I’ve just finished reading the Dave Thompson biography of Phil Spector, Wall Of Pain. The book is a comprehensive look at Spector’s life, studio sessions and plainly unhinged behaviour of which I feel that Thompson is far too ready to justify. An example of which is when recounting the story of when Spector pulled a gun on Walter Cronkite’s daughter at a Christmas bash hosted by Joan Rivers, Thompson writes “Context, of course, is everything and Spector has never publicly spoken about why he pulled the gun” It doesn’t matter why he pulled the gun, Dave, there is no justification.
If you can put the bias to one side the book is rather informative about Spector’s relationship with many of the musicians he worked with. It also shows, how at a very young age Spector knew what he wanted to do and was able to realise his ambitions by learning quickly how to play the game and beat the music establishment at their own game.
I have a feeling that a lot of the stories around Spector’s erratic behaviour in the studio has been somewhat embellished over the years or why were the same musicians willing to go back in the studio session after session, year after year. It certainly can’t be due to lack of work. As these musicians must have been sought after having been involved in so many hit singles in the early 60’s.
There is one big what if in the book. During 1979 Spector was looking around for a new project and turned his attention on Blondie. Spector had first noticed the band when they were the support for the Ramones at The Whisky A Go Go in 1977 and had followed their progress since. Blondie, however, aware of the antics during the recording of the Ramones, End Of The Century album with Spector, declined his offer to produce. One can only dream of what could have been the result of those sessions if both band and producer had got it together.
During what I think will have been Spector’s last production session, for Starsailor, James Walsh marvelled at what the producer could do in the studio without the use of modern technology such as Pro Tools. “It was an amazing experience, first and foremost. To see for example, the way he could make a string quartet sound like an orchestra|” he is quoted as saying.
The final chapter deals very briefly with the events of the early hours of 3rd February 2003 when the actress Lana Clarkson was found dead at Spector’s house in Alhambra and the record producers eventual indictment for murder on the 19th of September. The book went to print long before the case would eventually come to court and Spector sentenced to 19 years to life for second degree murder on 29th May 2009. Spector now resides in the Corcoran state prison which also houses Charles Manson.
My overwhelming impression of Spector after reading this book, hasn’t changed from the one I formed of him after reading Ronnie Bennet’s autobiography and He’s A Rebel, a previous biography by Mark Ribowsky, that of a deeply troubled individual capable of greatness in the studio but a wholly inadequate human being who at times was incredibly dangerous to be around.
What doesn’t sit well with me sometimes is the sheer pleasure that I get out of the work of a convicted murderer. Is it wrong to still get enjoyment out of the work of such a person, is it possible to detach Spector from his “little symphonies for the kids”? I just don’t know and should I be bothered when these days it seems to be a badge of honour in some music genres to boast about your criminal past?
Still, a man who once reffered to the Spice Girls as the antichrist can’t be all bad.
Here is the results of that final Spector session.
Starsailor – Silence Is Easy