Cowboy in Sweden, the album
Shortly after Lee Hazlewood moved to Sweden at the end of the ‘60s, he collaborated with his friend, director Torbjörn Axelman, on the TV special Cowboy in Sweden; Light in the Attic, the label responsible for the latest round of Lee Hazlewood reissues, says this is one of seven Swedish TV movies the singer and Axelman made together. As on the companion album of the same name, singers Nina Lizell and Suzi Jane Hokom played supporting roles in Lee’s weird fantasies.
Presented as a series of dreams, the movie alternates between absurdist skits and songs given totally incongruous visual settings. While much of Cowboy in Sweden is exactly what you’d picture—Hazlewood on horseback, cigarette dangling from his lips, alone with his doleful thoughts—there’s a whole lot in here you’d be unlikely to imagine on your own. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll limit myself to a single example. Punning on the song’s title, Hazlewood sings his lonesome prisoner ballad “Pray Them Bars Away” to a group of polar bears swimming in the blinding Scandinavian sun.
Cowboy in Sweden is also a showcase for a few European bands of the time, whose tunes contrast just as jarringly with the scenery: Rumpelstiltskin mime their upbeat “Knock on My Door” in a junk yard, surrounded by flaming auto wrecks, and Steve Rowland and The Family Dogg lip-sync their miserable “Sympathy” in a very pleasant sculpture garden on a beautiful afternoon. At 36:41, there is a promo film for the George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag” (the get-up-out-your-seat song Quentin Tarantino later used for the opening credits of Reservoir Dogs) in which the Dutch soul combo lounges around a table, smoking cigarettes and drinking red wine.
If you crave higher quality, the box set There’s A Dream I’ve Been Saving: Lee Hazlewood Industries 1966-1971 apparently includes a DVD with a new digital transfer of Cowboy in Sweden, which I am dying to see.