Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, September 21, 2007

In a lot of ways the Phil Spector trial has been a disappointment. It was shaping up brilliantly, especially when Bruce Cutler came on board, the real-life Tom Hagen. But Cutler never really got into gear, and the proof never really reached OJ levels of bizarre. Maybe a Kato Kaelin figure would have helped-- Phil's chauffeur didn't really add the necessary frisson. Of course, you might argue that the mere fact that Spector may very well Do Do Ron Walk makes it weird enough, but I'm not buying it-- L.A. juries apparently don't convict much. It's a twisted enough story, no matter how it resolves-- he's been batshit crazy for a long, long time, but he is also indisputably one of the principle auteur's of one of America's principle art forms, a formal and technical innovator who influenced everyone who followed him. It is hard to know why, exactly, the Spector trial hasn't resonated in the public mind the way the OJ trial did, and continues to. You can't really say that it is because Spector had largely disappeared from our cultural consciousness the way he had disappeared from the public view. Even if he was not particularly visible in resent years, holed up in his Alhambra castle (Chuck Taggert reported that a friend told him, "in the music business it seems more people were surprised to learn that Phil Spector lived in Alhambra than that he might have shot someone...") you'd have to say that Spector had a higher profile in the national consciousness than the Juice, I think. Simpson was pretty big, once, but his show biz career had been circling the drain for quite a while before the Bronco ride. It isn't even a question of race, it seems to me-- although we are talking about white-on-white violence when we consider the death of Lana Clarkson, Spector has a history that evokes American racial issues, both because of the fact that he was married to Ronnie Spector, and worked with so many prominent African-American performers; and because he came to prominence working in a black-defined genre.

This is not a story about Chandler's LA, or James Ellroy's either, and one of the reasons is that neither Chandler nor Ellroy knew or know enough about the Bronx that Spector came from to really get inside the madness that he has aged into. If Tom Wolfe still wrote non-fiction he could do it, maybe-- Wolfe's early profile of Spector is still mighty fine journalism, even though at least one critic has knocked it for "failing to take critical aspects of Spector's boyhood into account and presenting, simply, a wild and crazy guy." I would dispute that, and in any event argue that Wolfe is the only writer I've ever read that understood the Bronx. The Spector story blends all of America-- Jewish kid from the Bronx; the odd sense displacement that defines LA; our national music; race, of course, but also our youth-obsession; and the mingled sense of yearning and entitlement that seems to define the American character in the last part or the 20th Century. It ends in murder because it needed a tabloid ending, I guess. It's too bad that the trial hasn't provided a better narrative arc, because the Spector story is about "as American as cherry pie." Maybe the trial didn't have to get weird because Phil Spector's whole life has always been weird enough.

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