It’s been raining a lot lately, earlier this year than usual. And I never fail to think of “Walking In the Rain.” That’s a great song by the Ronettes, and the reason how I came to move to Florida in 1978. It all started in the Summer of 1970 when the Crescitellis of Brooklyn traveled to Massachusetts to visit relatives in Milford and Mansfield. I think we stayed in a motel rather than move en masse into somebody’s house (albeit temporarily). I mean, there were six of us from my family alone, and no matter how much your cousins love you, they tend to develop glints in their eyes after three days– and you just know they’re wondering when the hell you’re going back to Brooklyn where you belong.
So there we were, eating in new restaurants by day, and sleeping on strange sheets by night. In between, we lounged around my father’s cousin John’s pool. It was big, and built in, and so naturally we were very impressed. Our pools in Brooklyn tended to be assemble-it-yourself above ground models with metallic walls that grew blazingly hot in the sun. Though these walls were festooned with innocent, cartoonish images of sea life, they were lethal. The pool liner itself– basically a large, blue plastic bag– gradually developed wrinkles so that it felt like you were stepping on bodies while romping. It was almost the best way to stay cool in the Summer, a close second behind cavorting in the huge geyser from the fire hydrants that the older kids used to uncap for us. Thirty five screaming little kids in their underwear, running around in the gutter as the water pressure steadily dropped in all the houses on the block: priceless!
Compared to our watery diversions, the built-in pool in Mansfield was the height of glamour and sophistication. There was a diving board, and they even had painted something on the pool’s cement floor, some sort of graphic that I can’t recall. How cool was that? We were very humbled.
So there I was, swimming away in my silly bathing suit, wearing my black plastic-rimmed eyeglasses, and trying to coax myself into attempting a dive– something my much younger cousins did without thinking. I could never be like them; they were suntanned and breezy and white-blond, and I was thin and white and asthmatic. I had to be careful; anything as exciting as jumping off a diving board into six feet of water might easily kill me.
I relaxed onto a lounge chair across from my father’s cousin Claire; she was cool because she had once been sent home from school because her skirt was too short, an unforgettable episode from 1963 that I witnessed personally. Claire had the radio on and I immediately noticed the most beautiful song being played: it had thunder in it, and glorious choruses, and a winsome lead singer. Winsome! I asked Claire what this song was, but she didn’t know; a minute or so later the dee-jay said that we had just heard “Lady Walking In the Rain” by Ronnie and the Ronettes.
Well, back in Brooklyn I embarked on a wild goose chase for this new record. In those days there were “record stores” scattered throughout the city, and I went to a few of them in pursuit of the elusive Ronnie and the Ronettes. Nobody knew who I was talking about! I even had to sing a bar or two for some of the clerks, which embarrassed me horribly. (And them, as it turned out.)
Finally, my father found a copy at the House of Oldies in Manhattan. It turns out that it was an “oldie” from 1964, and cost him seven dollars… SEVEN DOLLARS! That was a lot to pay for a single 45 back in 1970. And the song was called simply “Walking In the Rain.” I was beside myself with excitement, which is how I reacted to anything I became obsessed with in those days. Naturally I made him tell me everything about the place, and asked if the clerk told him anything about the Ronettes. It turned out that they were “black chicks,” Dad said. Black chicks! Was I cool, or what? I liked black music!
“Walking in the Rain” was produced by the notorious Phil Spector, and featured lead vocals by Veronica Bennett, the woman who would eventually become his second wife. It was their fifth chart hit; three more records would follow, none of which reached the Top 40. By 1967, the Ronettes were already musical history.
And the song brought me to Florida. In those pre-Internet days, there were a lot of publications dedicated to record collectors. I had, by 1973, become a fanatic girl-group aficionado, especially taken by the productions of Phil Spector. Older cousins let me sift through their stacks of 45’s , and I unearthed gems by the Crystals, more by the Ronettes, the Chiffons, the Shangri-Las… it was an unending mother lode of musical butterscotch. One collector’s magazine featured want ads by people looking for certain records to buy or to trade, and in September of 1973 I struck up a correspondence with a collector in Winter Park, Florida that turned into a friendship and eventually a relationship. Things can be intense when you’re eighteen, nineteen, twenty… even through the U.S. Mail! And by 1978 I was living here.
Not everything lasts forever– some things do, but not everything. Our situation changed and I went off in another direction which lasts to this day. Phil Spector is in jail on a murder rap (he was always loose with the guns), and I still play those songs occasionally. (One never really grows tired of “Da Doo Ron Ron,” especially played at full volume on a Ford Focus CD player.)
And every time it rains, I think of the Ronettes and their thundering little three minutes of teen-aged longing. It can snap me back thirty-eight years in an instant, which proves one thing– rock and roll keeps you young !