Like the lyrical ambiguity of the 1962 Crystals song from which this post takes its title, it's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at the unfolding Phil Spector trial.  Unfortunately, any laughter is akin to the nervous joking and grinning that a person might resort to after being diagnosed with a terminal disease.  It's the final acceptance of an unpleasant reality.

Regardless of my admiration for Spector's many achievements as a producer, there's no doubt that the guy is a total psycho.  There's a fine line between colorful eccentricity and insanity, and in Spector's case that line was crossed a long time ago.  He needs to be locked up and treated ASAP, either in a mental institution or a prison, before he inevitably causes more damage.

I fully understand that it's difficult for jurors to convict an individual when they're famous and sitting in front of you and the whole world is watching.  It's also absolutely true that all evidence must be carefully considered before making a decision to take away a person's freedom.  But in this case, the undecided jurors are completely missing the forest for the trees.  Quite simply, there are two mutually exclusive scenarios being presented: one plausible, and the other fictitious beyond any reasonable doubt.  All they need to do is pick the one that isn't preposterous.

What's more likely? That a person with a history of abusive behavior and chronic gun-waving would shoot Lana Clarkson by mistake (or in a struggle), or that Clarkson would, within minutes of meeting Spector, decide to pop over to his house and immediately commit suicide by shooting herself in the face with his gun?

The icing on the cake, of course, is Spector's own verbal admission to killing her on the night of the events.  But, according to the defense, that confession was caused by prescription-drug withdrawals.  That makes perfect sense.  Doctors often tell patients, when prescribing painkillers and sedatives, that they should expect to confess a murder or two once the prescription runs out.

At a minimum, Spector is guilty of reckless behavior and involuntary manslaughter.  However, it's looking more and more likely that he will either be set free, or get a mistrial, or get an appeal.  It seemed impossible to top the O.J. verdict in terms of ridiculousness, but we appear to be on track for a new world record.  Sadly, the United States continues firmly on its path toward Banana Republic status with a two-tiered legal system where your chances of getting away with breaking the law are proportional to how much money you have or who you know.

Perhaps the most important lesson learned from this and other celebrity trials is that, to paraphrase the Redskins song, we should take inspiration and enjoyment from people's achievements and ideas, but never make personal heroes out of anyone.  Every individual is fallible and flawed, and I see no contradiction between thinking that Spector is a disaster as a human being while simultaneously loving his Wall of Sound or A Christmas Gift for You.

And so, if only for a few minutes, let's put the court case out of our minds, close our eyes, and imagine a happier time when Spector was at the peak of his musical powers, using his influence for creative purposes.  We are at Gold Star Studios, Los Angeles.  It's 1963 and Spector is producing one of his little symphonies for the kids (an apt description if ever there was one).  Twenty-three takes have come and gone, and the track is taking shape under a provisional name.  Three girls are ready to sing the backing vocals onto what will become one of Spector's greatest classics.  Very quietly, let's sneak into the studio and listen to music history being made...

Posted on Sunday, September 23, 2007
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