COLUMN FORTY-SEVEN, JULY 1, 1999
(Copyright © 1999 Al Aronowitz)
A LEGENDARY NIGHT: PHIL SPECTOR'S FUCK-YOU-FUCK-YOU-FUCK-YOU PARTY
(Photo by Bob Gruen)
[Because of the monumental ineptitude and incompetence of Comp USA's computer technicians (as described in Column Forty-Six), we are far behind in schedule and consequently are forced to offer an abbreviated Column Forty-Seven.
The following piece was rejected by the editors of Rolling Stone and of Playboy.]
One high point of the night for me was when I found myself standing face-to-face with the legendary Sir Paul McCartney. To be face-to-face with Paul once again gave me a thrill I hadn't experienced since I years ago found myself standing face to face with Barbra Streisand, a thrill which made me feel silly at the time. Although Barbra has one of the most beautiful voices the world has ever heard, her taste ought to get flushed down the toilet. As for Paul, he didn't even recognize me after all these years.
"Hi, Paul," I said, extending a hand, and then I reminded him:
"I'm Al Aronowitz."
"Oh, Al ARONOWITZ!" he exclaimed, his face breaking into his still-boyish grin as he took my hand and shook it. "How ARE you? How've you beeeen""
That was pretty much the extent of our conversation. I had just come down the elevator from Suite 37A in the Waldorf Towers as part of the entourage led by Phil Spector, himself a legendary figure. In fact he's several legendary figures. Not only is he renown as the bad boy of the music business but also as a mad genius of a musical artist who took words off his father's gravestone to launch a career as a millionaire record producer. Mad? He's absolutely nuts! Certainly as crazy as I've ever been. He's so paranoid, he's won himself an added reputation as the Howard Hughes of the music business.
As Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in Salon magazine, Phil "remains the classic 20th century pop-genius madman. . . as famous for being a show business kook as he'd ever been for being a producer. Gothic stories of drugs and vicious guard dogs and bodyguards spilled out from his Hollywood mansion. Spector took to wearing a gun on his hip. . ."
Yeah, and I've been told he wasn't a bad shot, either. He still keeps a bodyguard, but I've seen no evidence that he still packs heat. More recently, he has dedicated his life to collecting not firearms but royalties, and he hangs out mostly in the shadowed periphery of the music business.
These are the grown-up days of rock and roll. Possibly, it's not so easy for a middle-aged, autocratic millionaire music tycoon to seduce naive, fresh and young talented performers any more. That is, not so easy as it was when Phil was an autocratic teen music tycoon in the juvenile days of rock and roll. Possibly, today's fresh and young talented performers aren't naive enough any more. Possibly, fresh and young talented performers are not so easily awed by a dictatorial producer who insists on doing things his way. Not even if his way has been proven right time and time again by the great success he has achieved.
A WALL OF SOUND
A WALL OF SILENCE
Today, Phil seems to hang in the darkness circling the round, bright,
pinpointing glare of the spotlight. But then, out of the spotlight is where he's always
done his best work, operating in the shadows, behind the scenes, pulling the strings like
a master puppeteer. Is it that Phil doesn't relish scrutiny anymore? He doesn't seem to be
the publicity hound he used to be. Once famous for his "Wall of Sound," he's now
famous for his "Wall of Silence." And his friends and associates have become
bricks in that wall, protecting him from journalists like me who want to know such things
as who is the mother of his teen daughter. I've always considered Phil a friend but
everyone close to him clams
up when I start to ask personal questions about Phil. And Phil hardly talks to me any
I'd been after Phil for an interview since I started writing my monthly BLACKLISTED
JOURNALIST column. After all, I'd considered him a friend for so many years. But time after time, he responded too my entreaties with nothing but silence. So his invitation to this party in Suite 37A came as a welcome surprise.
And yet, weeks after the party, when I started writing this story, I phoned him and then faxed him to check on some of the details. But he never called me back. Is it that Phil's sick and tired of being forced into the spotlight? Is it that he's sick and tired of always being the life of the party? Then why'd he throw this million-dollar bash?
For me, Phil has always been the life of any party that he and I have both been at. Which is why I used to look forward to hanging out with Phil. With Phil and George. I forget George's last name. I have it written down somewhere, but I forget where. When I went to L.A. we were sometimes a threesome, me, Phil and George, Phil's bodyguard and constant companion. George never let Phil out of his sight. George is retired now and Phil has a new bodyguard, Jay Romaine, an ex-LAPD detective sergeant, whom you'll currently find always at Phil's elbow. Jay even lights Phil's cigarettes. When, at one point, I took out a pack of matches to light Phil's cigarette, Jay beat me by a mile with a magical flick of his lighter. I always try to keep a pack of matches in my pocket in case I need a bathroom deodorizer. I quit smoking everything more than 10 years ago.
Otherwise, you should see how smoothly Jay stepped between Phil and an oncoming woman. The woman, something of a bombshell with a short fuse, was in an obviously agitated state. Possibly she was one of Phil's ex-squeezes and more than possibly she was a little tipsy. This is something that happened later that night, toward the end of the party up in Suite 37A. And what a party! Certainly what a party for Phil to be the life of again! Why did a legendary recluse like Phil Spector want to open himself up to so many people by throwing a bash like this? To which he invited practically everybody attending The Fourteenth Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner in the Waldorf's main ballroom 37 floors below?
Actually, I'm told, it was Allen Klein's party. Allen, who is Phil's "manager" (as if Phil can ever be "managed"), throws a party like this on the occasion of every Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner, at least in recent years. This year's bash proved so noteworthy that Entertainment Weekly used an item about Phil to lead off its report on the Induction Dinner in the magazine's HEAR AND NOW column, which reports on the music beat.
According to HEAR AND NOW, the dinner "was such a spirited love-feast that even the mercurial Phil Spector was being playful. Three journalists descended on the legendarily temperamental producer, tape recorders and pens poised. Rather than turn tail, Spector flashed a chicken-eating grin and asked, 'Is there gonna be a fight now?'"
The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Dinner was never much of an attraction for me. I consider the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pretty much a self-serving creation of Rolling Stone magazine and so I've ignored the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just as Rolling Stone magazine continues to ignore me. My reasoning is similar to that of the surviving Beatles when they ignored their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. They didn't want Rollinq.Stone or its publisher to have any part of owning the film footage of Paul, George and Ringo back together again for the first time since John's senseless murder. But Sir Paul was ready, willing and able to be present at this induction ceremony. Tonight, he was becoming a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as himself, in his own right, not as a Beatle. Who decides who's going to become a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, anyway?
In the days when I was maybe one of the most powerful pop columnists in the world, I hobnobbed with, interviewed or wrote about practically everyone who was anybody among the elite attending tonight's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner. But no editor has seen fit to publish me for 27 years, so, obviously, I'm not as important as I used to be. Certainly not important enough ever to have gotten credentials to attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner.
along with the Rolling Stones
and Otis Redding
Not until now. Phil himself is an enshrined member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Phil was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, along with Dion, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Ink Spots, Bessie Smith, and the Soul Stirrers, many of whom I'd long ago met or interviewed or otherwise hobnobbed with. And now, old friend Phil Spector had done me the favor of inviting me to hobnob once again with the Rock elite.
When I first arrived at Suite 37A, I had no idea that Phil's invitation to the party was also an invitation to crash the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner. Crash? It didn't even occur to me until long afterwards that Phil had his own table or two in the main ballroom with maybe a few empty chairs at it. Anyway, I preferred to stick close to Phil because I was there under his aegis. Besides, as the life of the party, he's always the star attraction. Phil puts on a great show, one I found much more interesting than the entertainment onstage.
It was shortly after nine when Ida and I arrived at the Waldorf in Ida's 1997 gold Saturn, with me at the wheel. The stretch limos of the superstars and of the music company big shots attending the dinner inside the Waldorf all but blocked Park Avenue in front of the hotel, with a line of them double parked around the corner on 50th Street. To avoid this limolock, I drove past the Waldorf and turned right at 52nd. Because there were plenty of spaces available on 52nd between Third and Second at that hour of the night, that's where I parked. It was with breathless anticipation that Ida and I walked the five and a half blocks to the Waldorf entrance on Lex and then through the block-long lobby of the hotel to the Waldorf Towers elevators.
Up in Suite 37A, Phil was standing with his lawyer buddy, palimony pioneer Marvin Mitchelson. To me, Phil always looks mischievous and elfin, like a cartoon character with magical powers. In Suite 37A that night, someone (I don't think it was Ida) told me that Phil looked for all the world like Jimminy Cricket in a white suit, with a red AIDS bow on his left lapel.
Except for the hat. Jimminy wears a hat. Phil has his well-coifed dark hair cascading down the back and sides of his head toward his shoulders. He's starting to get on in years, but he still looks like the kid who wrote To Know Him Is To Love Him. Those were the words Phil took off the gravestone of his father, who'd been so possessed of demons that he committed suicide when Phil was eight. Writers through the years have taken pains to mention Phil's "own private bête noire---his hyperkinetic, insomniac energy; his doomed love affairs; his family's legacy of mental illness. . ."
He greeted me with an embrace. People have told me all sorts of denigrating things about Phil. For instance, singer-songwriter Josh Alan Friedman has written a story about a thinly disguised Phil and wife Ronnie, called "Bonnie" in Josh's story. In it, Ronnie reveals intimate details to the author, who claims he was Ronnie's boy friend for a time following her breakup with Phil. Intimate details such as what would happen when Phil would leave for London.
". . .We would sleep together over the phone---not talking, but keeping the phone line open on our pillows all night, so he could hear me breathe. Once he paid off a doctor to put my leg in a cast when nothin' was wrong, so I had to stay in a wheelchair for weeks. His jealousy got crazier as he became impotent. By then he had me in my little pixie Santa getup, crawling along the floor on a dog leash, makin' me bark on command."
Josh describes himself as having been Ronnie's "Ponce," the title of Josh's story and a word that, Josh says, describes a fading rock diva's guitar player, consort, escort, toy boy and bodyguard. (You can read the story in Column Thirty-One.) Born Ronnie Bennett, she married Phil when she was leader of the Ronettes, that not-so-bygone singing threesome, whose records, produced by Phil, "beckoned with a finger snap and thumped like a heartbeat," as Mary Elizabeth has written. The Ronettes were among the first girl groups to really sing like bitches in heat. They let guys know that they wanted it. But it was Phil who put the words in their mouths and taught them how to shake their asses vocally.
The way Ronnie tells it, she wasn't Phil's wife so much as she was his prisoner. She says he kept her locked up in his mansion, located in Bel Air actually, not Hollywood. Along with her two sister Ronettes, she recently made headlines with a lawsuit against Phil for $10 million for breach of contract, loss of earnings and ownership of the Ronettes' original recordings. The suit, which took 11 years to come to trial, is one of an outbreak of such lawsuits by "victimized" performers in the wake of a 1991 Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that two Nashville record labels owed $1.2 million in back royalties to several acts, including the Shirelles.
Most of these lawsuits are the work of former music agent Chuck Rubin, who created the New York-based Artists Rights Enforcement Corporation in the 1980s to provide legal referrals and to support artists (such as the Ronettes) seeking back royalties. Not a lawyer but an investigator, Rubin tracks down old contracts and master tapes and has become the guiding light for all those '50s and '60s rock heroes who feel they got gypped. According to Rubin, "it was the exception to the rule if they were paid." He paints Phil as a Simon Legree. But I can't help but respect Phil's artistic and psychic powers. I've known all kinds of madmen in the music business.
Rubin, who gets a cut of whatever monies are recovered, has so far worked with more than 200 artists. An article in Britain's Guardlian reported:
... Unlike any other unpaid royalties case, the Ronettes trial has become a cause
célèbre, attracting throngs of girl group fans sitting in court to offer support (not to mention starstruck court officials dropping their guard and asking for
autographs). From day one, it took on a life larger than the amount of money at
stake. It has become a potent symbol of the exploitation of all '60s girl groups at the hands of Svengali managers who plucked them from obscurity,
manufactured them, put words into their mouths and then left them hanging.
The Ronettes were the first of the great girl groups and their teased, mile-high hairdos and honey-dripping voices spawned a slew of all-girl acts. They were typically working-class teens, with fantastically retro names: the Shirelles, the Shangri-Las, the Chiffons, the Orlons. And while they sang on stage about running off with the leader of the pack, off-stage their brilliant, boy-wonder producers---Phil Spector, George Morton, Berry Gordy---were pulling all the strings, packaging the girls, hiring songwriters, producing hits and orchestrating
images . . .
You can read the full Guardian report at
http://www.smh.com.au/news/9807/16/text/features1.html. I'm well aware that Phil knows how to play dirty like most everybody else in the music business---or in any other kind of business, for that matter. But I, for one, truly do like and admire Phil, as a man, as an artist and as an extremely colorful though complex and highly flawed character---just like me and just like all the even greater mad-genius-artists I have known. They were and are characters, every one of them---and Phil ranks with the most gifted of them. Yeah, Phil's one of the world's great characters. To tell the truth, I'm proud I know Phil. Even if a monster, he's one of my favorites.
Not much was
when we first
With the rest of the heavy hitters still downstairs at the Hall of Fame
dinner, not much was
happening at the bash in Suite 37A when Ida and I first got there. In one side room, a sumptuous buffet beckoned from a long, well laden and artistically arranged table. On another table behind it was a devastating array of desserts.
In an adjoining and much more spacious party room, petit fours, cookies, nuts and various other delicacies shoved themselves at us from every table top and from every other surface, for that matter. There was nothing missing except maybe cashews. And maybe some of the guests. With hardly anyone there yet, Ida and I found only scattered conversations in the room, at the far end of which a waiter, standing behind a table improvised as a bar, made sure to wrap each glass in a paper napkin as he handed drinks to guests.
Inside this room, Ida and I headed for the empty seats at an oasis of couches and chairs grouped around a coffee table. There were already several men seated at this nest, some of them in black ties and tuxes. Many other guys already in Suite 37A were also wearing black ties and tuxes. I was dressed in my Stetson (the one with the "bullet hole" in the brim), plus one of my most colorful Western shirts. I was also wearing a suede jacket, black jeans and my ratty and scuffed black Rockport ProWalkers---an obvious tipoff to anybody in this famous millionaire hangout that I'm just a poverty-stricken guy living on a monthly Social Security check.
There were lots of blondes at the party. To me, they were all trying to look like Linda McCartney, Sir Paul's late and lamented, a woman of powerful energy. The Linda Look-Alikes were mostly all got up in low-cut gowns with lots of flesh peeking out their décolletage, but not a single nipple was to be seen. Sometimes I just sat and looked out the windows at the panorama of Manhattan's skyline at night, but I preferred looking at the décolletage.
As I said, Ida and I made ourselves at home in the most comfortable nest of overstuffed sofas. Ida is a retired fourth and fifth-grade elementary school teacher. She has bright red hair that she is proud to say comes out of her scalp and not out of a bottle. The music business is uncharted territory for Ida, who recently told me she thought Mr. Tambourine Man became famous because Sammy Davis Jr. did a dance to it. Still, I find Ida to be an asset when I take her to parties like this. She immediately started yapping with the young woman sitting on an opposite couch.
Who turned out to be Phil's teen daughter, Nicole. It was Nicole who was to give me my first clue that all I had to do was take the Waldorf Towers elevator down to the ground floor and I would be at the Hall of Fame Induction Dinner.
Gloriously gotten up in a mandarin collared gown of black silk, the bottom flowered with
long-stemmed red blossoms, her dark hair neatly coifed above her, her face painted to perfection, her shoulders covered by her full-length black velvet cape, her hands covered by her short-length black velvet gloves, Nicole was the belle of the ball. Sometimes, she impressed me as a charming young woman of college age. Sometimes, still charming, she seemed younger, like a kid who wants to put on lipstick and dress up like her mommy. Yes, I found Nicole to be delightfully disarming, but I forgot to ask who her mother was.
Charming also was good daddy Phil in his behavior toward his daughter. He was ever attentive to her and kept calling her over to introduce her to certain friends as they arrived. I wasn't one of the friends he introduced her to.
"You and your father have a loving and warm relationship," Ida told Nicole. "He's very attentive to you."
"Yes I believe so," Nicole replied, smiling.
Meanwhile, continually returning to her seat and sometimes engaging in
flirtatious exchanges with a handsome young man seated nearby, she said she preferred the
East Coast to the West Coast's "Hollywood phoniness." Evincing just a little
case of starstruckness about the big names downstairs, she kept talking about wanting to
see what was going on in the main ballroom. A short while later, she did get up and follow
Phil to do just that, but they both were back in Suite 37A before long. She was flushed
and excited and at the same time trying to act blasé about what she had seen downstairs
during her short visit to her father's table.
As I've already indicated, I'd already been after Phil for an interview. I'd bumped into him at the Blues Foundation dinner in L.A. for Jerry Wexler a few years ago and then more recently at the Blues Foundation dinner in L.A. for Ahmet Ertegun. Both times, Phil was hanging out in the in the periphery, in the shadows, leaning against a wall. In the usual music business show of affection, we bear-hugged each time. I even remember a symbolic kiss on the cheek. Phil also told me he loved me but he never did give me an interview. Now I consider he has made up for that by inviting me to this party. Truly a million-dollar bash, no matter how much it cost.
Bumping into Paul McCartney might've been one of the high points of the night for Phil, too. It seems to me I was there, in Allen Klein's office, when Phil first met the Beatles. If memory serves me right, Allen, then the Beatles' manager, had tried to make music history by enlisting Phil to collaborate with John, Paul, George and Ringo. Phil was to use his expertise to produce tracks with the Fab Four, applying Phil's "wall of sound" technique. And he did indeed put finishing touches on Let It Be. He also produced John Lennon's Instant Karma.
In the words of Mary Elizabeth, "The Wall of Sound was a musical mind-slam; it overloaded the auditory nerves with such sweepingly complex arrangements and such a barrage of instruments that it rendered the individual parts of the whole unrecognizable. Spector called his singles 'little symphonies for the kids,' but they were closer to opera. . ." In other words, Phil enveloped the listener in what proved to be sheer delight.
Phil has had lots and lots of hits. Which help account for a royalty income that allows him to live like a millionaire, because he is a millionaire. He was a millionaire when he was 20 and now he's a millionaire maybe many times over. Hits like Be My Baby or Da Doo Ron Ron or You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling. Bodyguard George must've retired with a nice pension and Bodyguard Jay probably gets paid a bundle for staying glued to Phil.
There's also Norma Kemper, who answers the telephone at Phil Spector International, and God knows who else is on Phil's payroll. When I started hanging out with Phil and George back in the old days, I remember being impressed by the size of Phi's huge mansion. There's no doubt about it. Phil is well fixed.
Yeah, I didn't mind crashing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner. I didn't mind crowding into one of those intimate Waldorf Towers elevators along with Phil and the rest of his entourage, including Phil's buddy, Marvin Mitchelson. An entourage which, of course, also included bodyguard Jay. And also another bodyguard, hired for this special occasion. I forget his name. Maybe Dan or was it Don? I think he said his last name was McKalan. I should have been taking notes.
McKalan was one helluva sweet, slight and handsome young man who didn't at all look like the NYPD detective sergeant he happened to be. Just as I found bodyguard Jay a groove to hang out with, McKalan was equally a gas.
There was also a mob of others crowded into the elevator, all eager for the opportunity to crash the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner. I didn't exactly know whom they all were but, packed in the elevator like a can of asparagus tips, they all congenially endured the trip down. There were so many of us in that tiny lift, we all felt a common relief upon hitting the ground floor. There, we all spilled out into a corridor that was just off-stage right in the main ballroom. A corridor where a fairly steady stream of men were walking from the ballroom to the men's room, just a few doors past the elevators on the right. Phil joined the parade and headed for the men's room as soon as he got off the lift. At that point, one of the men walking in from the main ballroom toward the men's room happened to be Sir Paul.
Phil welcomed the ex-Beatle at the bathroom door with the news that there was a line inside. Taken by surprise, Paul greeted Phil by throwing his arms around him in a music business bear hug. I witnessed this event from my position near the elevators. It was when Paul was on his way back to the main ballroom that I had my own encounter with him.
Afterwards, Phil did a takeoff on Paul, imitating Paul's scouse accent. Scouse is Liverpool's dialect:
"'Ow ya been? It's been a long time! Y'know I loov ya! Loov' me? He
hates my guts!"
That's why I enjoy hanging out with Phil. As I've already said, he always puts on a good show. He's not only full of laughs, but he always gives me something to write about. Otherwise, meeting Paul again was only one of the high points of the night for me. The highest point came when I went down in the elevator a second time with Phil and Jay and McKalan. Only the three of us. I just kept tailing Phil. He was my get-out-of-jail card for the night. When hotel security people stopped me to ask who I was, I just told them I was with Phil Spector. I didn't dare crash the dinner by myself.
Phil began a tour of the main ballroom that would take him along its periphery, up the left side of the ballroom, across the rear and down the right side. Along the way, I bumped into Lou Reed, who shook my hand but he didn't recognize me, either. Of course, Lou has never recognized me. Not since he skipped out on my management after I coaxed the Velvet Underground from a Lower East Side fifth-floor walkup and put them into the Café Bizarre, where I brought the beautiful Nico in to see them. Meanwhile, Phil kept tummeling with guys and gals at various tables as we passed by, inviting them all to his party in Suite 37A. He stayed for a while at the sound mixing table at the rear, joking with the audio technicians and inviting them to the party, too.
Yeah, he was putting on a show. Whether or not the show was for me, I didn't know but that didn't matter. Mad genius or just plain crazy, Phil's always good copy. I was so busy watching him, I can't even tell you who was onstage. At one point, we were in the midst of Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel coming offstage after their performances.
I'd met Bruce years ago when he was the opening act in a Boston club for a performer I was managing, but it was so long ago, Bruce would never remember me. Same with Billy Joel, whom I met when he was just beginning his career at a rock festival in Puerto Rico.
One person who had something to do with the show remembered me, though. He seemed to be ushering superstars onto and off the stage, and his hair had turned so white that I at first didn't recognize him, even though he looked as slim, trim, handsome and youthful as I'd always remembered him. He came out from the wings of the stage to grab my arm to say hello.
"Ron Delsener" he reminded me. The legendary rock concert promoter! Yes, another legend! I had a lot to talk to him about, but I had to keep following Phil. I had already made up my mind that I was going to write this story.
When I talked to Ron afterwards, he explained his presence backstage:
"I've known everybody for 36 years and my whole thing seems to be like I'm the 'host.' And when I come into a dressing room, I'm like the hurricane, I've got all that nervous energy and people just love it! They feed off it. And I love doin' it. I love the people in the business. The acts, a lot of them, get off on havin' fun. And I like to kid around with them, put 'em down, everybody likes to be put down.
"I always come into the dressing room and I say, 'You know what, that drum solo was terrific!' And the guy doesn't play drums, he plays the piano, so he thinks I wasn't listening to the show.
"He says, 'Delsener wasn't even listening to the show!'
"So, I play along with the gag. They like to hear the gag. And they like to hear me tell stories. Like Landau, Springsteen's manager, says, 'Remember you came into Springsteen's dressing room at the Garden and you said, "You should have plants in this room." And everybody goes, 'Oh, OK, plants!'
"So, I bring the plants in and they see a bill for plants at the end of the night on their settlement. So, they say, 'Oh, Delsener's selling plants again!'
"So, I play along with the joke. And the truth is I had plants in everybody's room. But they forgot to be put into Bruce's room, and that's part of the cost of the show, because you want to dress up the room, but Bruce didn't want them but I charged him for them anyway.
"So, it's fun! It's lively. I'm not someone hittin' on 'em, 'When is your next album coming out? Whyncha finish your album?' I don't do any of that stuff. I like to have fun. I like people to enjoy their life, cause they got enough pressure from their labels all the time.
"And that Hall of Fame was a great night. And Phil Spector is great! Phil is a terrific host, too. Phil can make you laugh. He's a talent! Unfortunately, I didn't go back to the room where all the parties were goin' on and I heard Bruce had a nice little party in his room, too. But I stay away unless I'm invited."
A music student
thanks Phil for
Meanwhile, when Phil got to a men's room on the right side of the
ballroom, a music student approached him, threw his arms around Phil and thanked him for
the beautiful sounds and inspirations Phil has given "not only to me but to the whole
world." Which is pretty much the way I feel about Phil, even though I've never really
told him so. So I'm telling him now.
With a charismatic aura that emanates from him like a force field that keeps people at arm's length, Phil still looks too young to be a character actor. But he's certainly a character! Slight and boyish in his white suit, Phil started out as the evening as a perfect charming host but he got worn down as the night progressed. Pretty soon the bash in Suite 37A turned into what rock archivist Michael Ochs described as "The Phil Spector 'Fuck-You-Fuck-You-Fuck-You-Party,' the one at which he graciously greeted everyone with that friendly epithet. It was good to know that Phil hadn't changed. And was still as Spectorish as ever. A Spector to behold!"
In the same men's room that the music student thanked Phil for all the beautiful sounds he has given the world, Phil bumped into the son of legendary disc jockey Alan Freed, enshrined as a posthumous member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Before long Phil was snarling at him:
"You're an asshole!"
At that point, Phil also got tired of me following him and said something to Jay, who said something to McKalan, who came back to me and said:
"Let's take a walk."
I can only guess what Phil didn't want me and the NYPD detective sergeant to witness. I've hung out with too many mad geniuses not to know that their moods swing as hard and fast as the doors of a Wild West saloon. McKalan and I made our way back to Suite 37A. There, Ida was "socializing" (she called it) with another ex-squeeze of Phil, an attractive dark-haired woman, who said she'd come up from Florida especially for this party. Ida didn't get her name and I have no idea which of Phil's ex-squeezes she was.
"We went together maybe four years," she told Ida. "We never got married because Phil wanted a pre-nuptial agreement and I wouldn't give him one."
Ida said the woman complained that men like Phil don't want to share their wealth. According to Ida, the woman declared:
"I'm not the type to wash, cook and clean for any man."
She told Ida she'd been previously married for 11 years; had no children and she "didn't want to go through that marriage bit again. I just wanted to get some fun out of life."
It was around then that the party began to accelerate. The festivities downstairs were drawing to a close and people started coming up from the main ballroom to Suite 37A in droves. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by faces of people I used to know. There was Allen Klein with his neatly combed silver hair and a red pocket-handkerchief in his black tux jacket pocket that matched the red border on his black bow tie. Allen always dresses immaculately. He's associated with Phil in various ventures that keep the pockets of the two of them bulging with royalties, and he was giving financial advice to Mick Rock, legendary photographer of the Rolling Stones and a well-known graphic designer friend of Phil.
"Allen Klein always gives the best parties," Mick told me
afterwards. "That's for sure! Certainly, they're the best of the Hall of Fame! They're
the best of any I've ever attended. That's because Allen gives the very best of parties.
Phil calls it Phil's parties, but Allen pays for it, believe me. In a sense it is Phil's
because Allen manages Phil. Allen looks after all of Phil's business. Listen, I know Allen
Klein for a long time and Allen Klein is a very kind man."
But not kind enough to return my phone calls afterwards.
"Notwithstanding what some people may say about him." Mick insisted. "I know Allen's an extremely kind man. I know from personal experience what Allen did for me in a moment of crisis---of big crisis! So I love Allen Klein. And you can quote me anytime anywhere. Some people don't necessarily understand. He's a tough businessman but he's a good guy to his friends. Big time."
Mick explained that when he was strapped for cash, he needed surgery and Allen played U.S. Cavalry.
"So I had a lot of fun at the party and Phil's always entertaining," Mick told me afterwards. He said he didn't take any photos of Phil that night "maybe because he was being a bit super-rambunctious, but he's always rambunctious. Oh, Phil can give people a hard time, but I know he's a good guy, too."
The Waldorf certainly gave us white glove service. Waiters went through the rooms carrying trays of drinks for whoever wanted one. The legendary Waldorf service lived up to its legend.
It wasn't long before I started seeing so many legendary people I used to know that I really couldn't get around to saying hello to all of them. I also didn't remember the names of all of them. There was John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful, whom I'd once likened to Stephen Foster in one of my Pop Scene columns. John and I were neighbors up in Woodstock for a while.
A beautiful woman
brightens up the room;
who is she?
And then there was this beautiful woman walking around whom at first
looked to me to be a young Faye Dunaway. The kind of woman who walks into a room and
brightens it up like sunlight. I knew I knew her but I couldn't remember in what context.
To me, she was one of the most beautiful women at the party.
I asked if her name were Faye and she said no. She turned out to be John Sebastian's wife, Kathryn, whom I used to know when I was out of my mind and selling cocaine in Woodstock. That's what coke will do to your memory.
And then I bumped into Bob Gruen, another photographer from the '60s. He was there with is old lady, Elizabeth Gregory, and with his camera, with which he kept snapping away. And then there was Ronnie Sunshine, who apparently has added viagara to his list of wares. God knows what else he had to sell. Otherwise, Ronnie drives a limo and can always be seen at the most exclusive Manhattan rock parties.
Yes, there was a mob of names, but was Phil disappointed by the fact that the heavy heavies didn't show? Not the superstars like Sir Paul or Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel or their managers and agents and not the record company presidents whose stretch limos were blocking 50th Street.
No, I didn't see any drugs at the party. Hopefully, all of us old-time cocaine idiots have wised up by now. And I didn't smell a whiff of pot in the air the whole night, either. And I ought to know what pot smells like.
When I bumped into Michael Ochs, I told him I think I was in the stretch limo when Bob
Dylan kicked Mike's late brother Phil out of the car and I could never figure out why. Mike, who said he'd just had an operation that left him with perfect vision without the need of his eyeglasses, told me what brother Phil told him. That Bob asked what did Phil think of Bob's Blonde on Blonde. According to Michael, when Phil's answer was that he thought some of it was genius and some of it was filler, that's when Bob threw him out of the stretch.
As the party reached its climax and host Phil Spector started growling
"Fuck you!" at
everybody, Ida apparently ran into the same tipsy woman who came at Phil and had to be
blocked by Jay. This happened in a dressing room while Ida was waiting her turn for the
"She was wearing a low-cut black dress," Ida said "and she looked like she'd been poured into it. She was the kind of dark-haired beauty everyone notices."
Although Ida tried not to look at her, Ida remembered that her face seemed "very
Did I say this woman was a bombshell?
"I'm gonna blow them all up!" the woman told Ida, who was looking into the mirror fixing her red hair. "The woman kept herself from falling down by leaning against the wall next to the mirror. She was drunk or stoned or something."
"I'm gonna blow them all up!" the woman said again.
And then, just in case she hadn't gotten Ida's full attention, she said it once more:
"I'm gonna blow them all up!"
By then, the two other persons in the dressing room, a man and a woman, had fled. Ida was getting nervous and wished she'd walked out with them.
"I'm not really gonna do that," the woman added after she was sure she had Ida's attention.
"And I won't blow you up. You're all right! You're listening to me."
Ida remembers she wanted to cool things by engaging the woman in conversation, so she
asked the woman what kind of work she did.
"She was an assistant manager of so-and-so, I forget what," Ida remembered. "All the
women I met there that night told me they were assistant managers of something."
"You must be very good at what you're doing," Ida told the woman.
'You have to fuck
every time you want
to get ahead'
"No, not really," the woman said. "You have to fuck every
time you want to get ahead."
At that point, Ida took advantage of the other couple's return to announce:
"I have to go to the toilet now."
Later, as we were leaving, both Ida and I saw the woman again. She was being helped down the stairs to the Waldorf exit, apparently by two hotel security men.
By the end of the night, Phil was snarling his fuck yous at almost everybody coming up to him to say good night. Ida later told me:
"I had a great time at the party but I felt sorry for such a wonderful person to be so unhappy after having achieved such wonderful success."
Phil was calm and friendly and charming when Ida approached him.
"It was a great party and I had a wonderful time," she told him.
He beamed a beatific smile at her and said:
"Thanks for coming. I'm glad you could make it."
As for me, first I said goodnight to Phil's bodyguards, telling them how much I enjoyed being with them. I'd already decided that I'd write this story as a thank-you note to Phil. How did I say goodnight? I had to circle him before I could find the right moment. Jay was standing next to him as I approached and I could feel Phil's force field letting me know there would be no farewell bear hug. Was he pissed off at me for tailing him? But I'd had a good time and I was in a playful mood.
"Fuck you!" I joked with a laugh and left. ##
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