At 70, the original bad girl of rock 'n' roll is having the time of her life
Then there was life after Phil. Ronnie burst back onto the charts in 1986 as a guest on Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight" (with her signature whoa-oh-oh-ohs front and center), may or may not have had a brief fling with David Bowie, released a critically acclaimed solo album produced by Joey Ramone, married her second husand, had two kids (not necessarily in that order). In 2000, after a 15-year royalty battle, a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled that Phil Spector owed the Ronettes $2.6 million; despite licensing their songs to everything from commercials to Dirty Dancing over the previous four decades, he'd only ever paid the women $14,000 and change.
And now? She's an unmistakably happy woman, and she clearly likes to talk. It doesn't take much to get her going on today's pop music: "It's like a circus! You can't see a show without dancers and lights and booms and bangs. It takes away from rock 'n' roll. Everyone has to have ridiculous outfits, and you don't even know who they are by the time their record comes out. People don't have an identity! Miley Cyrus gets up there with an [inflatable] penis coming out of her? Hello? What is that?"
"You take away the dancers, you take away the choreographers, and [with a lot of pop stars] you will not see a real artist there," she says. "And everybody lip-syncs. In my day you didn't do that; I would never do that. To me, it's cheating the audience." (Ronnie's voice has stayed strong, she says, because she's never liked parties.)
However: "I do love that today's women artists [are allowed to] write their own material, which we couldn't. You look at the artists from the past like me, the pioneers, we ended up with nothing because of royalties. Now, Taylor Swift is one of the richest girls in rock 'n' roll."
She also has nothing but kind words for Amy Winehouse — a singer who owed her obvious debts in the vocal and visual style department, and whose "Back To Black" Ronnie sometimes covers in return (once, in London, with Winehouse trying not to be spotted in the audience). "She was a dirty rock 'n' roll singer, her voice was real, and she was real," she says. "I miss her."
Aside from not really enjoying Top 40 radio, however, Ronnie says she's loving life — and you believe her. She talks like a survivor — not just of an abusive marriage, but of a time and a place in pop music that chewed young women up and spit them out with astounding ease.
"To be honest, a lot of the groups I knew 50 years ago are dead or dead broke," she says. "And I had to fight for my career. I was in court for 15 years.
"But you know what? What goes around comes around," she says conspiratorially. "Karma's a bitch, and it'll bite you right in the ass. He's in prison, and I'm not. I'm out there singing, having the time of my life, and I have everything I want: My shows, a great husband, everything I wanted back then. Turns out you can have your cake and eat it too." A hearty laugh.
"Otherwise, what's the point of having cake?"