Decoding Mamet’s ‘Phil Spector’ Through a Lil Wayne/Strokes Lens
Photo: Phillip V. Caruso

Photo: Phillip V. Caruso

Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.

This past weekend was the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon. Remember Dark Side of the Moon? It’s what college kids got stoned and listened to before Radiohead’s OK Computer. I was a college student once, and I listened to it while stoned. I got as far as “The Great Gig in the Sky” before somebody had the amazing idea to order pizza. The last time I made a real effort to listen to Dark Side in its entirety was in the late ’90s, and that was just because of the Wizard of Oz experiment.

You’ve heard of this, right? If you play Dark Side while watching Wizard of Oz with the sound turned down, it apparently synchronizes perfectly. I tried it once, and it was mildly interesting. Sure, there are a few eerie coincidences. Dorothy and the Scarecrow skip down the yellow brick road just as Roger Waters starts singing “got to keep the loonies on the path.” The Munchkins dance seems vaguely choreographed to “Us and Them.” David Gilmour sings “look around” just as Dorothy looks over her shoulder. The cash register sounds that begin “Money” happen exactly as Dorothy walks from her house into the technicolor world of Oz. The examples go on and on. Even if the synchronicities are intentional — and the surviving members of Floyd have all denied that they are — I can’t muster the enthusiasm to care.

The way I see it, there are two problems with the Dark Side of the Moon/ Wizard of Oz experiment. First: the source material is embarrassingly old. We live in a culture of short attention spans. John Mayer is classic rock, and art is relevant only as long as it has a trending hashtag. You might as well suggest that people watch It Happened One Night while listening to the pro-rock classic The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Whatever, Grampa.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, an experiment like this needs a purpose. Finding synchronicities is a useless gesture unless it teaches us something. Dark Side tells us nothing new or surprising about Wizard of Oz, or vice versa. Neither my viewing nor listening experience is enhanced or enriched. What’s the point?

So I’ve attempted an experiment of my own. I got an advance copy of Lil Wayne’s I Am Not a Human Being II (which drops today), and listened to it while watching the new HBO docudrama Phil Spector, which premiered this past Sunday, on mute. It was my first viewing of the Spector movie, and I knew nothing about it, other than that almost everybody on the Internet thinks writer/director David Mamet was making an argument for Spector’s innocence. (Spector was convicted in 2009 of shooting actress Lana Clarkson in his home.)

Maybe that’s what Mamet intended, maybe it isn’t. Maybe Lil Wayne can shed some light on it. This experiment was conducted alone (everybody I know wanted to watch it with the original dialogue), and since all my former weed dealers are parents now, I had to make do with a bottle and a half of Trader Joe’s wine.

:01 In the Wizard of Oz version, you’re supposed to hit play on Dark Side when the MGM lion finishes its third roar. I’m not sure what the rules are here, so I hit play during the opening disclaimer. I can hear somebody, probably Wayne, lighting and inhaling what is probably a joint while Mamet (or maybe his lawyers) explains that the following is a “work of fiction.” It’s unclear whether Mamet is talking about Spector or Wayne’s album.

4:41 Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor are having an argument, and Lil Wayne just announced that he fucked a piano. Tambor looks upset, possibly because of the piano.

6:07 Tambor and Lil Wayne both laughed at the exact same time! That probably doesn’t count as a synchronicity, even to people who believe in synchronicities, but I’m mentioning it anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever listened this closely to Lil Wayne’s lyrics. The guy sure is fond of his penis.

15:35 Mirren walks by some stuffed owls in Spector’s creepy mansion and Wayne is rapping “Don’t duck, n***a cause I duck hunt.” That kinda counts, right? Or am I forcing connections?

17:23 Shit just got real. Phil Spector, aka Al Pacino, made his first appearance in the movie. He walks out of the shadows, and it’s more like a sluggish, Frankenstein Monster-esque lumbering. And what is Wayne rapping at that exact moment? “See me walking with a limp, that’s my gun walk/ That’s my gun walk, nigga that’s my gun walk.” Holy shit. Holy shit!

But what, if anything, does it mean? Let’s start by assuming that David Mamet was listening to Lil Wayne’s latest while writing the Phil Spector script. (Don’t try to point out the impracticality of this ever happening with math. Shut up!) And like Pink Floyd did with Wizard of Oz (despite their denials), Mamet directed his movie so that this lyrical couplet, loaded with significance, lined up perfectly with Spector’s introduction. What is he telling us? That Spector is exactly the gun-toting nut that we think he is? Or that Mirren, like the audience, has already decided that Spector is guilty before hearing any evidence? Judge not lest you be judged, or whatever. (MAN I wish I was stoned right now. This would totally make more sense if you and I were both sharing a one-hitter.)

18:03 Spector is walking away from his lawyer, smirking and giving her a dismissive wave. Wayne, summarizing the mood of the scene, raps “I ain’t got no worries! I ain’t got no worries!” Oh my God this guy is vain. Spector, I mean. Though now that you mention it, Wayne too.

22:23 Mirren is looking at Spector’s crazy wigs, and Wayne is rapping “She been contemplating short hair.” It doesn’t really add anything to my thesis, other than proving that I’m COMPLETELY RIGHT and that David Mamet is the biggest Lil Wayne fan in the universe.

29:04 “Two rights don’t make a wrong,” Wayne raps like the chorus of a Greek tragedy. “Three rights make a left.” To prove Wayne’s point, Spector gestures to his left hand, tracing his palm with his finger. Jesus Christ, David Mamet, stop making this so easy!

40:54 Spector is in a recording studio, and he has a really amazing mustache. It’s a flashback, I think. He pulls out a gun and waves it at the musicians, and Wayne raps on Spector’s behalf, “I woke up and got high again/ Okay, I’m reloaded.” Why would anybody watch this movie with dialogue? It’d just be redundant. I’m getting the basic gist of the plot, plus some mad fresh beats. It all boils down to “I have a gun! You should be afraid of me, or respect me, which are two things I’ve jumbled up in my mind as being the same thing, because I’m secretly insecure and desperate for love!” Got it.

48:50 Is that supposed to be Ronnie Spector? It vaguely looks like her, but I can’t be sure. The only clue I have is Wayne rapping “I fucked you on your job, that’s romance, that’s romance, that’s romance.” Didn’t Spector lock his former wife and the Ronettes lead singer in a basement or something horrific?

Photo: Phillip V. Caruso

Photo: Phillip V. Caruso

54:19 Another meeting between Spector and his lawyer (Mirren.) He’s looking panicky, like he’s finally starting to understand that he’s in serious fucking trouble. And the lyrics are playing into that. “Will I die or go to jail today?” Wayne rap-asks. “Cause I live by the sword and die by the sword/ Heard police was looking for me/ I’mma hide by abroad.” It’s too late to make things right, Phil. Lil Wayne know what I’m talking about. (Also, nice pun. “Hide by abroad.” I see what you did there!)

59:47 A blonde woman, in what appears to be a police interrogation room, is putting a gun in her mouth. Lil Wayne is rapping “My tongue is a Uzi/ My dick is a AK/ My tongue go brrrrrr!/ My dick go pow!” Wow. Really Mamet? Y’know, I used to feel bad for you, having to watch your daughter Zosia on Girls, where she’s occasionally been a participant in some really awkward sexual situations. But now, not so much.

1:05:29 Lil Wayne’s album just ended, not a moment too soon. (If I never hear the word “pussy” ever again, it’ll be too soon.) But there’s still another half hour of Phil Spector left. So I’ve switched over to the StrokesComedown Machine (which also comes out today.)

1:08:27 Spector takes the stand at his own trial, and Julian Casablancas provides an eloquent defense. “Decide my past/ Define my life/ Don’t ask questions/ Cause I don’t know why.” It matches so perfectly that I wonder if I was just spinning my wheels with Wayne. Also, maybe it’s been too long since I listened to the Strokes, but when did they become A-Ha?

1:17:35 I’m looking at an empty hotel hallway, just as the music makes some profound thematic epiphanies. “I didn’t want to notice/ Didn’t know the gun was loaded.” Are they talking about Spector and what did or didn’t happen on the night Lana Clarkson died? Or are the lyrics about Mirren’s character, the defense lawyer, who’s trying to believe Spector’s story even when everything about him suggests he’s guilty, guilty, guilty? It’d be so much easier to interpret if there were any characters on screen.

1:21:14 Spector just walked into frame, revealing his ridiculously huge Afro. “I will say don’t judge me!” Casablanca shouts in his defense. “I will say! I will say don’t judge me!” It’s weird, in any other listening context, I would hate the new Strokes album. Taken on its own terms, it’s an ear turd. But as a musical backdrop to the Phil Spector movie, it’s like a toe-tapping Cliff Notes. I totally get it now! I actually feel sorry for the people who are watching this movie without Lil Wayne and the Strokes.

What Have We Learned:

Fuck if I know. Mamet, writing about Phil Spector while obviously listening to Lil Wayne and then the first 30 minutes of Comeback Machine, seems as confused as the rest of us about Spector’s culpability. Sometimes he thinks Spector is unfairly stereotyped as a gangster who likes pussy and guns (Lil Wayne’s words, not mine.) Sometimes he’s like, “You don’t have to try so hard/ I think they got the message, you were out of your mind” (which just so happens to be what Casablanca’s singing during the movie’s closing credits.) It’s a definitive “Not guilty! Except maybe guilty! I don’t know, stop asking me!”

Just before the screen goes black, the Strokes sneak in one more lyric, which may also be Mamet’s last thought on the matter. “Accuse! It’s no ones fault!” Yeah, but it kinda is though.

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