The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector
Jun 25, 2007
The Dominion Post
TEARING DOWN THE WALL OF SOUND: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector by Mick Brown (Bloomsbury)
When British journalist Mick Brown went to interview Phil Spector one day in late 2002, he was only intending to write an article, not a 450-page book. The legendary record producer – responsible for such monumental hits as the Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ and George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ - had barely been in a recording studio for decades, let alone had a hit. The Spector myth - his megalomania, misogyny, reclusiveness and obsession with guns - was becoming bigger than the music.
In many ways, Brown’s experiences that day matched the myth. A gothic creepiness descends in the first pages of the book as Brown describes his long wait in a Los Angeles hotel waiting for Spector’s call and the eventual arrival of a chauffeur-driven Rolls sent by Spector to take him to the producer’s hideaway, a high-security ‘castle’ in the suburb of Alhambra.
The ensuing interview – at four hours, the longest Spector had given in 25 years – was revealing. About his music, Spector spoke lucidly and passionately. On the subject of his mental health, he muttered darkly. “I have devils inside that fight me”, he confessed. “To all intents and purposes I would say I’m probably relatively insane”.
24 hours or so after Brown’s piece appeared in the Daily Telegraph magazine, Lana Clarkson died from a gunshot in Spector’s mansion. Spector was taken into custody, later charged with her murder.
It was presumably at this point that Brown realised the greater significance of his interview and began planning a larger work. Commendably, he didn’t rush it. Instead he spent more than three years conducting over 100 further interviews with the pivotal figures in Spector’s life, from childhood friends to musicians and associates, piecing together the most complete biography of Spector so far.
Staying on the safe side of amateur psychology, he paints a portrait of the artist as a young man that is both frightening and funny. Jewish and small, Spector apparently suffered multiple torments. What early friend and fellow songwriter Beverly Ross describes as ‘a terrific rage and anger that he didn’t look like Tarzan’, combined with the shock of his father’s suicide when he was nine, helped fuel his control-freak tendencies.
With a well-tuned musical ear, Brown gives a palpable sense of what the American pop industry was like in the late 50s and early 60s, and how Spector - barely out of his teens - insinuated himself into it and ultimately took it over.
But as the book goes on things get darker, and the gothic mood that is hinted at early on takes over. Guns feature prominently. During a recording session in the 70s, Spector shoves a gun into the neck of Leonard Cohen and says: “Leonard, I love you”. (“I hope you do, Phil”, is the poet’s reported reply).
In the final chapters Brown returns to the Clarkson murder case and his own encounter with Spector. But with Spector’s trial taking place in Los Angeles at the time of publication, the real last chapter is yet to be written.