Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Thursday, 2 December 2010


I first discovered Lee Hazlewood through his collaboration with Nancy Sinatra, Did You Ever.
At the time my ears just weren't ready for his mix of country, easy listening and rock and roll. I couldn't hear his gift for writing both words and music.
So I put it away and went on listening to other stuff.
Then, a few years later I found, in a pile of records above a book shop in Dorset, a copy of Something Special. The photo on the front shows Lee with strange, abnormally white eyes and teeth. I put it in the pile and took it home.
Something Special is an unusual record for many reasons but I was completely won over.
After that, if ever I saw a Lee Hazelwood record I would pick it up.

For me, his low, baritone voice conjures images of wind-swept deserts on the outskirts of towns in the West of America. It makes me think of the opening scene in Paris, Texas.
Which is why I love the fact that he went to Sweden in the seventies and never went back. I love the irony of modern western music coming from the north. Rather in the same way I like the idea of Morrissey living in LA.

There is nothing remotely psychedelic about Requiem for an Almost Lady. Some Velvet Morning has been described as psychedelic and Lee has been called the psychedelic cowboy. I couldn't disagree more. Lee's, sometimes very personal, music does not to me connect with psychedelic music. Instead it describes a man who may well have taken the same drugs but who's music is not about drugs or even for those who take drugs. In particular this record is about love and loss. And although this drives the writer to drink and drugs these are only symptoms of his heartache.

With only acoustic guitar, bass, harmonica and voice this is a record with lots of space. However, it is never stark. Rather the production gives it a very warm and intimate feel. Close your eyes and you really could believe that it was a live recording of a small group of lovelorn men in a smoke filled living room.

The vocals are some of the best he ever committed to vinyl, with little of the gruffness he affected with Nancy. There is a real tenderness and emotion that is sometimes swamped by Lee's bigger orchestral productions.

The record starts with a spoken word segment and there are others throughout. "In the begining there was nothing, but it was kinda fun to watch nothing grow." It ends with these words "Finally there was nothing but believe me it was no fun waiting for nothing to end". Deep and meaningful or pretentious nonsense?

I love this record because it charts the course of a relationship from the joy of the start to the pain of the seperation but from the viewpoint of the end. As Lee says on the back of the sleeve "These songs are about one lady ... her name is not important ... she knows who she was ... What is important is once she loved me very much..." It is full of vignettes that show the pain of having loved and lost, of having given so much and lost so much. As he sings on Little Miss Sunshine (Little Miss Rain) "Two drops of happy, one pinch of pain".

As angry as he is ("I'm glad I never, had a gun" he sings), there is still a place in his heart for his lost love. And that is something I can relate to. In the last track he goes so far to sing "I'd rather be your enemy, then hear you call me friend". Am I the only one who feels that way about a past lover?

Finally, I love this record because it has one of my guitar heros, Jerry Cole on it.

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