Friday, August 10, 2007

Cake or Death

Singer-songwriter-producer-musical guru Lee Hazlewood passed away this week without much fanfare or noise, befitting the long strange trip that comprised his career and his gone-daddy persona. A DJ—turned budding songwriter he first hooked up with buddy Duane Eddy and co-wrote and produced some of the twang master’s initial hits, including “Rebel Rouser”. His greatest claim to fame came from working with Nancy Sinatra, and producing-writing “These Boots Are Made For Walking” and "Summer Wine", but he also wrote Dean Martin’s “Houston”, made a memorable album as a part of a beauty and the beast duo with Ann Margret, and worked with the Chairman and Kingpin, Frank Sinatra, who got a particular kick out of him. (Hazlewood said the he and Sinatra got along famously, “Frank thought I was two-thirds funny, and I thought he was 90 percent clever.) Despite his glorified credits, Hazlewood’s finest moments may have come on his series of stranger and stranger solo works, dubbed by some “cowboy psychedelia”, a trippy mash of cocktail jazz, the Bakersfield sound, and beatnik tomfoolery with a result that somehow managed to combine elements of Sinatra, Gram Parsons, Leonard Cohen and a wacked-out Phil Spector, Hazlewood was a true space cowboy, best exemplified by his finest creation “Some Velvet Morning.” Hazelwood also chucked it all, and at the height of his commercial success, moved to Sweden in 1970. His last album, Cake or Death, released towards the end of 2006 after he was diagnosed with renal cancer, was a sarcastic meditation about his oncoming death, as unclassifiable as evuh, and per usual equal parts incomprehensible, clever, and funny. A discernible and acknowledged influence for one our finer contempo chameleons, Beck, and an nonpareil character whose work falls somewhere between kitsch, art, and outer space.

1 comment:

mikeyt said...

An interesting footnote... Shortly after Lee's death, NPR ran a very nice obit. In many ways he was the perfect subject for one of their post-mortem profiles-- public radio educating their crowd about an undervalued cultural asset.
Then, a few days later, NPR issues a correction. Seems as if, in their retrospective of Lee's career, they gave him credit for writing the "Theme from Peter Gunn."
How do you make a mistake like that? I guess if you're a radio producer born fifteen years after "Boots" hit the airwaves, it's an easy slip-in.
And how did they discover the mistake? "Hello?-- collect call from the hereafter-- it's Henry Mancini, and he is pissed!"