not an easy topic to talk or write about. Reading her words, however, made it seem more tangible and understandable. She writes about all the times she felt dark and all the circumstances that left her feeling that way. Though it was not discussed in depth, her sister Estelle also endured mental illness, of a different kind. It is fortunate that Ronnie was able to share these with the world; unfortunately, we’ll never read about the times and traumas of Estelle. I admire her search for herself, which continues to this day. She’s still got it, rockin’ and rollin’ all the way to the Hall of Fame as seen in her acceptance speech, but constantly navigating through the roles of musician, parent, friend, and person.

The biggest thing that I’ll take away from Ronnie Spector is the concept that you are not a bad person. She includes these words several times throughout her book. In times of failure, she asked God what she did wrong, citing her missteps and misfortunes: the downfall and breakup of the Ronettes, her attempts at a solo career, her failed marriage, her inability to conceive Phil Spector’s child, her failed attempt to reunite the Ronettes, and her troubled relationships with her family members. I would like to apply these words to myself.

Just like Ronnie said, despite my faults, my failures, my faux pas, and all the people who dislike me, I am not a bad person.

Oh, and be my little baby.

ronettes

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Dear Ronnie Spector,

Please come do a concert in Madison.

Baby I love you,

Jacob