John Wesley Harding knows when he gets an email, phone message or a piece of postal junk addressing him as “John,” it’s coming from someone who’s never met him. He’s known to friends as “Wes,” since his real name (the one he uses in his second career as an award-winning author) is Wesley Stace. Harding’s 15th album, Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead, depicts an artist well aware of what he does best: marvelously witty lyrics delivered in an emotion-wracked singing voice. Harding will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our Q&A with him.
John Wesley Harding: It’s very sad about Phil Spector; sadder for Lana Clarkson, the woman he murdered. I was thinking of writing a novel about the whole thing, but (as happens so often) reality has outdone fiction. He’d be such an unbelievable and absurd fictional character, unless the novel was set in a fantasy world, like, say, Michael Jackson’s. What I want to recommend is a BBC documentary called The Agony And Ecstasy Of Phil Spector, the best piece of television I saw last year (and which I’m sure you can download somewhere illegally). Beyond the weird hairstyles and bizarre public antics, you see the man himself in his rambling mansion; a gothic character living in a Gothic McCastle. You hear his keen sense of humor and sense the raw pain in him; how he has coped with the tragedies throughout his life (his father’s suicide, etc.) and how he has tragically failed to cope with them. The name-dropping is jaw-dropping; the self-mythology of outsider-dom is of Homeric proportions. The movie, which should be recut in light of his conviction and given a run in cinemas, is epic. My emotions were many, but I did not finish the documentary disliking Phil Spector the man. (As for the murderer: I disapprove of Russian Roulette, almost across the board.) In fact, maybe that makes him the perfect narrator for a novel after all: We happily allow ourselves to be charmed by murderers in novels only. (I make no exception for people who write to—and then try to marry—death-row inmates. Those people are insane.)