Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector
by Mick Brown
Alfred A. Knopf, 2007, 464 pages. 2007.
For those of us born several decades later, Phil Spector might be a has-been and a "who again?" wrapped in an enigma. But anybody familiar with music from the '50s and '60s will tell you that Spector created a new technique of record production called "The Wall of Sound." It's lush sound was created through using layers of instrumentals in such a way that listeners would get happily lost in the music. Think of "Good Vibrations" sung by the Beach Boys or "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" from the Righteous Brothers. Both were produced by Spector using his Wall of Sound techniques.
Spector's version of that Righteous Brothers hit was declared the "most played song of the 20th Century" by BMI, Inc. It's hard to reconcile the 20th Century Phil Spector with the 21st version. It's not the same man. Or is it?
It's a question that Mick Brown considers in his book, "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector."
Earlier this month, Phil Spector was found guilty of second-degree murder. The wacky-wigged record producer could receive up to 18 years in prison for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. He will find out his fate at the end of May.
Brown was lucky enough to score a rare interview with Spector weeks before the murder took place. By this time, Spector was more known for his eccentricities than his music. One of his last efforts at producing music was a failed Celine Dion session. His working methods angered Dion's manager, Rene Angelil, to such an extent that he pulled the plug on the project. Spector played mind games with Brown, making him wait, disappearing for a time.
He opens with this interview, but then delves back into Spector's childhood. A truly tortured family life would be an accurate description. Through Spector's rise to fame and prominence in the industry, through his marriages and exile from the music industry, one question remains: Is Phil Spector crazy, evil or having fun?
This question forms the spine of the book. Each person interviewed has an opinion, an explanation for his behavior. Some rationalize it; others believe Spector is dangerous but nice. People close to him thought him cruel. Yet for someone who allegedly pulled on a gun on Leonard Cohen (among others), Spector was allowed to get away with an awful lot. Maybe it was because he was a genius living in a land of indulgence, or maybe people were afraid to confront him. Either way, one promising actress is dead and Spector will most likely spend a whole lot of time in jail.
As evidence from Spector's life piles high, Brown eventually circles back to that interview with Spector. There, he appears rational. What person in the music business hasn't lived a colorful life? Brown writes:
"And did he think he had been a good person? The question stopped him for a moment. 'Reasonable,' he said at last. 'Reasonably good. I mean I haven't done anything...' The thought went to silence."
Spector had a daughter. Her fraternal twin died years earlier. It was something that Spector never got over. Readers will undoubtedly feel for the man. Some may even side with him, as many others did. The humanity of this interview, which Brown captures so well, is shattered in the next chapter, with the description of Lana Clarkson's murder.
From charming to insane, Mick Brown provides the full spectrum of Phil Spector. This book is worthwhile read for those who want to learn more about the man behind the murder.