Monday, March 26, 2007

An Impressionistic Overview of the Live Feed of the 2007 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Ceremonies, Part Two

We start with a montage of vintage performance and interview clips from the Ronettes. Those were some kickin' 'do's on the girls. And that tough-girl-cum-Egyptian mascara, mmm mmm mmm. The performance clips are a tease, however, and raise, in fact, the philosophical question of whether or not these groups should be seen at their peak or in their decline. Most performances I've seen at the R&RHoF Ceremonies reflect the latter, at least for the, ahem, "vintage" groups. (I can't recall if it was the Rascals' or the Lovin' Spoonful performance that featured a lead vocal so desperately beyond anything like Western tonality that, reportedly, the Auto-Tune froze, reset itself, then would only allow users to play "Frogger".)

Keith Richards is then played-on with "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", presumably because the audience's brow would knit itself into a Gordian knot if one of Richards' compositions from Talk Is Cheap were played. He is waggling an unlit cigarette in his mouth--just another martyr on the altar of NYC's smoking ban--and his head has taken on the appearance of a katamari, stray bits of twine and beads and binder rings and keychains dangle from his bandana'd hair. He is, however, The Once And Future Keef and a raconteur par excellence. He launches into a sweet anecdote about meeting the Ronettes backstage in England, 1964. Richards has borrowed Dean Martin's stage persona filtered through a public history of cocaine and heroin addiction: his asides, his comments are always read by his audience in terms of their knowledge of his predilection for intoxication. He finishes his brief introduction and introduces "Veronica Bennett and the Ronettes". This will not be the first time that the surname "Spector" is omitted from the proceedings. Or that Ronnie will dominate the proceedings.

Over a playback of "Be My Baby", they arrive. Ronnie and sister Estelle in black suits, cousin Nedra Talley, who might not've gotten the memo, dressed in a floor-length gown with an even-longer coat, both in light copper, that make her look like an ornamental Christmas angel I made in grammar school by taking a magazine, tucking the page-corners individually back up to the fold, and spraypainting it, now the angel's skirt and bodice, gold.

Ronnie starts speaking. She sounds like she has a mouthful of ill-fitting dentures. She rambles for a bit, then a speech floats in, stage right. She re-starts, now reading the text. The sound of its opening line "I never thought I'd get here but here I am." as a scripted bit of extemporaneous business forces laughter out of the audience. The speech proceeds to recapitulate bits of what she'd already said before receiving the text. The glowing Nedra seems tight-lipped and unamused by Ronnie's meandering, halting reading. The camera then captures the first page of her speech containing instructions like "(BEAT)" after the opening line and "(SINGS)" before the first line of the 1966 hit "I Can Hear Music", "This is the way I always dreamed it would be." Which she had dutifully sung. And what exactly is that all about? I mean, she's not doing a Beckett monologue, for fuck's sake. A thank-you for Stu Phillips, "our first producer", made all the more pointed by her dramatic throat-clearing and eyebrow-waggling. So, this segment is all about what people know and how good they feel when the object of their knowledge confirms them in their insiderness.

The speech goes on. And on. And on. Thanks to Cher. To Jimi Hendrix. To everyone who ever delivered coffee to the Brill Building. To the guy who invented the stave for musical notation. To everyone who helped her in her solo career. For which, incidentally, she is not being honored tonight. To Jimmy Iovine who hooked her up with Springsteen. This must have been a landmark moment in her life because she starts that sentence three times. The audience laughs indulgently as we all become part of Veronica Bennett's one-woman show. (Behind her, Keef and the two barnacles on the Good Ship Ronnie convene a confab. Possibly on whether or not they could procure curare and a blow gun quickly enough to end Ronnie's speech before midnight.) Cut to an audience reaction shot that shows Proust and Tolstoy both agreeing she's gone a bit wordy. Ronnie thanks Southside Johnny and Miami Steve. Patti Smith gets a shout-out via a not-in-any-way obvious plug for Ronnie's new CD. She continues reading. She thanks those "who've stood by my our side during the last two decades." Decades which seemed short compared to this speech. Her cousin actually stomps her foot and turns away after Ronnie announces she's turning the page. The speech meanders and dawdles and wanders. Names thrown out. Guttural chuckles from Ronnie indicating their importance? unimportance? indebtedness? She finally--thank you Jesus!--winds up by saying "To all my fans, thanks for remembering. It's been a loooong journey getting her but now that I am here, let's rock!"

Her sister makes a three-sentence speech. She seems quite fragile and the Copper Angel floats at her elbow as if to catch or prompt her.

Then Nedra Talley takes the microphone. In marked contrast to her cousin, she is polished, focused, and eloquent. Without a script. She thanks her "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" and features her family down two generations. While her speech is no coruscating display of oratory, it's heartfelt and concise. And she firmly brings the focus back on the honor done to the Ronettes as a group. With no knowledge of these women in a non-performance setting beyond their appearance tonight, I'd have to say that unanaesthetized oral surgery would be preferable to having Ronnie Spector for a roommate. Or a bandmate.

Estelle goes off-stage. Nedra and Ronnie walk toward the main stage. Ronnie--oh, the symbolism; oh, the ironic imagery!--steps on Nedra's coattail. Nedra pulls back, then waves Ronnie forward. An unidentified white girl takes the third mike. No explanation given for Estelle's absence. Paul Shaffer counts it off and the assembled construct a credible facsimile of the Wall of Sound behind "Baby I Love You". Segue into the storm sound effects on "Walking In The Rain". Which time-worn voices and aged bodies and a second generation of musicians still craft into the pocket symphony that it was in 1964. Anton Fig kicks the distinctive drum figure for "Be My Baby". Unfortunately, Ronnie's voice and wind are not equal to the task and so she shies away from the high notes and half-talks the end of lines. Nedra, unflattering outfit and born-again status notwithstanding, shakes it like the tough girl she was on the stage at the Peppermint Lounge. As the song ends, Estelle is hustled on-stage to take her bows.

They leave and Shaffer barks out "How about those Ronettes, ladies and gentlemen?! The Ronettes!" Then adds, "Gives me a lot of pleasure to read this note right now. 'I am extremely happy for the Ronettes from the days of 1963 at Gold Star Studios, i wish them all the happiness and good fortune the world has to offer.' And it's signed 'Phil Spector', ladies and gentlemen!" Lukewarm applause greets this single mention of the Ronettes' Svengali and Ronnie's sociopathically-controlling ex-husband, a week before jury selection began in his long-awaited murder trial.

The hall dims as a R&RHoF clips package is screened.

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