So, we have yet another tragic mass killing — this one in Atlanta. As of press time, there were eight killed, seven Asian-American women and one Caucasian male who was in the wrong place at the time . The killer was, of course, a man who was clearly insane, but who had easy access to guns…
It was a tale of horror…and one made all the more horrific by the fact that it could have been so easily prevented.
It just so happened that when the story broke, I was working on a piece about another murder, another “femicide,” another tragedy…. I will post the story here, today, because I think there is some connection. I fear there is a common thread.
A Tragic Connection
I began to write the piece shortly after I read that Phil Spector had died in prison of complications from Covid. He was, of course, the record producer who earned a fortune with his work in the music industry, and then…murdered a woman in his palatial home in Alhambra, California.
Spector’s death was a three-day wonder, of course. He was a celebrity, and when celebrities die …particularly in such pathetic circumstances…we pay attention.
Yet, two things bothered me about the reportage. First, and most important, the news stories tended to ignore the woman who was his victim, Lana Clarkson, whose story was also tragic, and whose death was so undeserved. Second, and less important in a human sense…but maybe more in a social…they did not talk about how Spector became a murderer, and whether, frankly, the killing could have been prevented.
Let me take each of those things in turn.
Lana Clarkson (1962-2003) was an actress and a model, who could have (I gather) gone far. I never saw any of the movies she was in, but at least from what I’ve read, she was not untalented. It was just that things didn’t work out for her, at least in the time she had.
According to Wikipedia and IMDB, she appeared in a number of bit parts in larger films, and then fell into a career as…well…the sexual interest in a number of B-movies, particularly done with the legendary Roger Corman. Most of these were “direct-to-video” projects meant for young males. There was, in other words, a lot of nudity involved, and more than a little fake blood.
Then, as she moved into her thirties, the studios lost interest in her. Gradually, she found it increasingly difficult to (here quoting her Wikimedia entry) “to make ends meet.” As a result, she took a job as a “VIP Host” at the House of Blues in West Hollywood.
On February 2, 2003, Phil Spector entered the restaurant. He was there with a date, but he quickly ditched that individual and went after Clarkson. She went home with him.
The next morning, Clarkson was found dead in a chair in Spector’s palatial home. She had been shot in the mouth.
We will never know exactly what happened the night she died, but it is clear that somewhere along the line Spector introduced a gun into whatever they were doing. Apparently (horribly) he forced it into her mouth. And, somehow, it went off.
And thus, in a single dreadful moment, she …who had appeared in so many horror movies…found herself actually living, and dying, in one.
I’ll spare you all the details of subsequent legal battle. Suffice to say that there were trials and re-trials, and only after years of courtroom drama, in 2009, was Spector finally convicted of second degree murder. He was sentenced to 19 years. That is, of course, an irrelevant detail given his subsequent death.
There is much I could write here. I talk about how unjust it was that it took years to gain something like justice for Clarkson. I could talk about how the system is rigged so that wealthy people…yes, white males…can literally get away with murder. I could talk about the great sadness of this story, that is, of a young woman who might have done so much more, but whose life was tragically cut short by a man with a gun.
Or maybe I should leave this section blank. Maybe I should leave it open…a blank space…in which feminist writers may speak instead, and discuss the ways in which, alas, being a woman in a patriarchy is so very, very horribly dangerous.
One thing I will say, however, is that there is something truly horrible about the fact that Clarkson is little remembered now…except in so far as her name is linked to that of her killer.
That is so unfair…and so dreadfully sad.
But I said that I also want to say something about Spector. He, too, is a tragedy, of course. He was, it seems, a genuine musical genius who basically remade his industry.
However, as near as I can tell, it was known widely, and for years, that he was not mentally well. His father committed suicide when he was a child. His mother was said to be abusive. He married, and remarried, and his ex-wives … and ex-girlfriends…let it be known that he was abusive in turn.
Musicians with whom he worked said that he had, on occasion, threatened them…
He was widely known to own guns…and to be obsessed with them.
Then, in 1974, he was in a near fatal car crash which may have left him, it seems, with some sort of brain injury. Moreover, there is evidence that Traumatic Brain Injury is, indeed, linked to aggressive behavior and angry outbursts.
To put it all another way…
Long before his encounter with Clarkson, he was flying large red flags from every possible vantage point. Everyone who knew him would have seen that he was eventually going to do something horrid. It was only a matter of time.
Yet no one did anything about it.
And eventually, inevitably, a woman died.
Oddly, this is not to entirely fault Spector’s friends and associates. Toward the end, he didn’t seem to have any of them. Or not many, anyway. I’ve read that by then he’d become an absolute recluse, who had few contacts with other humans.
You cannot, then, hope for an intervention if there is no one to intervene.
We live in an age now in which isolation seems ever more the norm.
There was a time when we all lived in extended families, and in small communities. Often, that was a bad thing. No one escaped surveillance. I heard it once referred to as the “fish bowl of small town life.” And thus, it could hard to be eccentric, or even, frankly, an individual.
But, then…we fractured. The extended family was replaced by the nuclear one, and, in recent years, that in turn was divided as well. We are now, for want of a better word, subnuclear. Even in large cities and suburbs, many of us live, now, in the strange anonymity of the crowd.
And, I fear, that fact has made tragedies like the death of Ms. Clarkson all too likely and all too lonely.
What is the alternative? I don’t know. I’m enough of a libertarian (and an introvert) to shudder at the idea of some government or community agency that would take the place of the family and circle of friends we once possessed…which would keep an eye on us, and intervene if it seemed we were in trouble. I shudder at that because I know that it would begin with good intentions and end… you know where.
An aside, if you haven’t already encountered the term, look up “Panopticon” sometime. Then, envision it automated…with the kind of algorithms that already deny us jobs and loans and all the rest of it, and which do not even realize that they are biased.
There HAS to be something. There has to be some alternative to isolation. There has to be some way that the solitary among us can know solace, and the vulnerable know protection.
I have no idea how that could be done. I honestly don’t. But, I think we need to find a way. We need to somehow institutionalize human responsibility, empathy, and the morality of intervention…when it is needed. We need, somehow, to go beyond a toxic form of individuality and discover, somewhere, our shared humanity…
A humanness which is tolerant of eccentricity, even of a fine madness…
But sees peril where it is.
And reacts accordingly.
For otherwise, alas…
The lonely death, the tragic end, the promising life ended all too soon….
Will remain all too common.
And all too horrible.
Until next time…
Onward and Upward.
Aggression after Traumatic Brain Injury: Prevalence & Correlates, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2918269/
Phil Spector’s death resurrects mixed reaction from skeptics
By JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr.
5 Artists Reportedly Held at Gunpoint by Phil Spector
BY Bill DeMain
Why Did Phil Spector Kill Lana Clarkson? The Convicted Murderer Has Died at Age 81
By Leila Kozma
Caution: contains disturbing photos.
Murder of Lana Clarkson