Phil Spector: 'I Have Devils Inside That Fight Me'

Tapes reveal Phil Spector's thoughts and fears a month before his arrest.

ByCynthia Mcfadden and Roxanna Sherwood
January 08, 2009, 12:27 AM

May 22, 2007 — -- From head to toe, Phil Spector is a decidedly odd-looking man -- from his ever-ever-evolving hair to his 3-inch Cuban heels. He is also an undisputed musical genius. And despite his strange appearance, he has viewed life from the top of the musical pinnacle.

When Spector was 17 years old, he wrote the song "To Know Him Is to Love Him," a tribute to his father, who committed suicide when Spector was only 9 -- a family secret his mother told him he must always keep. The title came from the inscription on his father's tombstone, and by the time Spector turned 18, the record had sold 1 million copies.

According to Mick Brown, a British journalist who has written a book about Spector, "[He] was indisputably the kingpin in American music. He was a unique figure, a towering figure."

He was also a troubled figure, according to Brown.

Brown's book is called "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector." He was the last person to interview Spector before the music legend was arrested for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson in his home.

"His whole life has been a tragedy," said Brown.

In their four-hour interview, Brown said Spector was painfully honest about his own fragile psyche, and about his childhood in his New York Bronx neighborhood and later California.

"He was a very lonely little boy. When they moved to California, he was small. Physically unprepossessing," said Brown. "And here he is, this little kid, moving to California, into a classroom full of vitamin-enriched, sun-kissed giants, which Phil Spector certainly wasn't. Hopeless at sports, not the best-looking kid in the class. But at the same time, a very smart kid."

By the late 1950s, Spector wrote and produced music for doo-wop groups and then went on to produce for groups such as the Ronnettes, the Ramones and the Crystals.

"He really is the link, if you like, between Elvis and the Beatles," said Brown.

In the 1960s, Spector produced for the Rolling Stones, and he produced other classics like "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" for the Righteous Brothers and "River Deep Mountain High" for Ike and Tina Turner.

But perhaps Spector's most stunning achievement came with the Beatles. In 1970 he produced the "Let It Be" album, and the next year he produced the "Imagine" album with John Lennon.

And what did Phil Spector bring to artists like the Beatles? A whole new sound.

"He dreamed of creating a kind of orchestral pop …" said Brown. "Back in those days, the basic components of a rock 'n' roll group, in a recording session, would be bass, drums, guitar, piano maybe, saxophone maybe. Spector wanted to get a bigger sound than this. So instead of having one guitarist, you'd have six guitarists. Instead of having one pianist, he'd have three pianists."

"And then the final garnish on top of all Phil Spector's records is this extraordinary percussion … there's sleigh bells, there's castanets, there's maracas. It's this wonderful tintinnabulation, which is really the sort of … keynote garnishing on the Spector cake," he said.

But it wasn't only about the sound, it was about the words.

"There's a kind of pouring out of the heart in these records," said Brown. "'Today I met the boy I'm going to marry.' Fantastic. It's a dream world that he is creating. But the sense you get is these records are being created by someone to whom all of these feelings have been denied. And what I see this as, really, is it's like the little boy with his nose pressed against the sweet shop window … who can describe all the goodies inside but can never quite reach inside, and get them, himself."

This brings us to the strange collision of events that led Mick Brown to write this new book about Phil Spector, a man who is, after all, three decades removed from his musical prime. Three years ago, Brown and his editor at London's Telegraph Magazine came up with a wish list of past musical greats, and Spector was at the top.

"I mean, he hadn't given a major interview for 25 years," said Brown. "And so we set out to find him, and to our astonishment, he agreed to be interviewed."

Mick Brown sat down with ABC News at Spector's house recently to relive the long afternoon he'd spent inside.

"The grounds struck me as being very neglected, not well kept, but inside very beautiful, but in this rather fake baronial sort of style. Lots of marble, lots of red carpet, but beautifully furnished. There are echoes of Sunset Boulevard about this -- the great rock 'n' roll producer from yesteryear, locked away, sequestered away in his castle. A rather sort of odd atmosphere about it," Brown said.

Brown said he was given a tour of the house, and waited an hour and half before Spector's assistant announced Spector was ready for the interview.

"A few minutes later, there he was, walking down the steps," Brown recalled. "Extraordinary looking character with shoulder-length curls and black silk pajama suit monogrammed with the letters 'PS,' and 3-inch Cuban heels, blue-tinted shades, Handel playing on the inner house stereo. Diminutive little man. He looked bizarre, but in a peculiar way, rather magnificent, and walked up to me and I stood up to greet him and his first words to me were 'My, you are tall.'"

The day after Brown's story ran in the Telegraph, a stunning blond woman named Lana Clarkson was shot dead in Spector's front hall.

Clarkson had appeared in a handful of movies and television shows, with probably her best known performance in the cult classic "Barbarian Queen." But recently Clarkson had been hoping to make contacts in her coveted new job as the hostess at the VIP room at Hollywood's House of Blues. That's where she met Spector, although Clarkson told a fellow employee that she didn't recognize him.

Spector's chauffeur also testified that at first Clarkson didn't know who Spector was, but that eventually she agreed to go home with in him in his limo for a drink. Two hours later, Clarkson was dead. Spector now stands charged with her murder -- a charge he denies, saying that Clarkson committed accidental suicide.

Already, four women have taken the stand and said Spector threatened them with guns. His horrified chauffeur testified that Spector ran out of his home that evening, with the gun in one hand and blood on the other saying, he "thought he'd killed someone."

What was going on inside this house and inside the mind of this man? The audio tapes of Brown's interview, which he says he recorded five weeks before Lana Clarkson died, give a glimpse inside Spector's psyche.

"I don't play if I can't win," Spector said. "I don't play anything if I can't win. If you can't win, don't play."

"He says to me, 'Winning is everything,'" said Brown. "And that's a sentiment that, you could say, drives American society, drives American culture."

Spector also told Brown that he succeeded because he was "smarter than most," adding, "That's how I figured I'd get by. I cheated."

"I think he meant at something deeper than that," said Brown, "because he said, 'You know, cheat. … If you have to cheat, cheat.'"

In 1993, Spector's 10-year-old son, Phillip, died of leukemia. Spector told Brown that when his son died he'd lost his best friend, and in some ways, his grip on reality.

"It was a difficult time and all my close friends throughout my life -- Lenny Bruce, John Lennon -- had all passed on," he said. "All the people I could talk to were done … and I chose after the loss of Philip to get my life back on track, but it took almost 10 years. … I was crippled inside. Emotionally, insane is a hard word, but it's manic depressive, bipolar."

"He said, 'I take medicine for schizophrenia, although I'm not schizophrenic,'" Brown recalled.

"But I have a bipolar personality, that is strange," Spector said in Brown's taped interview. "I have devils inside that fight me. And I'm my own worst enemy."

At the time, Spector told Brown his current goal was to be a reasonable man, in part so he could have a better relationship with his son's surviving twin, Nicole, now 24.

But now Nicole's father is on trial for murder.

What else does this interview help us understand about how Spector sees himself? A key to his character, he said in the interview, is control.

"It's all about control," said Spector. "It's what everybody hates about me. In other words, you're never going to be successful if people don't hate you. And that's what everybody hates about me. If you come down to what people really hate about Phil Spector, its that he controls everything. And that's too $%(&# bad."

Whether Spector's desire to control the people in his personal life led to murder is still unclear, though it is worth noting that all four of the women who testified that Spector pulled a gun said he did so when they tried to leave his presence.

Was Clarkson attempting to leave when the gun went off?

"She's found sitting beside the back door, right at the back door, with her purse slung over her shoulder," said Brown. "They'd been drinking in the living room, which is where I interviewed Spector. The case the prosecution are clearly making is that it was time to go. That Lana Clarkson wanted to leave. And she'd gone to the back door specifically, in order to leave. And at that point, something happens."

"What Spector said happened is, she kissed the gun. 'Accidental suicide.' Those are the words that he's used in interviews," said Brown. "What the prosecution says happened, is that he didn't want her to leave, that he reached for a gun, and that he shot her."

There are conflicts and contradictions in all of our lives. In Phil Spector's life, one of the greatest is his relationship with the fame he worked so hard to create. One friend once said that Spector was reckless, not a recluse.

"I think he was both," said Brown. "I mean, clearly he was a recluse. You know, he withdrew from the world. There's the sign on the castle wall: 'Phil Spector's Piranese Castle' … beside it is the sign that says, 'Electrified Fence, Security Cameras, Electric Gates, Do Not Step Across This Threshold.' [He's saying] 'Here I am. Don't come close.' It's the classic dichotomy, right there in that picture. "

A jury will not have to solve that riddle. They will have to decide whether the man who lives inside is a murderer.

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