July 30, 2008

New Edition of Phil Spector Biography Adds Insight into Criminal Case

If the final chapter on Phil Spector concluded before February 3, 2003, his life story would most likely have been one of a seminal music icon peppered with infamous tales of eccentric behavior, drunken mayhem, and random acts of violence. Given the events of that fateful night, though — as well as the criminal trial that followed and the one yet to come — a comprehensive biography is neigh on impossible to read without interpreting it through the context of actress Lana Clarkson’s death.

To his credit, author Mick Brown provides an equitable (and extensive) depiction in Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector, recently published in paperback with a new afterword.

For much of the book, in fact, Brown paints a near-sympathetic portrait of the man behind the Wall of Sound. He writes of Spector’s childhood as one marred by trauma and chaos, during which he contended with issues of suicide, incest, and mental illness. Consequently, his inner anguish produced profound feelings of loneliness, resentment, and self-loathing.

Such feelings would serve as catalysts in his career, according to the author, insomuch as they not only inspired Spector to succeed, but to also avenge (as he perceived) any and all adversaries. Whenever he felt spited, ridiculed, or rejected — whether by a lover, confidante, colleague, or even the music industry — he would make a concerted effort to even the score.

Enlightening and meticulously examined accounts of Spector’s most prosperous era — during which he worked with the Righteous Brothers, the Ronettes, John Lennon, George Harrison, and (much to Paul McCartney’s chagrin) the Beatles — will surely interest music enthusiasts.

Yet it’s the harrowing descriptions of his demons — the enduring torment of his troubled childhood, adult anxieties and grief, as well as a predilection for alcohol and guns — that readers will find most engrossing. It was Spector’s demons and not a lack of talent, the author illustrates, that ultimately overtook him, turning a once-vital figure into a reclusive relic of a bygone era. 

Tearing Down The Wall of Sound was originally published in June 2007, three months before Spector’s first criminal case ended in a mistrial; as such, the author summarizes its details in this edition’s afterword. His synopsis gives the reader a concise yet informative depiction of the court proceedings, including its crucial evidence, key witnesses, and forensic details.

Unfortunately, Brown’s straightforward summary soon evolves into an editorial of sorts, which undercuts the unbiased approach he assumed within the book proper. While he writes about his experience in interviewing Spector within the biography — including his cursory impressions of the man, his disposition and mannerisms — Brown wisely abstains from rendering judgment on his subject.

In the afterword, though, he relents. In referencing the defense’s contention that Lana Clarkson had killed herself, Brown asserts, “I found it impossible to believe that she would have committed suicide.” However he interpreted the evidence or viewed the tragic circumstances, given the absence of Spector’s conviction at the time of publication, the author should have remained neutral to allow the reader to form an independent conclusion.

Such notwithstanding, Mick Brown offers an evenhanded, exhaustively researched, and well-written biography with Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. In doing so, he allows the reader to vividly grasp one of music’s most enigmatic figures while, at the same time, confronting the dark side of genius and the madness of a wounded soul.