Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2003 / 5 Adar I, 5763

Burt Prelutsky

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Consumer Reports

Mea culpa, Phil Spector | As a rule, I could be described as a totally guiltless person. It isn't simply that I make every attempt to lead a blameless life, but, on those terribly rare occasions when I do slip the tiniest bit, I tend to find truly excellent reasons why others are actually at fault. Or, as I once told my son when he attempted to use me -- I being his alleged role model in this instance, although in no others -- as his reason for having done something he shouldn't have: "Your grandmother was a gold medal winner when it came to instilling guilt, but even she met her match when it came to me. So, don't you even think about it."

However, no matter how much I try to twist and turn, I fear that my days as the teflon man have come crashing to a halt. You see, I hold myself partially to blame for Phil Spector's current problems.

As a classmate of Phil's, I was in attendance the first time he performed in public. The occasion was a school assembly at L.A.'s Fairfax High, back in the mid 50s. Although nearly half a century has passed, I remember it as if it had happened last week. But that's how it is with major disasters. I'm sure that the people who witnessed the crash of the Hindenburg will never forget it, either. And, as disasters go, the Hindenburg couldn't hold a candle to Phil's voice.

Five hundred of us sat stunned as he strummed his guitar and sang.

At least we assumed it was singing. The idea that anyone with that nasally, Bronxish wheeze would dare to vocalize outside the confines of his shower redefined chutzpah for us. The end of his performance was greeted with absolute silence. After a few moments, moved solely by compassion for a fellow human being, my best friend and I started to applaud. Soon, the other students joined in. To our collective horror, this so buoyed Phil's spirits that he did an encore!

A short time after graduating from Fairfax, Phil, who had seemed destined to be our class's Least Likely to Succeed, began making his mark on the music world, albeit not as a vocalist. When we congregated at the Ambassador Hotel for our 10th reunion, Phil was the one who showed up in a limo that he actually owned, along with three bodyguards whose sole function was to ensure that none of us got within ten yards of the man.

Is it any wonder that I'm so guilt-ridden? If only I hadn't encouraged Phil that fateful day, I can't help wondering if he might not have become a happy, well-adjusted, accountant, and been spared the drugs, the booze and now the murder.

At the very least, we'd have been spared that really awful encore!

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JWR contributor Burt Prelutsky is a veteran TV writer whose credits include, among others, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show and Diagnosis Murder. Comment by clicking here. Visit his website by clicking here.

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© 2003, Burt Prelutsky