Rock & Roll Books
He's a Rebel: Phil Spector: Rock and Roll's Legendary Producer
by Mark Ribowsky
Da Capo, 453 pp., $18 (paper)
Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector
by Mick Brown
Knopf, 512 pp., $26.95
The bizarre, only-in-Hollywood trial of Phil Spector who seems to be turning into a middle-aged woman and is also accused of murder finally started last month, and (not so) coincidentally there are two new books that examine his bizarre legacy, both swirling around the minutes after his driver heard a noise and Spector stumbled out of his Alhambra "castle," remarking, "I think I killed somebody." Mark Ribowsky's He's a Rebel, originally published in 1989, adds five new chapters post-murder. We get a rough shake of Spector's True Hollywood Story: tyrant, fatherless, legendary record producer and songwriter, tortured pop genius. When Ribowsky lauds Spector, he does so with a son's affection; there's much of Spector's work to be in awe of. Still, with the awe come the flaws: a temper in the studio with practically every band he worked with, obsessions with women (notably ex-wife Ronnie) and guns, neglect for his children. Interviews with former Spector players and friends offer a bit of insight into his mind, which is clearly fragmented, though a few too many remarks sit in the "that's just Phil being Phil" camp. Phil being Phil obviously hasn't helped.
British journo Mick Brown infiltrated Spector's castle shortly before the murder, and his 2003 article for Telegraph magazine is referenced by Ribowsky. Brown encountered a Spector who said he had "not been well," but their four-hour interview, which includes Spector dissing Brian Wilson and disappearing to change pajamas, proves otherwise. The timing was unreal: Two days after the article came out, actress Lana Clarkson was found dead in Spector's house. Brown checks off Spector's eccentricities (live chickens, an obsession with karate, wigs) like a grocery list and digs into the subject's tempestuous relationships with John Lennon, Lenny Bruce, and the Ramones, among others. While a few too many identical quotes show up here as in He's a Rebel, interviews with Spector give Wall of Sound a medium-rare center. One passage in particular is a trademark Spector zinger. Asked who he considered his closest friends, Spector answered, "My attorneys."