Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Wall of Sound comes crashing down: The sad demise of Phil Spector

April 14, 2009
Posted by Noah

Phil Spector, one of the greatest rock and roll minds of all time, has been convicted of the second degree murder of B-movie actress Lana Clarkson. This is one of those stories that ultimately begs the question: What is more important, the art or the artist?

Phil Spector was – and I would still say is – a massive musical talent, a generational influence whose true brilliance has just begun to come to life. His patented “Wall of Sound,” and his monumental outpouring of chart-topping songs in the early and mid-1960s was outdistanced only by albums he later produced for The Beatles (a controversial finish of Let It Be), John Lennon (Imagine and The Plastic Ono Band), George Harrison (the seminal, unbelievable All Things Must Pass), Leonard Cohen (Death of a Ladies’ Man) and The Ramones (the not so great, but commercially successful End of the Century). He also produced the recording for a little concert film called, The Concert for Bangladesh. Ever heard of it? It just so happens that it’s one of the single greatest concerts – and concert films – of all time.

Spector also happens to be a first class nut, a loon, a man completely out of his skull with madness. He always was, actually. There are many who have described him as a savant, which seems to have some merit. He was always socially awkward, given to outbursts and backstabbing. He viewed his success as revenge on those whom he deemed had persecuted him as a boy and a teenager. He grew into an obsessive recluse, a man with countless guns in the house and on his person at any given time. He is a man, as described by former wife Ronnie Spector, who threatened to kill her and display her body in a glass-topped casket if she ever tried to leave him. He is alleged to have pulled everything from a handgun (The Ramones) to a crossbow (John Lennon) on those he worked with. When he burned a bridge, he didn’t just toss a match on it, he sprayed it with gasoline, used a flamethrower and then came back with a tank to roll over the smoldering ruins.

That such a great talent should manifest such eccentric behavior – even insanity – is not uncommon. Many a great mind has been afflicted so. That it should manifest in the cold blooded murder of a woman who, by all accounts, was faithful and trusting if not the brightest bulb on the tree, is unforgivable. A good lawyer may have been able to get him off the first time, but not the second. Phil has a cozy cell in a prison waiting for him, and a hot seat somewhere else when this world is done with him.

What does this sad news leave behind? A tarnished legacy – for the time being – and that still amazing catalog. His accomplishments in the music business are way too lengthy to list here, and his influence is all over the place. There could have been no Summer of Love, Punk, Metal, Glam, Grunge or any other rock evolution over the decades without the unbelievable sounds he layered painstakingly upon one another in his recordings. In the process he created music that is still profound and infinitely listenable. Think about it: He produced and co-wrote The Righteous Brothers hit You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, the song that is believed to have been the single most played radio song of the 20th Century.

Back to my original question, then: Is it the art or the artist that will then be remembered?

This is a popular discussion around my house. My wife and I debate it at the death of most any famous musician or writer or the like. She believes in people more than I do, I think, and invariably says that the way a person lives their life will be the final indicator of how they’re remembered. Seasoned cynic that I am, I invariably side with the faceless legacy of creation. To paraphrase Faulkner, no one remembers Shakespeare’s daughter.

I asked Garry Shrum, Consignment Director and Music Memorabilia Expert here at Heritage – a man who knows his music, for sure – and he believes that Spector’s behavior will prove a stain that will never be lifted.

“The media won’t ever let anyone forget it,” he said. “It’s just what it is. He encouraged a lot of combination of rock and R&B early on and was a huge influence on all kinds of music. He was right there with it as it changed. Unfortunately, he ultimately didn’t change with the times very well when it shifted away from what he was doing. Plus his gun reputation goes way back to pulling guns on a variety of people. It’s a shame that it happened, but not a surprise.”

Phil Spector could throw away with a flick of his wrist the amount of musical talent any 1,000,000 of us might have, and refresh that deficit with a breath. The world has, and will have, his vast catalog to listen to in perpetuity as long as there is American pop culture. His name will be forgotten and, ultimately, so will his madness and his crime.

More than a few Phil Spector items have come through Heritage, a list of which can be accessed by clicking here. The top selling lot is a group of various papers that came from his mother. I couldn’t tell you if his conviction will make these things more valuable or worth about as much as the paper they’re printed on.

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