The songs & the sounds are unforgettable. Be My Baby. He’s A Rebel. Da Doo Ron Ron. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. Phil Spector came up with a unique way to create rock & roll records (nicknamed the “Wall of Sound’) that sounded different from what had come before, and helped bring the genre much success in the days preceding the British Invasion. Later, he produced & worked with groups like The Beatles, Ike & Tina Turner and The Ramones. But there was also a dark side to Phil Spector, and it culminated in the tragic shooting of actress Lana Clarkson at his home in 2003. Spector was convicted of her murder in 2009, and is currently serving 19 years to life in a California prison.
British journalist Mick Brown attempts to tell a well-rounded story of Spector’s life in Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. It’s an interesting read. The author covers Spector’s troubled childhood; first in New York, and later in Los Angeles, where Spector’s mother moves the family after the suicide of Spector’s father, which occurred when Spector was 10. That event clearly affected Spector for the rest of his life. Spector’s mother & sister were overbearing, which also influenced him, and made him wary of his family. Subject to bullying at school, Spector learns the guitar, and finds solace in music. He eventually works as a session musician and finds success in the music world.
Brown goes into great detail charting Spector’s rise in the music business & his associations with industry legends like Atlantic records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun & legendary songwriter Doc Pomus, among others. There’s wonderful information on the “Wall of Sound” years, including interviews with members of the legendary band of studio musicians called The Wrecking Crew, who played on many of Spector’s records. But Brown also traces the darker tones of Spector’s personality, and as his success grows, it becomes clear he can be mercurial & callous, with a violent temper. He treats singers, performers, colleagues & friends with casual disdain & dismissiveness, belittling their contribution to his work. While Spector is clearly talented, there’s another side to his genius that ultimately leads to tragedy, and distances him from the people who cared about him.
His disastrous marriage to Ronnie Bennett (Spector) of The Ronettes (and his obsession with her) has been covered in other books, including Ronnie’s own, and it’s clear that Spector was controlling & abusive to her, eventually locking her away in his mansion & refusing to let her record or tour. The author also discusses Spector’s battles with depression, outbursts of anger & aberrant behavior. Brown traces Spector’s more than casual interest in guns & firearms right through to his fateful encounter with Lana Clarkson in 2003. What’s most compelling about the book is that the author interviews many of Spector’s friends, former colleagues & collaborators, often getting multiple viewpoints on the same incidents. He lets the readers make up their own mind about this troubled genius, who appears to have been swallowed up by the demons within himself.
This edition of the book was published in 2008, when Spector’s first trial ended in a hung jury. He was subsequently convicted during a second trial in 2009. Brown actually interviewed Spector a few weeks before Clarkson’s murder, and decided to expand his interview into a book. Tearing Down The Wall of Sound is a fascinating story of the fine line between brilliance & darkness. There have been other biographies written about Spector before & since, but Brown's is one of the more insightful & well-balanced. If you're a fan of the music and want to know more about the complicated man behind it, Brown's book is worth a read.