May TK (Bloomberg) -- In the late 1960s, when his famed ``wall of sound'' was already going out of fashion, Phil Spector was sitting alone in his Los Angeles mansion -- isolated, alienated, paranoid, dysfunctional -- watching Orson Welles's ``Citizen Kane,'' who was in about the same shape in Xanadu.
``It was his favorite movie,'' Mick Brown writes in ``Tearing Down the Wall of Sound,'' a new biography of the tycoon of teen. ``Spector would play the film endlessly, weeping at the final scene, in which Rosebud -- the sled -- the symbol of childhood joy and innocence, is incinerated.''
Thus life imitates art in Hollywood.
A tsunami of anecdotes about the rich and famous fills this big book. Another good one is about how Spector became the creepy coke dealer in ``Easy Rider,'' which starred Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Fonda says Spector was asked to play the role because ``we knew we'd get his Rolls and Mac'' -- his chauffeur -- ``for free. But he also had a great look for the part.''
Good casting. Phil Spector has always been good at doing creepy. (He's currently out on $1 million bail on a murder charge; the trial is just beginning.)
Between 1961 and 1966, he produced monster hit after monster hit for groups like the Ronnettes, the Crystals and the Righteous Brothers. He called them ``little symphonies for the kids.'' The author compares them to ``the epic proportions of Wagnerian opera.''
Spector played both piano and guitar better than just well: He had a good ear, he loved to make music, and musicians liked him. His big problems were with just about everybody else, especially with his show-businessmen colleagues, whom he described as ``fat men with short arms and long cigars.''
Behind Tinted Windows
His career was full of comebacks. He came back to produce the Beatles album ``Let It Be,'' and then ``Imagine'' for John Lennon, ``My Sweet Lord'' for George Harrison, and a punk-rock album for the Ramones in the 1970s.
Between comebacks, he moped and schemed, lied and cheated, and drank gallons of cheap Manischewitz wine. He drank Manischewitz while cruising the Sunset Strip behind tinted windows in the back seat of his Rolls Royce. That's creepy.
Mick Brown is an exceptional journalist, his research is thorough, and his prose style is fun to read. This is a good yarn about a fascinating guy. Significantly more names, however, are dropped than are strictly necessary to tell the story.
Leon Russell played piano on Spector's early productions; Sonny Bono was once his gofer. His sister-in-law was ``going steady with a lawyer named Mitchell Geffen, whose younger brother David had ambitions to be in the music business.'' Golly. ``Tearing Down the Wall of Sound'' is an example of that peculiar state of mind that holds that writing 500-page books and producing bloated two-and-a-half-hour movies about the rich and the famous are, you know, ``heavy.''
The plot features an assortment of pistols pointed at a succession of young women, whom Spector, a serious control-freak, liked to lock in his bedroom. We meet an alarmingly pervasive network of Hollywood and Broadway hustlers. There are lawsuits galore, betrayed friendships, broken promises and $300 tips to waiters. Money, money, money.
He paid champion pool player Willie Mosconi a retainer of $175,000 a year to live in his mansion and be his teacher. ``He liked to sit with people who would draw attention, thereby drawing attention to himself.''
In addition to the juicy gossip he generated, we are led to believe that Spector was also a major creative artist. This is a stretch. Brown calls Spector ``the most successful producer in the history of pop music.'' He was a smart operator making barrels of money by devising a new sound for pimple-pop hits.
Not that there's anything wrong with money, hits or gossip. Only that the sum total of this rocky history of show-biz violence, power, greed, ego and vulgarity adds up to a celebration of our celebrity culture more than the penetrating overview it takes itself for.
``Tearing Down the Wall of Sound'' is published by Bloomsbury (502 pages, 18.99 pounds).