Barry Lanigan reports on the Berlin book launch of Wyndham Wallace’s idiosyncratic book on Lee Hazlewood.
First and foremost apologies to the author Wyndham Wallace for the tardiness of this article. Technology and I have not been friends the past while, nor do I believe we’ll ever be. My laptop took a nasty tumble some months ago (the laptop had been drinking) leaving me with a sub-standard ‘smart’ phone with a version of Word. All notes and lyrics are on this contraption which I have just fished from my toilet, but luckily I’m still able to read them albeit through a water stain.
I also almost broke my shared flat’s only communal stereo upon hearing that there would be a Lee Hazelwood special on Flux FM. There were guests in the kitchen, non Lee fans guaranteed to talk over the show, so I pulled it over-exuberantly from the wall announcing there was an important radio show I had to listen to. Sounds like something from pre-TV times, but you can’t beat a good radio show.
The show was to interview Wyndham Wallace, friend, fan and one time manager of the great Lee Hazelwood and author of Lee, Myself and I: Inside the Very Special World of Lee Hazelwood, a personal account of Wallace’s journey from Lee fan to eventual friend. When I heard Wallace speak for the first time it was evident the self-proclaimed ‘posh misfit’ with quite the educated British accent was poles apart from his hard-drinking, take-no-shit, gravel-throated muse. It made it all the more intriguing though and as his self-debasing stories of early encounters with the psychedelic cowboy were recounted, it was clear the man had amused, if not impressed Hazelwood, to no end.
I initially contacted Wyndham to arrange an interview but, having not read the book yet, we both decided to postpone and instead I would head to the launch at Il Kino, a café and theatre in the Neukölln district. I came straight from work only to be told there were no tickets left despite an extra session due to popular demand. Wallace and myself had never even met, but it was obviously the tall guy in the cream suit who everybody wanted to question, congratulate, shake his hand, and generally stress him out even more than he already needed to be. Now I had to wangle a guest list from him. I’d already been told off by the staff for tucking into a tray of bruschetta that, apparently were not free.
Thankfully Wallace remembers me and obliges me a pass, despite revealing I still hadn’t read his book with a cheeky wink. We have been promised a night of readings, rare archive video footage of Hazelwood and surprise musical guests. Punters, a delightfully varied bunch, are eventually ushered into the theatre. It’s nice and cool, dark and curtained with a piano to the left of the screen and Wallace’s laptop and microphone at his desk to the right. I wish him luck, imagining a book launch must be as huge for a writer as a launch gig is for musicians. You don’t want to disappoint and this launch certainly doesn’t.
Finding footage of Lee Hazelwood on the internet is not so easy. There are plenty of uploaded tracks on You Tube, but not a whole lot of the man himself, save for one performance and interview that springs to mind on the Rolf Harris Show where a weary Hazelwood looks like he might casually smack the patronizing Harris mid-sentence. I’m in awe at the footage Wallace has prepared tonight, particularly the home footage shot with Swedish collaborator Torbjörn Axelman which shows Lee in very personal places reciting hard-hitting personal lyrics.
Compare that with Hazelwood’s often humorous and whacky lyrics and you remember there was so much to the man who employed Frank Sinatra (and made his daughter Nancy a star), wrote for Dean Martin and countless others, ran his own record label and all the while remaining essentially reclusive. From the dark and morbid, Wallace also shows us hilarious footage of Hazelwood at his home in Sweden, wandering around hung over in a robe and cowboy hat, making daily lists of bizarre things to do- trying to like Ronald Reagan being one. Not forgetting one music video with a very content-looking Hazelwood in the snowy streets of Stokholm with dozens of equally happy school children in tow.
Wallace then introduces tonight’s musical guest who is none other than the amazing composer and pianist, Nils Frahm. Frahm, due to release Late Night Tales, takes up position at the piano in jeans and sneakers and rattles off a somewhat haunting rendition of what sounds like a medley of Lee songs all melting seamlessly into one beautiful piece. His concentration and immense talent is a joy to watch so close. Considering the German’s rise to success and subsequent schedule, this is indeed a treat from both author and musician to audience.
Wallace then recomposes himself with more tales of his encounters with Lee: being the butt of his jokes (right down to his name), hilarious faxes from Hazelwood to author, at times getting dangerously over-personal with his subject in the early days of their unlikely relationship, and eventually becoming trusted friend and manager to the revered singer shortly before he passed away in 2007.
For fans of Lee Hazelwood, music and story lovers, this was a night to remember. Long live Lee.
Lee, Myself and I: Inside the Very Special World of Lee Hazelwood is out now on Jawbone Books. Wyndham Wallace will also be appearing at Festival No. 6 (September 3–6) in the UK. Additional readings are planned for later in the year, in the UK and elsewhere.
All words by Barry Lanigan. You can read more from Barry on Louder Than War here.