In honor of the late Lee Hazlewood, here is Edward E. Crouse's unfiltered conversation with the great singer-songwriter, from the Guardian in 1998:
A duet over the phone with Mr. Hazlewood.
By Edward E. Crouse
LEE HAZLEWOOD writes, produces, and sings ambrosial pop songs. Ambrosial in both senses: the Greek (what the gods ingest) and the American (that picnic mystery made of canned fruits in heavy syrup and whipped cream). Hazlewood claims never to have met Serge Gainsbourg — a Gallic strategist with a similar dark, drunken heart and thick basso profundo–bizarro pipes who shares his knack for perverse idioms and knocking out hits with boy-girl, Beauty-Beast arrangements. Hazlewood is by no means as fashion-ready as Gainsbourg, which means that clubs won't charge a premium for lacquered and booted neo-modistes to frug on his birthday, and the prospect of cats aping Hazlewood's trademark stealth fighter–shaped mustache is doubtful.
The Hazlewood sound is cosmic and comic, elemental and enigmatic: Guillaume Apollinaire meets Carl Sandburg, or Stan Kenton meets Clarence "Frogman" Henry over a few shots of Chivas Regal. Two platters he produced, "These Boots Are Made for Walking" (for Nancy Sinatra) and "Somethin' Stupid" (for Frank and Nancy), are radio mainstays and karaoke standards. His most recent album, Farmisht, Flatulence, Origami, ARF!!! and Me, along with some quintessential older discs (Trouble Is a Lonesome Town, Cowboy in Sweden, Requiem for an Almost Lady, N.S.V.I.P.s, and 13) will be let out of the pen this year by Smells Like Records. After a considerable exile in Sweden, where he never met Ingmar Bergman, Hazlewood spoke to the Guardian from his girlfriend's house in Florida.
Guardian: What instruments do you play? Your album credits aren't very clear.
Lee Hazlewood: No, they aren't. I hold a guitar. I use it to write with, and my guitar playing has increased piano sales as much as 10 percent every year in America. That's how bad it is.
G: You've pretty much written every song type: children's, jazz, waltzes, teen death songs, honky-tonk, cowboy, Tin Pan Alley, psychedelic —
LH: Thank you for noticing. I have written just about everything.
G: People often try to pigeonhole you as a weirdo —
LH: Yes, into dark corners where we've never been. I've lived in some of those dark corners. I've lived with children. I've lived with grandchildren.
G: Please explain a lyric from "Dark in My Heart": "I asked a girl for lovin' / And she walked in the phone booth / That ain't cool / In the phone booth."
LH: "That ain't couth." You should be more interested in the rhyme, as in opposite of "uncouth." Most people use it and don't realize that couth might be a word if you really helped it along.
G: Which comes first, music or lyrics?
LH: Usually the title comes first. It's a bad way to write, and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody. I've written myself into a hole so many times with titles, and I end up with a song I can't stand. I kind of write a Cadillac lyric and a Model T melody. Though I have a few with a pretty melody that scare me, I don't know where I got ’em.
G: Yeah. "Sand."
LH: "Sand"? [Cackles] Aren't you surprised that in the 1960s I got away with that shit? People thought, "Hey, that's just a pretty song!" But here's this man out on the desert, and he runs into this beautiful young girl and — it's a dirty song! Everybody knows it's dirty, not clean.
G: A friend has a theory that "Sand," "Some Velvet Morning," and "Summer Wine" form a trilogy, involving the same man.
LH: Your friend is right, and they were written in the same week. I don't know exactly why. It had to do with greed. I thought we might make more money if we got into what I called "boy-girl songs." "Beauty and the Beast songs,” Nancy called them. She didn't know what the hell they meant, but she loved ’em.
G: I was listening to "Got It Together," at the end of the Nancy and Lee, Again record, and —
LH: Boy, you're listening to weird shit!
G: — you raise several issues. Do you still miss Howdy Doody?
LH: Yeah. I wasn't a big Howdy Doody fan, but my two oldest children were. Did you know his brother's name?
G: Ummm, Double Doody?
LH: That's it. Duane Eddy's wife, Deed, asked me one time what I felt his name would be, knowing the way I write — using adverbs as nouns and nouns as adjectives.
G: On that same song, Nancy Sinatra calls you two the "World's Oldest Teenyboppers."
LH: I think that was my line, and she said it.
G: Here are some T.B. questions: "What makes you happiest?"
LH: Well, that's a good one. But let's change it: "What has made me happiest in this, my sixth decade?" And that is discovering that a bunch of little twenty-two-, twenty-four-, twenty-five-, twenty-six-year-old children were suddenly paying hundreds of dollars for bootleg albums of mine.
G: "Do you have a favorite chord?"
LH: No, but I have been accused of E major or minor. Irving Berlin wrote everything in G which is a terrible key to write in. E seems the happiest to me, because it's open and pretty free — it rings and you can hear other things.
G: "What is your fave movie?"
LH: Of all time? The one with my hero.... We're about the same size, and we're both whiskey voiced: Casablanca.
G: You smoke filterless, too?
LH: I smoke not only filtered cigarettes, but I own a punching machine from Johns Hopkins University that punches a bunch of holes in ’em. I've been using those for about ten years.
G: Rock-a-Bye Baby [Frank Tashlin film, 1958] advertises a kind with filters at both ends —
LH: Well, that's probably the kind I need.
G: Last teenybopper question: "What gets you down?"
LH: What depresses me? I don't like interviews. Nothing against you or anything. Just that a man with my memory — which has always been bad, since I was forty — has no business doing them.
G: Is N.S.V.I.P.s the first concept album?
LH: N.S.V.I.P.s came along and with Trouble Is a Lonesome Town was supposed to be a trilogy, but I never got around to the third part. The reason I did N.S.V.I.P.s was because I hadn't made [Trouble] cartoonish enough. The people in Trouble are more connected to the real world, and then N.S.V.I.P.s had songs about a guy who wanted to fly. ["I'm Gonna Fly”’s refrain: "One of these days / I'm gonna fly / To a place where men are free / To a place where it's alright to be / Just an average guy / Who likes to fly."] I thought the cartoonishness would make it do better. It did worse. Both of them got awful reviews.
G: Surprising, considering how much Dylan was getting away with then.
LH: Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan. He wrote about poison rain and stuff. I wrote about the guy who could fly, who thought he could fly and we let him. He could have this little thing wrong in his psyche. Sure he could only fly six feet. To hell with it! We loved him. And we'd gather round, have a picnic, and watch him fall off the little hill. That's the kind of people I grew up with.