Barton Lee Hazlewood, 1929-2007
American songwriter Lee Hazlewood died late Saturday night after a long battle with renal cancer.
At the heart of his marvelous, ineffable, and very lengthy pop music career was a contradiction: here was a man who, seemingly effortlessly, wrote pop hit after pop hit for singers as disparate in style as Sanford Clark, Duane Eddy, Dean Martin, Ann Margret, and Nancy Sinatra. But even his breeziest pop confections had bittersweet depths.
A reclusive and sometimes enigmatic singer-songwriter who played up his image as a hard-living, tough-as-nails troubadour —a kind of existentialist cowboy with a sparkle in his eye and a ready, ribald wit, Hazlewood’s cracked pop universe was one of acute highs and lows, of endless heartbreak met with tenacity and sheer contrarian ballsiness.
He was a weather-beaten, prickly sort, was Lee, but every song —no matter how profane— also had an improbably old-world, gentlemanly quality. All these (seeming) contradictions, and the truth of the matter was that Lee never failed to be true to himself, through and through. In the end, he was a tough old bastard, a heartbroken jester, and a deadpan iconoclast who wrote songs with a hell of a lot of heart. Listen to the music and you’ll hear it all, more eloquently than I could ever catalogue.
There are some lovely retrospectives and touching obituaries floating around the internet, but for a real treat, listen to some unedited audio of Lee, taken from Thomas Lévy’s upcoming documentary film about him, which is currently in the editing stages. (Thanks, Leslie, for the permission to link.)
There’ll never be another Lee Hazlewood. He’ll be missed.
If you would like to leave a message for the Hazlewood Family or for Jeane Hazlewood in particular, you can email them at HeMovesAround@gmail.com.
I haven’t yet heard his final solo album, last year’s Cake or Death, but I leave you with two of my favorites: “Dolly Parton’s Guitar”, and a joyous duet with Ann-Margret, “You Turn My Head Around,” from 1969’s The Cowboy and The Lady. (This song was also covered beautifully on this year’s Dean & Britta album, Back Numbers.)