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Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise And Fall of Phil Spector Paperback – 7 Apr 2008
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`Mich Brown's biography manages to be both creepy and compelling.'
-- Observer, April 6th 2008
`Spector, his associates insist, has two distinct personalities. This exemplary biography, updated to cover the murder trial, gives both a careful hearing.' -- Telegraph, April 5th 2008
`Tearing Down the Wall of Sound, which ends with Spector's infamous 2007 murder trial, is a painstaking, highly readable attempt to understand a flawed genius' -- Sunday Telegraph, April 6th 2008
`This terrific biography...feels up to the moment as well as comprehensive and judicious. Its tone is perfectly judged' -- Guardian, April 5th 2008
About the Author
Mick Brown is a freelance journalist and broadcaster who has written extensively on pop music and culture for a wide variety of British and American publications. He is currently senior writer on the Telegraph magazine. He is the author of several books, including: Richard Branson: The Authorised Biography, Heartbeat: Travels from Woodstock to San Jose by Song Title (shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Prize for best travel book in 1994), The Spiritual Tourist, Bloomsbury Movie Guide to Performance and The Dance of 17 Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet's 17th Karmapa.
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I would highly recommend this book to music buffs, but particularly to fans of the Wall of Sound. Mick Brown is obviously a fan, and he devotes a lot of the book to the genesis of the technique. It would be very easy just to concentrate on the titanic sound, the Wall itself, but Brown takes time to show that the lyrics of many of the songs present just as idealised a picture of love (whether found or lost) as any other love songs of the 60s. He suggests that only in the songs could Spector find happiness; for example, the message of the love between him and Ronnie in Be My Baby and Baby I Love You lives forever in the recordings, whereas the relationship started to go pear-shaped as soon as they were married.
I thought I knew a fair amount about Spector, but Mick Brown filled in several gaps. For example:
-I knew that To Know Him is to Love Him was taken from the epitaph on Spector's father's gravestone, but not that his father had committed suicide
-Spector's Mother Bertha publishing company was named after his domineering mother, with whom he had a strong love-hate relationship
No surprise, then, that Brown gradually makes the case that Spector's demons originated largely from his dysfunctional family (Spector's sister had her own mental problems).
Exhaustive, tireless research supports the book, e.g. nearly five decades after the brief career of the Teddy Bears Brown tracked down, and interviewed at length, their lead singer, Annette Kleinbard (OK, she has had an extended career in the music business, but I suspect few in the UK other than the real anoraks would know the prehistory of the writer now known as Carol Connors.) Brown did hit a biographer's jackpot by securing an extended interview with Spector shortly before the Lana Clarkson murder case broke.
Several of the interviewees provide comments on the strength of Spector's musical talent, which was strong long before the Wall of Sound began.
Most of all, perhaps, the strength of this, like many good biographies, is placing the subject in the context of his contemporaries, rather than giving just a "monolithic" view.
The book starts in 2002 and Brown's interview with Spector for the Daily Telegraph, just weeks before the incident which eventuated in Miss Clarson's demise and ends with the trial which Brown frames as almost the logical conclusion to a life lead in an increasingly bizarre fashion. The middle section of the book, which takes up the larger part of the narrative, charts Spector's life up to that fateful encounter with Lana Clarkson.
A precocious Spector is shown emerging professionally in the late 1950s as a new era is dawning in popular music. Spector is the little nebbish Jewish kid and social outcast made good. The young man escaping from a unhappy childhood: living without a father, as a consequence of an unexplained suicide, and raised by a an over-protective mother. The picture which emerges in the book is that the well-spring of Spector's genius - the famous 'wall of sound' recordings which has influenced everyone from Brian Wilson to Bruce Springsteen to Jim Steinman to Glas Vegas - is the same source which has lead to Spector's demise.
The same obsessiveness and attention to detail which lead him to create a whole new way of making music - the 'Producer-as-star,' the 'studio-as-instrument' - and changed pop music forever in the the era immediately preceding the so-called 'British Invasion' by transmuting the base metal of pop music ephemera into something more grand, more befitting of Spector's vision of "little pocket symphonies for the kids," is shown as allowing itself to curdle into something more sinister in the wake of Spector's falling out of favour in the wake of the emergence of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Californian folk-rock scene.
The obsessiveness which drove Spector in his glory days seems to fester and mutate into neuroticism and paranoia as his triumphs become increasingly remote. Spector is shown as being driven by a huge inferiority complex which in his demise is increasingly manifest in manifold ways and not least in Spector's obsessions with guns. Something of a re-occuring theme in the book. Brown ends the book questioning why the trial for Lana Clarkson's murder which neither acquitted nor sentenced Spector (it ended in a mistrial) left so many unanswered questions. The biggest unanswered question remaining Spector himself, the Howard Hughes of Pop.
Arguably as good a literary musical bio as you will find written in the last few years; well written, well researched but maybe a tad too long. Well worth a read however for those interested in delving deeper into a slice of musical history and into the mind of a man increasingly at war with itself.
The final two chapters cover the death of Lana Clarkson, and although this hardback edition was published shortly before the start of Spector's murder trial, the prosecution and defence cases are presented in detail, based on grand jury testimony and so on. We can assume that the paperback edition will be updated to cover the trial itself.
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SO well-written & SO well-researched & detailed.