Spector: His Sound And Fury A Sad Figure Who Made Great Music

Posted: April 25, 1989

When Phil Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January, he left an indelible impression. His acceptance speech was rambling, to be kind, and bodyguards seemed to guide him offstage.

It looked like the behavior of a person who was out of it. Yet I later heard from several people who sat near Spector that he didn't have a drink - that this bizarre-looking behavior was a severe case of stage fright. After feeling like an outsider all his life, he was overwhelmed at this moment of homage.

This sort of gap between appearance and reality, a factor in any life, virtually defines Phil Spector. A good rule of thumb, in fact, is to trust only your ears, because the one indisputable fact is that he produced some of rock 'n' roll's best records.

A biographer cannot, however, simply refer readers to a record, and thus Mark Ribowsky tackles Phil Spector himself in "He's a Rebel," the latest attempt at explaining a man who won't tell his own tale.

Some of Ribowsky's results are gratifying. His interviews with people like Spector's old partner Lester Sill, while not revelatory, flesh out a picture of his early music-biz years.

There was always a deal, always an angle; Phil loved the music enough to sleep on floors so he could make it, but he also discarded people when he didn't need them any more. Beverly Ross, an early writing partner, recalls she and Spector creating a great riff which he later used, without telling her, on ''Spanish Harlem."

Ribowsky also fleshes in characters like Ben Spector, whose suicide left son Phil devastated. The litany of Spector recordings and anecdotes is useful.

The problem arises when Ribowsky tries to stretch these pieces over the whole canvas. Serious allegations - child-beating, for instance - do not seem conclusively proven, and his failure to talk with Ronnie Spector leaves another gap, whatever Ronnie's own agenda.

In the end, Ribowsky's Spector emerges as a sad figure, isolated in the corner at a high school reunion. He wants to be there, but cannot, for whatever reason, take a real human part in it.

At least that's the easy conclusion to draw. But maybe the real message is that we should be wary of believing what even rational people or our own eyes and ears seem to tell us about Phil Spector.

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