By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Through the ’70s and ’80s, Hazlewood remained low-key, but his creations continued to percolate and draw admirers. In 1999, Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth reissued on his Smells Like Records label a number of Hazlewood’s wildly diverse solo albums. That same year, Lee and a back-up duo performed at Nick Cave’s Meltdown Festival in London. “I slowly started finding out that these records that were 15, 20 years old, that had been re-released, the kids were buyin’ ’em.”
A handful of European dates followed, “and there wasn’t a gray head in the house,” recalled Hazlewood. “We’d start to play a song, an obscure song, and they’d start applauding.” At one point he wondered aloud to his audience how they knew his obscurities. “One of the kids held up his hand and said, ‘My grandma, Lee — she played it for me.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you one thing: From now on, grandma PR is all I’m using throughout the world.’ ”
Still living abroad, Hazlewood came out of retirement yet again to deliver a low-tempo collection of well-chosen standards by the likes of Fats Waller and Duke Ellington with Farmisht, Flatulence, Origami, ARF!! & Me (1999).
“Al Casey [longtime Hazlewood guitarist], he had said, ‘I want you to do those songs that you always whistled around the studio.’ I said, ‘You’re talkin’ about my dad’s two-beer songs, aren’t you?’ Two beers, and you sing one of these songs.”
Behind the don’t-give-a-damn façade, Hazlewood was a man of profound integrity. Cake or Death, which was recorded after his cancer diagnosis, is a collection of promises kept, of 50-year-old in-jokes, of a life spun with warmth and dark humor. (The album’s title is a reference to an Eddie Izzard stand-up bit.) It’s a big-sounding collection, bereft of the marquee names with whom Hazlewood could’ve collaborated. His granddaughter, Phaedra, brought her “third-grade enthusiasm” to a reworked “Some Velvet Morning.” On “Baghdad Knights,” Hazlewood addresses the situation in the Middle East. “You hate the war, but you respect the warriors,” he said.
“First of all, I’d like to go out the way I came in,” he said, when asked about his send-off plans. “Quietly.” With an eye on cremation, he had an idea of the afterlife. “I don’t believe in an old gray-headed man who sits on a mountain and every time you do anything bad, he hits you on the head with a hammer . . . or streets paved with gold. I figure you just go back to the stack. But if you have to come back a second time, I think you should come back as a cockroach. You can’t kill those sons of bitches!”