Phil Spector sentenced to 19 years to life


Spector's 2004 mugshot.

Almost 30 years after a deranged Phil Spector held Dee Dee Ramone at gunpoint and demanded that he play the same bassline for over an hour, after a tragedy at his Los Angeles home that left a 40 year old hostess dead, after months and months of hung juries and mistrials, the fabled record producer was convicted last month and, on Friday afternoon, handed a sentence of 19 to life.

For the frail, 69 year old eccentric, this almost certainly means that the story that began in the Bronx in 1939 will end behind bars in a California State Prison.

The song that won't age-- The Ronettes perform "Be My Baby" live in 1965. Phil Spector wrote and produced the song. Over the weekend, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison for murder.

Spector's Wall of Sound and his flawless knack for arrangement all but invented, from the whole cloth, a vocabulary for popular music that, while other trends have come and gone, is still in use today.

But despite dizying achievments,  Phil Spector has always been an eccentric, often fearsome presence in the music world. Inspiration to people like Brian Wilson and George Harrison, he was perpetually haunted, driven forth by a fierce spirit of competition, sharpened by his own fears of failure and worthlessness.

Was it the 1974 car crash that sent Spector from being an eccentric recluse to a dangerous, deranged menace? Who can say. But, after the mysterious shooting death of club hostess Lana Clarkson in Spector's Los Angeles home almost five years ago, after perplexing amd suspicious behavior with officers on the scene, and a long history of erratic, unpredictable behavior (often involving guns), he was formally charged with Clarkson's murder in 2005. A hung jury and a retrial later, Spector now faces the most ignominious end imaginable for someone who devoted his energies to such beautiful endeavors-- a prison burial.

You can fault us for being especially sensitive to the tragedy Spector's life. He is, after all, a convicted murderer. Lana Clarkson is dead, and Spector lives. Rest assured, our sympathies for Spector don't run too deep.

But one can't deny the pity of such a delirious, beautiful history of music ending in such catastrophe. Consider this-- the year Spector killed Clarkson, a few thousand other men also became murderers. Their stories won't be sung, and their convictions, if they get noticed at all, won't elicit much sympathy.

But out of all those killers, one of them just happened to write "Be My Baby" as a young man. Even if we know we shouldn't, we can't help but sadly marvel at that ruined trajectory.