Phil Spector has been in a California state prison for the last four years with 15 to go for the 2nd degree murder of Lana Clarkson. His 45 square-foot cell is a considerable downturn from his 30-room Pyrenees Castle overlooking Alhambra, east of Hollywood.
Last week, there was an HBO docudrama on Spector's murder trial starring Al Pacino as Phil. Abandoning reality, the TV movie was billed as a "work of fiction," arguing that the true killer was a one-armed man who had somehow disappeared off the face of the earth. No, actually, the movie insinuated that his conviction was motivated by an overzealous LAPD, bitter that O.J. Simpson slipped through their fingers and eager for a celebrity arrest. The movie disregarded the mountain of evidence that convicted Spector.
I have to disclaim that I did not actually watch the HBO movie. Our television died in 2007 and I keep forgetting to do something about it. Everything I know about the HBO movie is taken from Pope Francis' infallible twitter review.
By 1958, he was a regular fixture in Hollywood recording studios. His band, The Teddy Bears, raised enough money for a few hours of studio time and recorded "To Know Him Is to Love Him." The song shot instantly to number one and sold a million copies that year.
In the 1969 movie, Easy Rider, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson are sittin' 'round the campfire blowing through a pound of cocaine they bought from . . . Phil Spector. Spector had a wild-haired, unaccredited role as the pusher man in Hopper's epic film. A shape of things to come.
Spector quickly switched from performing to producing and for the next two decades he absolutely dominated Rock and Roll. He produced chart-topping records for the Ramones, the Beatles, the Crystals, Ben E. King, Ike and Tina Turner, the Drifters and dozens more with his unique Wall of Sound techniques, recording through dozens of microphones placed throughout the band. His labels were scorching and all the music of the '60s and early 70s was his. Or tried desperately to sound like it.
There were, however, early signs that Spector might be having personal problems, like the time he broke into Lennon's recording session waving a gun and stole all the studio tapes for an album he himself was producing. Later he held the Ramones at gunpoint and forced them to play the same opening chord for eight hours. Johnny Ramone later characterized Spector as a little man with 5-inch Cuban lifts, wigs, and four guns.
In spite of living a life overflowing with sex and drugs, swamped in Rock and Roll, it is no overstatement to say that Phil Spector had more influence on American music than anyone else, ever. And if you add his heavy contribution to the break-up of the Beatles, you could probably add Europe as well.
Spector was deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. At the ceremony, Spector arrived with three heavily and very visibly armed bodyguards. He stumbled to the podium, made a rambling incoherent acceptance speech and fell off the stage. His career spanned Dion and the Belmont's to Celine Dion.
In September of 2006 he married a 26 year-old aspiring swimsuit model. That has nothing to do with anything, I'm just jealous.