Ronnie Spector: You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory

Publicity photo of the Ronettes—Nedra Talley, Veronica Bennett (Ronnie Spector) and Estelle Bennett

“On Wednesday, in the hours after Ronnie Spector’s family announced her passing from cancer at seventy-eight, I played, on loop, her cover of the Johnny Thunders punk anthem ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.’ Recorded for The Last of the Rock Stars, her 2006 comeback album, the song is also a dirge for Thunders, who died in 1991; he had been one of Ronnie’s crucial supporters in the period after she left her abusive ex-husband, the megalomaniac, murderer, and iconoclastic music producer Phil Spector. On YouTube, you can watch her perform a live version of the song from 2018: after showing footage from an archival interview the Ronettes did with Dick Clark sometime in the sixties, she comes out, to applause, and says, ‘Sorry, I was backstage crying.’ Dabbing her eyes, she mourns the breakup of her iconic girl group, which also featured her older sister, Estelle, and cousin Nedra. ‘I thought 1966 was the end, no more Ronettes, no more stage, no more singing. I was out here in California and out of show business for seven or eight years. Let me tell you, life was a bitch.’ She then describes starting over back in New York City in the ‘70s (she was raised in Spanish Harlem), and meeting Thunders while singing at the legendary gay club and bathhouse Continental Baths, where he cried all through her set. … ‘People talk about how great the echo chamber was at Gold Star, but they never heard the sound in that ladies’ room. And, between doing my makeup and teasing my hair, I practically lived in there anyway. So that’s where all the little ‘whoa-ohs’ and ‘oh-oh-oh-ohs’ you hear on my records were born, in the bathroom at Gold Star.’ In my late teens, not long after the release of The Last of the Rock Stars, I spent a significant portion of 2007 primping in front of the cloudy mirrors in the girls’ bathroom of my public school, examining my relaxed, chin-length bob—one of the Black American girl’s evergreen coiffures—and combing the curled flip at the end just so. The ladies’ room: where teen girls gather to avoid class, and where iconic vocal stylings are born. I hadn’t yet figured out, then, how much my particular style of performing adolescence owed to Ronnie Spector. But it so happened that Ronnie’s aesthetic was on the rise again. …”
The Paris Review (Video)


Phil Spector, Los Angeles CA, Gold Star Studios. Ronnie Spector.

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