Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Phil Noir Redux: My Take on on the Phil Spector Murder Trial

As the Phil Spector murder trial begins to wind down, one can't help but sense how a musical genius descened into a miasma of psychopathological madness. The obvious warning signs were there: a historically misogynic pattern of physical and emotional violence against women that followed him to the present day, a fetish for firearms, and emotional instability in general. Listen to songs with sadomasochistic undertones like "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" and you know he's lashing out, psychopatholigically speaking.

Let's at least give him his due as a seminal record producer. He gave us some of the classics of the rock era -- "He's a Rebel," "Be My Baby," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," "Da Doo Ron Ron," and "To Know Him is To Love Him." He rescued genuine vocal talents like Darlene Love, Ronnie Bennett and the Righteous Brothers from obscurity and made them legitimate stars. He created something more substantial out of almost nothing, as anyone who listened to the Paris Sisters' "I Love How You Love Me" will attest. But "musical genius" does not justify or rationalize his mistreatment of his recording artists and his subordinates. As author Mick Brown noted in his new book Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector, he made Darlene Love sing "Lord, If You're a Woman" repeatedly over and over again in the studio, if only out of sheer masochistic pleasure. Ironically, it only added to the emotional subtext that suggested Love wanted to get out from under his thumb once and for all. Not surprisingly, Spector withheld the song from release for three years.

Up until her untimely and tragic demise, Lana Clarkson was a genuine talent, but one searching for the right milieu and the right niche to properly showcase her talents. She was allegedly past her prime as a action heroine, still something of a cult figure making the rounds of sci-fi and comic book conventions, yet still stunningly attractive and sensually alive, and, as her good friend Sally Kirkland pointed out on a recent Court TV interview, still a creative, vibrant individual that had yet to realize her fullest potential.

I believe that for all its flaws, the American justice works, and anyone charged with a crime is indeed innocent until proven guilty. There is also a Hindu word for the things you do that come back at you: karma. There may be something of that element at work even as Phil Spector faces down felonious criminal charges that could very well have him incarcerated in prison for the rest of his natural life.

For more perspective on the Phil Spector murder trial, check out Steven Mikulan's coverage ("Phil Noir") at L.A. Weekly.

10/13/2007 Update: The first trial resulted in a hung jury. As I write this, Spector is now assembiling a new defense team, the prosecution is learning from its missteps and is preparing to try Spector again. And the whole wash and rinse cycle repeats itself all over again.

For Steven Mikulan to describe the hung jury verdict a "dark victory" in LA Weekly would be an apt description. But even as I watched some portions of the trial itself Court TV and hearing from an assortment of entertainment figures as diverse as Sally Kirkland, songwriter Carol Conners and even the Chantels' Arlene Smith giving their opinions for the world to hear, there is this vouyeristic, bleacher-bum dynamic at work, especially where Court TV comes into play, one where televised criminal trials regress into a perverse hybrid of courtroom melodrama, morality play and spectator sport in where the judges, the prosecutors and the jurors are publicly booed and hissed at by courtroom pundits when they don't rule the way they would like them to. This happened most notably during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which set the tone for the rest of what was to follow, be it Michael Jackson, Robert Blake, or whoever else. As Mikulan himself reminds us, "Americans do not like ambiguity; we hate tied games and favor sudden-death playoffs and overtime victories."

A couple of years ago, I worked background for a few days as a courtroom spectator when E! Entertainment Television did their daily re-encatments of the Michael Jackson molestation trial. The pay was a inconsequential $25 check paid to cash, but I was fed and I was able to bring the leftovers home. (You do get fed as a background extra, so the on-set meals you're served helps save on your monthly grocery bill, and is as good a reason as any to work background in the movies, SAG card or no SAG card.) Since television cameras were not allowed inside the courtroom, court transcripts were faxed in from the Santa Maria courthouse in preperation for the day's taping, which was taken directly from the transcripts. They found their "Michael Jackson" working as a celebrity look-alike on the Santa Monica Pier. And it was fun to see the actors break character between takes and utter humorous expletives that had us laughing.

But then, the Spector trial is not an re-enactment, but the real thing. Perhaps, maybe justice might be served the second time around.


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