Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Father Is The Child To The Man: The Teddy Bears: "To Know Him Is To Love Him"

To write about some people takes a certain amount of guts. To write about Phil Spector (this is the first entry where he appears; I'm sure it's one of several, in various ways) is to look right into the eyes of death, of violent death, from the beginning unto the end. I can't flinch, I can't not know where this story ends; the best I can do is start at the start, at his first hit record, which was #2 here and #1 in the U.S.

It is an eerie song; in some ways the scariest love song I have ever heard - inspired by the inscription on his father's gravestone, in fact. (Spector's father killed himself when young Harvey Philip was a child.) The Teddy Bears (the poignance of that name says a lot no matter how you look at it) were Phil Spector, Marshall Leib, Annette Kleinbard, with Sandy Nelson on the drums - all went to Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, so this is a teenage record that is mournful and loving and nearly scary. (In the U.S. the previous #1 was "Tom Dooley," which is also a song about death...) Leib and Spector hum and harmonize in the background while Klienbard's sweet and sincere voice sings about her longing to be beside him, how his smile makes her life worthwhile, and then this line pierces through:

"Some day he will see that he that he was meant for me, oh"

and that see is a high note of such open pain and profound loss that you know she really is hung up on this boy; or that the near-man is taking his grief and changing it to be a pop song because that is the way forward for him. (The utter loyalty and dismay in this song are deep and I think only Elvis could have approached Kleinbard's ability to get them across.) I sometimes have wondered if this isn't also a plea from Spector to the world to love him, to respect him; that no matter how big a song can be, no matter how intense, it cannot in the end fill whatever hole was created. That the Teddy Bears had a transatlantic hit and yet saw almost no money from it compelled Spector to become much more ambitious and controlling than perhaps he would have been; so this is the head (or tail) of a snake that needs some pondering. It is a lovely song, but at what costs?

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