Lee, Myself and I: Inside the Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood
Best known as the composer of Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’, for decades, Oklahoman Lee Hazlewood was a virtual recluse whose many, often wildly obscure, post-fame albums of soi-disant ‘cowboy psychedelia’ were bought by the cognoscenti for stratospheric sums. A skilled, innovative music producer and sometime Hollywood actor as well as a unique singer with a crockery-worryingly deep baritone voice, Hazlewood was always going to offer a richer hinterland than the average cult music icon. He had certainly once lived it big, fashioning Dwayne Eddy’s signature guitar twang (by deploying an agricultural silo as an echo chamber), writing songs for Elvis, Nancy’s dad and the rest of the Rat Pack, helping launch the career of Gram Parsons and then living in semi-exile (and becoming a star) in Sweden when his US stock began to dwindle.
Author Wyndham Wallace was Hazlewood’s manager in the late ’90s, during the singer’s latter years, a period during which his faded star began to glimmer again, only to be cruelly extinguished by renal cancer. He is, therefore, uniquely placed to retell Hazlewood’s many amusing anecdotes and paint an intimate portrait of the wilful, curmudgeonly but, at heart, deeply poetic man who started out a cantankerous charge and became a friend. Indeed, Lee, Myself and I is as much autobiography (albeit a charmingly self-deprecating one) as it is biography, with Wallace entertainingly charting his own rise from timid music biz functionary to trusted aide de combat. Playfully dubbed ‘Bubba’ by Hazlewood, Wallace effectively caresses the forgotten star’s career back to life, surfing his mood swings, journalist-baiting contrariness, ‘hate faxes’ and increasingly failing health, and making sure the Marlboros and Chivas on ice, Hazlewood’s dietary staples right up to the end, are always on hand.
The scion of a military dynasty, Wallace is, he admits, a potentially square peg in the round hole of independent music, but having been introduced to Hazlewood’s oeuvre at a colourfully recounted, dope-infused musician’s den in the mid ’90s, it slowly but inexorably becomes his mission to revive the great man’s fortunes. Indeed, much of the narrative revolves around Hazlewood’s 1999 ‘comeback’ gig at London’s Royal Festival Hall, a highlight of the Nick Cave-curated Meltdown Festival, an amusingly, sometimes movingly recollected evening which Wallace seems to have practically willed into being, and of which he is, rightly, proud (as he is of introducing his slightly disbelieving parents, backstage, to Hazlewood – the latter christening his suited and booted father ‘The General’).
The latter part of the book is given over to Hazlewood’s last, debilitated days (he passed away in 2007), during which time Wallace swaps the role of manager for that of intimate confidant (“You’re family now” Hazlewood had once vouchsafed to him). There is time for one valedictory artistic endeavour – having the singer vocalise against music by another of Wallace’s charges, the Icelandic quartet amiina – a project for which, by hook or crook, Hazlewood manages to get Wallace to pen his first ever lyrics. It, like this eloquent, disarming book, proves to be a winning exercise in understated poignancy.