Spector / Hopper
These days, nobody talks about him. I hardly ever listen to the string of epic records he made in the 1960s, and I once wrote a book about him. He’s nine years into a 19-year sentence for second-degree murder, and currently being held at a prison hospital in Stockton, California. He’ll be 88 when he comes out.
So there he was this afternoon, hanging on a wall in Somerset House at this year’s Photo London exhibition, immortalised by his friend Dennis Hopper in 1965.
Back in the days when Phil Spector was making his classic records at the Gold Star studio in Los Angeles, Hopper, who had acted with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, was one of those who sometimes dropped by. Spector always liked an audience.
“We hit it off right from the beginning, hanging out at Canter’s, chasing girls,” Hopper told Mick Brown, the author of Tearing Down the Wall of Sound, the definitive Spector biography. Hopper was also pursuing a side-career as a photographer, and after attending the sessions for “River Deep — Mountain High” he shot the cover photo for Ike and Tina Turner’s only Philles album.
In 1967 Spector became involved in a Hopper film project, The Last Movie, which collapsed the following year (and was revived and completed in 1970). In 1968 he played a coke dealer in the era-defining Easy Rider, written by Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern, produced by Fonda and directed by Hopper. The Christmas following the movie’s release, Spector sent his friends a card featuring a still from his scene and the motto “A little snow at Christmas never hurt anyone…”
Hopper’s photograph of Spector laughing maniacally — blurred so that it looks oddly like one of Francis Bacon’s screaming Popes — catches him at his peak. Or just after it, actually. 1965 was the year of the Ronettes’ “Born to be Together”, the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” and Tom Wolfe’s essay for the Sunday magazine of the New York Herald Tribune, “The First Tycoon of Teen”. It was the year after the matchless triumph of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”, the year before the crippling debacle of “River Deep”.
The framed gelatin silver print is being offered by the Johannes Faber gallery of Vienna. It’s yours for £16,000.
* Photo London ends on Sunday, May 20.
In the late 1980s or early 1990s, Don Covay was hired to play the opening of Tony Schifrazi’s (sp?) gallery, I was the guitarist and musical director for the band. The audience was hoi polloi, models and hustlers of all sorts. At one table sat Phil Spector and Dennis Hopper.
About half an hour into our set, two men (not Spector/Hopper) were dancing with the same supermodel, competitively. One stuck his hand in a place where he shouldn’t and they started going at it. Soon a huge fight broke out involving the whole dancefloor, Don Covay yelled “Hold the groove!” and quickly exited the stage.
Best, Jon Tiven
Jon — Such a great story. “Hold the groove!” — song title, album title, epitaph? (And I bet Spector made it out of the club before Covay.) Best to you, too — Richard.
Lovely, Richard. Out of his head, indeed.
Excellent post and fascinating as always. Remember we were having lunch near the Guardian office when news broke of Spectors arrest on the restaurant radio? (Excuse lack of apostrophe. Can’t find it on this key pad). Chris
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Thank you for this thoughtful blog post, inspired by a photograph. I will add Tearing Down the Wall of Sound to my list of books to read about American musical history…
have you heard about this new Dennis Hopper movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGXol1CI26k