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Mad, bad, and dangerous to know?
on 29 September 2009
When I started writing this review, I intended to give the book only four stars. This was because I lost interest and stopped reading at the point when Spector virtually stopped producing, i.e. after the Ramones album. (All sympathy to the many who suffered Spector's excesses, especially Ronnie Spector and of course Lana Clarkson, but I could not maintain sufficient enthusiasm to read the long saga of the two decades of reclusion leading up to Lana Clarkson's murder.) To be fair to an excellent biography, I have to give it five stars.
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.