A confident-appearing older man looking at the interviewer beside the camera says:
“I envy the little old lady who sits in front of the T.V. and believes, holds her hand up to the screen and says Amen. Yes, I believe she is going to get to heaven, and believes in the hereafter. Yes, I very much envy her, and resent her, and am jealous of her.”
This man was speaking before he was convicted and sentenced to 19 years to life for second degree murder in California after two trials.
I thought of writing about this person just after seeing the very end of the 2008 (this is not a review) BBC TV documentary called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector. I knew that I wanted to say something about this man in relation to the theme of Catholic Stand, but was not quite sure what, then listening more carefully to his words led me to what I wanted to say.
What Could He Say That is Important?
We all have heard of people in deep trouble looking to God for help. Their situation seems to be just too grave for any method they have used before to solve. What group is in deeper personal trouble than convicted, or soon to be convicted, murders? What they say is going to appear bigger than someone who is not in this agony or near agony. The words from a person in a desperate situation can reveal some interesting truths about humanity in general, but actual incarceration is a better test.
As a Correctional Officer told me, some convert and honestly dedicate their lives to God. They often join together in prayer groups and are aided by some very dedicated chaplains. They are welcomed by the Correctional Officers because when they live what they have found, they are more manageable inmates. The actual truth of religious conversion is not always known, but can be clearly seen in some. Some profess not a religious but a social conversion, but the public or prison administration does not as often find that believable, as was the case for Tookie Williams who was executed in San Quentin in 2005.
Of course we all will judge for ourselves if we believe or not the very public comments from these people. In this case I do believe he was sincere, but, I don’t know if Spector would agree with my interpretation of what he has said; maybe in a few years he will.
I have only sympathy for Lana Clarksen’s (the murdered woman) loved ones and friends, they have lost an important person in their lives. I have no comments on Spector’s guilt or innocence, the jury decided that. I have no comments on his badness or goodness, you can do that. I was taken by a few words of his that are of interest to me as a Catholic. Do not take my commentary in a way that would be interpreted as a prediction of a particular future for his body, I do hope for redemption for his soul – both have been up to him.
Who Was This Man?
A little background for those who have not seen this documentary or even know anything about Phil Spector. He was a record producer of the Rock and Roll era that came up with some incredible music. He was a producer and not primarily a performing musician, but did write and play music. He labored over creating recordings with famous and briefly famous singers and groups like John Lennon, Tina Turner, The Crystals, and The Ronettes.
“Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound still stands as a milestone in recording history. It forever changed the art of record production and created some of rock’s best-loved and best-sounding music.” – Rolling Stone
How did he describe himself and his music?
Spector compared himself to Modigliani, Leonardo daVinci, and Michelangelo in the way they created art, Galileo in a way that Catholics expect to hear, “He had to suffer for his science.” He compared himself with Mozart and other great composers. He said that his sound was, “Wagnerian – it was big and very good.” His sound was I think accurately described by him as “big and good” but is the reference to Wagner more than just an admission that he adopted a feature of someone else’s music? He also understood an urban-legend (or is it?) saying that if he was convicted, “I’ll be in a jail with Bubba, six foot eight Bubba.”
What does all of this have to do with Catholicism or even Christianity?
“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” Catechism of the Catholic Church #27
To continue the opening quote of Spector:
“…..and am jealous of her, and wish I could believe that I could go with Phillip [his son who died of leukemia] to the thereafter, and believe he’s looking over me, and watching me, and believe that the jury will turn out for me, and I believe in god, god’s gonna look after me. As I told you before, when little Phillip died I may not believe in god, but I know there is a devil. I wish I believed, I wish to hell I believed.”
What I heard was this:
…..and am jealous of her, … …. .I………………I ……………………..me,…………me,………….me, ………….me……………I wish to hell I believed.
“The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it.”
“The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement—however beneficial it may be—such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love:…” Catechism of the Catholic Church #1718 & 1723
Spector had several lawyers at different times during the two trials and appeals, some famous names. We often use lawyers in anticipation of problems; to draw up a will or a contract. If only he had received the wisdom given to this lawyer before it was much too late:
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (RSV Luke 10:25-28)
Maybe this one final glimpse of vanity or desire or maybe pretense, will illustrate the direction we should not take. At the end of the video, as Spector is being driven away from the courthouse during his first trial, but eventually towards his future, we see the license plate on the car that reads – 1 (heart) PHIL.
© 2013. Howard Duncan. All Rights Reserved.