Phil Spector’s “Wall” Came Tumbling Down…
Images courtesy of www.tumblr.com, (Lana Clarkson crime scene) soundbiteblog.com (Wall of Sound speakers), and lizarosenberg.com (Crumbling Wall)
“The Wall of Sound”
“Bring Back Mono”
Hardly phrases X-Gens and younger would recognize or respect. But if eons from now there is ever an anthropological “dig” in the Hollywood Music Industry, “The Sound” Phil Spector created will proffer Ooo’s and Awe’s from our descendants well over today’s digital ditties.
Back in the day…
Back in the day…
We kiddies of old thought ourselves well endowed if we or our parents were “hip” enough, financially well-off enough, to own a High Fidelity Record Player, a Hi-Fi for short, and before there was Phil, there was just music…scratchy, fuzzy sound, audible enough to hear, far less audible to “feel”. Great for Nat King Cole and Bing, for our WWII parents were anything but “with it” musically. Not so great for their “In” kiddies. if you know what I mean.
Sure, on those four legged audio-boxes you could listen to Motown hits and Fabien, dance The Twist craze Chubby Checker made famous, heck, with even a portable Hi-Fi you could laze away the summer days in your back yard with a multitude of ‘45’s, with that handy-dandy insert that was so very necessary if you wanted your favourite One Hit Wonders to sing out at you, when your Hi Fi was really only meant for long-play albums of the same.
Then along came Phil Spector, a weaselly little Jew-boy from The Bronx, who on the face of it had nothing to offer the Beautiful People of Tinseltown. And if you looked up the definition of “school-boy nerd” in the dictionary, the one most likely to be beat up by the “cool kids”, his face would easily appear alongside. A face, a look, a vibe only his Mother could have loved, I’m sure, and of course, this was no news to Phil. He knew if he were to make it into the music biz Big Time, his brand would have to be the best, the most unique, a vibe which didn’t have to be visually pretty, just audibly incredible. And by gum, he did it too!
The Wall of Sound.
I could look up in a more urbane dictionary the true definition of what Phil invented but I think I have my own take, if you’re so disposed:
A wave of sound, an almost suffocating cacophony of harmonic symbiosis, married to the pop-rock beat, raising what might have only been a bubble-gum jingle-quality song into the stratosphere of a musical miracle. A “sound” that would make you stop dancing and start listening. A sound that affected you similarly like that of the vibration from an earthquake. A musical event rather than just another pop rock moment.
Sure, his creations, with an almost symphonic delivery, were rather longish for radio, the media rather against airing such long single plays. But We kids didn’t care and Phil won the day with Us, his blind, maybe, but definitely not dumb avid listeners. If he gave Us the Wall, we’d listen, enraptured, until he told Us not to, 4+ minutes worth or not.
The Spector Playlist Portfolio is far too long and far too varied to cover here but one in particular, for me, stands out;
The 1966 hit, “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner, depicted here in a scene from the 1993 movie, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, starring Angela Bassett as Tina Turner, Laurence Fishburne as Ike and Rob LaBelle, pictured in the recording studio scene wearing a black suit and sunglasses as Phil Spector. When released, the song only managed a 88 on the Billboard 100 but hit #3 in the U.K. and was considered by many serious musicians, like The Beatles’ George Harrison, “a perfect record from start to finish.” Phil’s “Wall of Sound” technique for this song alone cost a staggering $22,000 to create (21 sessions musicians and 21 background vocalists), an unheard of recording cost in the 60s. “River Deep, Mountain High”, after time had elapsed and a more mature appreciation was taken of its merit, eventually entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and made #33 on a list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, much credit due directly to Phil’s musical vision;
But as often does, real genius isn’t always appreciated at the time and if left unchecked can percolate into severe eccentricity, bubbling up and spilling over, creating more damage in the end than good.
For all the success Phil had musically, he never really gelled socially within his own circle. Artists, musicians well respected him, possibly feared him, but by the end of a business day in Hollywood, Phil was most likely alone in his garrulous mansion, the Pyrenees Castle, a 20th century monolith perched high atop a hill in Alhambra, Los Angeles. Maybe another “wall” onto itself, maybe to keep distance between him and Humanity, maybe to protect him against all the never-ending disdain and criticism. Geniuses are not necessarily fun nor popular, are they?
Photo courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com
Such was the locale, the End Point, for the demise of two human beings, in the early morning hours of February 3, 2003.
The story by now is well known.
Phil, for a night out, hit the House of Blues nightclub where once B-rate movie actress Lana Clarkson (possibly best known for her role as Mrs. Vargas in the 1982 pop culture movie hit, making an overnight star out of Sean Penn, “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”) worked and by closing the pair rode off in Phil’s limousine, into the fateful sunset of both their lives…
Physical Destination: The Pyrenees Castle.
Poetic Arrival: The mysterious death by a fatal gunshot wound to the mouth for Lana and the eventual destruction of Phil Spector’s reputation and freedom.
Photo courtesy of knifeinthehead.blogspot.com
Spector’s limousine driver reported the shooting. Spector claimed she had “kissed” the gun and that it was an “accidental suicide”. The coroner determined that the muzzle of the gun had been in Lana’s mouth, suggesting either a self-inflicted gunshot wound or Spector being at arm’s length of Lana’s mouth in order to shoot her himself.
The white blazer Phil wore that night, in my layman’s opinion, just didn’t seem like it had enough blood splatter on it for an arm’s length gunshot to the mouth, considering that no significant blood splatter was found behind Lana’s head.
I will say this though: This post is NOT an in-depth forensic examination. Moreover, it’s just me, putting myself in the shoes of one of the hold-out Jurors from the first trial, which comprised of a group of twelve of Phil’s peers becoming hopelessly dead-locked at 10-2 in favour of conviction.
For me, if I had been one of those Jurors, Reasonable Doubt would have ruled the day, despite my inclination that Spector had the Means, Motive and Opportunity. The fact that the physics of Lana’s blood splatter (created at a maximum arm’s length distance if Phil pulled the trigger), just does not add up to a jacket barely covered in blood and brain matter would have been enough reasonable doubt for me.
Jacket photo courtesy of abovetopsecret.com
Could it be as in a typical Greek Tragedy, that a man who had it all, comes to his own demise not from the Evidence but from his own grandiose Ego? Beyond the loss of life to Lana and the loss of freedom to Phil, that, for me, may be the central question. Hollywood is a fickle place. You’re either “In” or you’re “Out” and if you’re “In”, the cheers and falling rose petals at your feet are infinite. But if you’re “Out”, you’re all the way out, relegated as a leper once was to an outer Hawaiian island, a blight on the celeb scene better not seen and not heard…forevermore.
Phil, for all his professional success was just such a leper and one wonders if after the O.J. trial debacle that Phil wasn’t convicted on his reputation more than on the evidence. If that’s so, a man, who yes, was anything but socially acceptable, but who may actually not be guilty of this crime, is rotting away behind bars with the likes of Charles Manson and a former SHU inmate Sirhan Sirhan, for 19 years to Life, at Corcoran Prison.
Not Innocent may define Phil Spector but Not Guilty, well, that’s another story.
His dealings with women over the years prior to this murder were anything but stable, with many former romantic interests stating that Phil would threaten them at gunpoint if they attempted to leave his home. The crux of the existence of Spector is that for all his professional greatness, people just didn’t like to associate with him on a personal level and I think it was this angst that tore at the heart of Phil, his only unfulfilled need – The Human Touch.
Did society sentence this man to a life behind bars for what he was over what he did and could a case be made, at least in the court of Public Opinion, that the sentence was just?
Oh, to have it all, to be the God of what you do and what you know, only to fall from grace so far that all your life’s work means absolutely nothing in the end…
As per the San Francisco 49ers and any Hertz commercial, both, for me, leave a sour taste in my mouth now thanks solely to O.J. Simpson and his dastardly, deadly deeds. The same now may be said for my beloved “Wall of Sound” records. Will I, can I, ever listen to them the same way again and not feel figurative blood splatter hit my chest?
Spector has filed several Appeals, none being upheld.
He will be 88 before even becoming eligible for parole.
And yet, Us kiddies of Yore, still get emotional and know where We were and what We were doing when We first heard this;
“…now it's gone, gone, gone
And I can't go on, no oh oh”