BY MICHAEL G. PLUMIDES, JR.
In the opening scene of Sixties anti-thesis Easy Rider, an odd looking fellow is chauffeured up in a Rolls Royce by his man-servant, to buy thousands of dollars worth of cocaine from Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as the deafening sound of jets scream overhead.
Interestingly, the actor portraying the customer was Phil Spector who: a) provided his own Rolls-Royce, and b) provided his own man-servant. There was even some speculation on whether Spector provided the coke as well, for the low-budget biker classic. He could, on a whim, volunteer such trifles to his Hollywood buddies without concern, as Spector was (and still is) filthy, stinking rich.
I know that most of you out there have a lasting memory of the photos taken in Spector’s courtroom battle; to stay a life sentence for the murder of a cocktail waitress, and B-movie actress, Lana Clarkson. It is inferred that a monetary transaction took place to lure Clarkson back to Spector’s mansion. Apparently, Spector, a manic depressive, also addicted to prescription medication, invited many women back to his house in order to play a particular sick game he had become accustomed. Unfortunately, Spector’s fetish involved a loaded gun; a little too reminiscent of the film, Deer Hunter. Although a number of women testified during the three month trial that Spector had never actually killed anyone during this dance with death, Spector, who had only known Clarkson for a few hours, put the gun in Clarkson’s mouth, and “accidentally” shot her. First claiming that Clarkson had shot herself, Spector was later damned by the testimony from an employee working at the house. Spector, shortly after the shooting, approached the employee and muttered in disbelief, “I think I just shot someone.” Shamefully, he didn’t even know her name.
I know you have this recurring vision in your head. You can’t shake the crazy hair (rather, wigs – that Spector displayed throughout his trial(s) ), the absent stare, or the bad surgery. Spector, however, now 69, didn’t turn out to be the most brilliant murderer (by the way, Spector was charged with “2nd Degree murder” and sentenced to 19 years to life). But that fact shouldn’t detract from the truth: Spector was a prolific songwriter and an amazing producer who had singularly changed the face of music during the “Mono” era, and continued to be a driving force behind many rock greats into the 1980’s.
Let’s be fair. If we can all forgive a deceased alleged pederast, Michael Jackson, for years of fondling young boys (and not denying it, mind you, despite the convoluted legal shenanigans), and recognize his vision and talent, then I think it necessary to recognize Spector’s vision and talent, as he deserves at least a modicum of admiration (albeit from behind penitentiary doors, and not the Pearly Gates).
Phil Spector worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, producing and arranging legends such as Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep-Mountain High, The Ramones’ Rock and Roll High School, and The Beatles Let it Be (later producing solo efforts by George Harrison and John Lennon including “Imagine”). Spector also wrote and produced “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’,” for The Righteous Brothers, the single most played cut in radio history. Phil also arranged music enlisting some of the most viable performers of the age, such as Sonny Bono, Carole King, Glen Campbell, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, and Bob Dylan to name a few. Spector was also responsible for writing and producing “Be my Baby” by the Ronettes, a constant favorite for marketeers, and bumper music for commercials.
Spector, rivaling Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, developed the recording technique known as the “Wall of Sound” in the 1960’s. Arguably he produced some of the most memorable music recorded over the last 45 years, later influencing such producers as Brian Eno, and Don Was. In 1989, Spector was even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Fame.
The California Department of Corrections confirms that the legendary music producer was recently relocated from the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility & State Prison in Corcoran, to the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California. There were some rumors that Spector, sharing the same cell block with Sirhan Sirhan, and Charles Manson, begged to be “moved” after making claims that he “feared for his life” around the other “hardened criminals.” Spector later recanted his claims. Pleasant Valley is known for hosting a few unsavory characters, such as Eric Menendez, who along with his brother, Lyle, were convicted of murdering their wealthy parents in 1993.
Phil Spector, as did Michael Jackson, fell victim to the scourge of our society today: Prescription medication. And when you throw a gun-fetish power trip into the mix, you have a lethal combination. The senseless loss of life is saddening – yes.
But Jackson, although never convicted of child molestation, settled for millions out of court with his victim’s families; the hush money kept everyone quiet under contract. And now with Michael Jackson’s death, all of the Jackson family members scurry to get a piece of his wealth. A Jackson’s tour is also about to embark, so the brothers can coattail on his demise and cash in. Even opportunistic plastic faces, such as Smokey Robinson, have slithered up releasing songs dedicated to “Little Michael.” Problem is, “Jacko” was a pediphilic menace, who left the country to pursue his fetishes elsewhere, as he was continuosly under the keen eye of State and Federal agents. Jackson only returned home after his pocket book was empty, and to breathe new life into his stalling career, planned a European tour that never came to fruition due to his collapse. To add total insult to this cirque de freak, Jackson’s film, “This is it,” documenting the tour rehearsals, was released recently to the delight of critics worldwide. Les’t we forget.
Anyway, the money machine keeps on rolling, and it looks like the future’s bright for Jackson’s estate (Blanket et al). Admittedly, I believe that all of this really surmounts to is a farcical ending of the pop icon’s demented life with all the earmarks of a greek tragedy. Even tastelessly touring with Jackson’s corpse ( after the 25 million dollar funeral), put on display like the remains of the Elephant Man, was discussed at one time. The whole affair has become so lurid and disgusting, proper decorum seems almost an alien concept.
But what’s equally as tragic, to a certain degree, is the loss of Spector’s talent, and how he was trivialized due to his awkward, outward appearance. Admittedly, the guy’s a convicted murderer. But if you fail to examine and scrutinize Michael Jackson’s shortcomings and continue to dismiss Jackson’s behavior, then you should afford Phil Spector similar discretion.
I think Phil Spector, just as Michael Jackson, both with their similar oddities and tastes, should be remembered for what he contributed to the craft of recording pop music. In light of the release of the Beatles Box Set, and Beatles Rock Band video game, a little recognition is due Spector, a trade out for a lifetime of creating tunes that we’ve all enjoyed.
Spector – and Jackson, too, seemingly – paid the ultimate price.
Michael G. Plumides, Jr., J.D. is the Author of Kill The Music, available on Amazon.com