Phil Spector in rare interview

Arifa Akbar
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:35

Phil Spector was one of America's most prolific and enigmatic music producers – an impresario responsible for creating the most iconic songs of the Sixties and Seventies for the Beatles, Beach Boys and Tina Turner.

But when an actress was killed in his Los Angeles mansion in 2003, the grim details of the court trial that followed threatened to eclipse his reputation as a musical genius.

Now, ahead of retrial proceedings due begin in two weeks, the public is being afforded its first real insight into the famously reclusive Spector's life. The man who rarely speaks is portrayed in a paranoid and isolated world that is his Los Angles "castle". He defends himself and talks about the "rage" that has marked his life and musical career.

In the interview, he speaks for the first time about his murder charge, his father's suicide and sense of being "hounded" since being bullied at school, his antipathy towards the judge of the court case in 2007 and his musical collaborations.

"The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector", an Arena documentary, will be broadcast on BBC 2 tonight. It includes clips from the televised court case – showing Spector sitting with shaking hands through proceedings – interspersed with his music hits, such as "You've Lost that Loving Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers, and The Beatles' "Let it Be", as well as his life story.

Anthony Wall, Arena's editor who co-produced the film, said he was "astonished" when Spector immediately agreed to the interview and also said no subject was off limits.

Next month, a new jury will be interviewed ahead of Spector's retrial in the United States for the murder of Lana Clarkson. The original jury, in 2007, failed to reach a verdict.

The interview, filmed in March last year, explores his musical career against a backdrop of the murder case and his alleged history of violence and fascination with guns. He is shown seated behind John Lennon's white piano, which he famously played in his "Imagine" video, speaking about his concerns over the choice of March 2007 jury. "I'm in the hands of 12 people who voted for George Bush," he said.

Speaking of the pre-trial option of a plea bargain in which Spector was allegedly given notice of an eight-year prison sentence if he agreed to a guilty plea, he said of the judge: "Every time I go to court [I think] the judge doesn't like me ... The first thing he does is to remind us that we are there because someone died. Why does he have to say that?" he said.

Spector, who was filmed over three-and-a-half hours, likened his position to gifted black musicians who experienced the same ambivalence from the industry. "I was just a loner and was always treated with contempt; they [the establishment] never considered me with the same respect that they considered [Irving] Berlin or [George] Gershwin ... But that just builds up the anger and the rage, which made you do better, made you do a lot better," he said.

He repeatedly likened himself to the historical figures such as the persecuted physicist Galileo and the artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. "I felt obligated to change music to art, the same way that Galileo proved the Earth was round to the world and that the Sun did not stand still ... When I went into the studio I created a sound that I wanted to hear ... And I always compare it to what Da Vinci did when he went to a blank canvas."

Vikram Jayanti, the documentary's director, said Spector spoke about the night of Ms Clarkson's death, an aspect of the interview which has not been included in the final documentary. "He spoke about the night. He obviously felt it was a terrible tragedy. He mentioned his sense that she came to his house a disturbed woman, and used the opportunity to find a loaded gun in his house to kill herself. His dominant feeling was that she killed herself and fucked up his life. That seems unsympathetic [to her] but at the same time, he felt he had been hit by lightening," he said.

Mr Jayanti added that although the court case was used as a backdrop, the film was primarily an exploration of Spector's mind and music.

Spector also spoke about some of the artists who he worked with. He produced the Beatles' final album, Let It Be, after being asked to make their January 1969 recordings into an album. "I knew they were breaking up, I knew they were never going to come back together again ... The public didn't and I was there to make a commercial album, because I wanted to sell 12 million albums and the public ended up buying it and I was Mr Commerciality."

Speaking of the original version, he called it a "farce". "It was really awful. Paul was singing like he didn't believe it. He was kind of mocking it. John was playing wrong notes, he couldn't play bass. He ... was guessing. It was a farce." He went on to express some antipathy towards McCartney, saying he was "not very secure", while speaking fondly of Lennon. In 2003, another version of Let It Be was released by McCartney, stripped of Spector's lavish production effects and returning to McCartney's original recording concept.

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