Recently this frightening photo emerged, as the evaluation of Phil Spector has gotten underway at North Kern State Prison. According to this article on CNN.com, Spector will be assigned an appropriate prison assignment following this procedure, for the maximum sentence of the second-degree murder of Lana Clarkson.
Unfortunately for the master behind the ‘Wall of Sound,’ “California prison inmates are not permitted to wear wigs under Title 15, Article 5, Section 3062 of the state’s prison regulations, which addresses inmate hygiene. Corrections officials also are concerned that wigs can be used to hide contraband.“
This photo, while startling to see, did not come as much of a surprise to me, since I’ve recently been reading Ronnie Spector’s autobiography, “Be My Baby” (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!! – the backstory behind the rise and fall of one of the best 60s girl groups – The Ronettes).
Ronnie recounts Phil’s odd behavior, and his desperate and ignorant attempts in hiding his baldness.
“Phil started losing his hair around the time we met. In fact, there’s a picture that was taken when he signed us in March of 1963, which also was the first day I ever saw him wearing a toupee. It was so obvious if you knew him, but he still went to great lengths to hide the fact that he wore wigs, even when we slept together.”
Now I cannot, for the life of me, understand what Ronnie saw in Phil, physically. She does state over and over that she was attracted to him; she found his small stature to be cute, his soft-spoken nature to be endearing. Of course as she spent more and more time with him, and their personal relationship evolved, his attractiveness waned.
“After we’d do our foreplay, he’d get up from the bed and make sure all the lights were out. That way I couldn’t watch him when he took his hair off. Then he’d stumble into the bathroom in the dark, so he could rub this acetone solvent all over his head. It was the smelliest stuff in the world, but I guess it was the only thing he could use to get the toupee glue off his scalp. When he came back to bed, the smell of that acetone could’ve killed a horse, but Phil tried to pretend it wasn’t there.”
Ronnie, born Veronica Bennett, was born and raised in Spanish Harlem. Her mother Beatrice was black and Cherokee, and her father, Louis, was white. This pedigree of Ronnie’s gave her a unique look, which evidently was not lost on Phil. In fact, in addition to her voice, it’s possible that Ronnie’s exotic appearance was a huge factor in Phil’s obsession with her. Being a nebbish little white guy, he might’ve thought that having a girl such as Ronnie buy his side would buy him some credibility.
As Ronnie herself noted:
“Phil always had this great love of black people. He always used black singers in his records, and he loved any kind of music that was black, from blues and jazz to gospel. Sometimes I think he wished he was black.”
Phil was obsessed with appearance, and what other people thought. Those fixations, combined with his desire to be black, culminated in a bold wig choice. When Ronnie’s mother joined the couple in their Los Angeles mansion in the late 1960s, he had her “buy him an Afro wig”.
“He thought it was the perfect hairstyle for a toupee, because you couldn’t see the net under all that hair. I also suspect he liked the idea of wearing a black man’s haircut. I swear, sometimes Phil thought he was black.”
That’s not even the best part. For such a musical genius, it seems that Phil hardly had any common sense, or maybe just no shame, because he had the nerve to parade around in his new Afro wig. He insisted that Ronnie and her mother attend a gospel concert with him, much to Ronnie’s dismay:
“Here I was, this black girl, bored out of her mind at a gospel concert, sitting with a Jewish man in an Afro who looked like he was about to speak in tongues.”
“… Phil was moaning and wailing right along with them. He was rolling his shoulders and shaking his arms, and pretty soon he was sweating and shouting out “Amen” like he was at a Baptist revival meeting.”
“After the service, people were still staring at Phil as we worked our way through the crowd to the limousine that was waiting at the curb. My mother and I were embarrassed for him, but Phil actually looked proud as he smiled and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“I guess I showed them I’m not just any white guy,” he bragged.”
As you might imagine there are a million more gems like those in this book. I’m going to look for a biography on Spector himself next. I’ve been careful not to read Be My Baby too quickly because I don’t want it to end!