Friday, October 3, 2014

"Talented, but a piece of shit"

Mark Ribowsky makes '60s/'70s record-producer Phil Spector look like quite a creature in HE'S A REBEL (1989, updated 2000), and the book was written BEFORE Phil was convicted of murder.
Ribowsky makes a case for Phil being a screwed-up genius due to Phil's messed-up family life, including a crazy, overbearing sister and a father who suicided while Phil was young. As a result, Phil can't connect or empathize with anyone.
Maybe this explains why Phil uses and takes advantage of just about everyone in the book, from the record companies he works for at first, to the members of the "Wall of Sound" he assembles in the studio.
Ribowsky shows Phil constantly wheeling and dealing, from the time of his first huge hit "To Know Him is to Love Him" (the epitaph on Phil's dad's gravestone), through work with Imperial, Atlantic, Liberty, Warner Bros., and A&M before getting his own show rolling at Philles. Through it all, Phil is described as a shameless hustler, totally without conscience, always looking out for Number One.
There is LOTS of detail about the great songwriters Spector worked with, and PAGES of what it was like to be in the studio with the Wall of Sound, the Wrecking Crew, the greatest studio musicians of the '60s. Tons of folks from those days are quoted -- and a lot of them talk about the HOURS Phil spent blending musicians in the studio, adding and subtracting, pushing the recording gear until the flooding, overlapping sound of those '60s records was just what he wanted.
There's also plenty of detail about Phil's later less-successful adventures with the Beatles, John Lennon, George Harrison, Leonard Cohen, and the Ramones.
It's too bad nobody proofread this book. There are lots of typos and the writing's sometimes awkward. Ribowsky sometimes tries to cram way too much information into one sentence, and his sentences sometimes go on way too long. One more read-through could have smoothed those problems out.
But that's my only real complaint. It's interesting to see how many people in the music business had grudges against Phil -- there were a lot of them. Only some of the women are able to make Phil sound human -- like Brill Building songwriter Beverly Ross (who got used), and Phil's ex-wife Annette Merar, who clearly still loved him.
Of course, Phil's ex-wife Ronnie Spector isn't quoted, except through her divorce filings against him. Phil isn't quoted, either. He refused to participate with the book.
But LOTS of other famous names spill the details -- Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun, producer and record-company executive Lester Sill, producer Jerry Wexler, Nedra Talley of the Ronettes, producer Russ Titleman, songwriters Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, Doc Pomus, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, singer Ben E. King, Sonny Bono, Nino Tempo, songwriter Vini Poncia ... but not Carole King or Tina Turner.
This book also reminded me how freaking awesome songs like "Be My Baby," "Baby I Love You," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and "River Deep, Mountain High" really are. Course I didn't need much reminding to play them again at work over the last couple nights.
Ribowsky does NOT include my favorite Phil Spector story ever, which is the one where Bobby Hatfield (the higher voice in the Righteous Brothers) asks Phil what he's supposed to do while bass Bill Medley carries the first two verses practically acapella in "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."
"What are you supposed to DO?" Phil asks incredulously. "You're supposed to go directly TO THE BANK, that's what you're supposed to do!"
Not sure how Ribowsky missed that one -- it would have humanized Phil a little bit.
Oh, the title of this post is a direct quote from one of the many Big Industry Names interviewed for this book. You'll have to figure out who it is. It's worth the read....

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