Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why Do Great Songwriters Live Such Tortured Lives? Part 3

I was lucky enough to see Warren Zevon live twice in the late 70's. First at the Bijou Theatre in 1978, when the Excitable Boy album had just been released. The second time was a year later when he played at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Both shows were full of great songs and soulful playing. I can still hear the notes of Desperados Under the Eaves echoing around in the Academy of Music. Great stuff. Those two experiences made me a Zevon fan for life.

 Many of Zevon's songs are well known. What can I say about a body of work that has put several expressions into the common vernacular: "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead", "Lawyers, Guns and Money", "His Hair Was Perfect"? What more can I say about about a body of work that includes lyrics that end up as the title of a Dylan Album (Time Out of Mind)?

 Bob Dylan was playing several of his songs during the cover version shows of 2002. To hear Bob warble Boom Boom ManciniLawyers, Guns and Money, Mutineer, and Accidental Like a Martyr is worth the price of the bootleg. "Went home with the Waitress"....indeed, Bob. I bet you didn't with that taco of a hat on your head.

 Dylan is one of many Zevon fans who are in the music business. Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne were early supporters. I know another Texas songwriter who was turned on to music by hearing Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner at an early age. Without this man, we would not know how far that road goes or when that party ends.   

There are many great Zevon tunes. Although not as well known as some of his bigger hits, Accidentally Like a Martyr is one of my favorites:

The phone don't ring, no no
And the sun refused to shine
Never thought I'd have to pay so dearly
For what was already mine
For such a long, long time

We made mad love, shadow love
Random love and abandoned love
Accidentally like a martyr
The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder

The days slide by
Should have done, should have done, we all sigh
Never thought I'd ever be so lonely
After such a long, long time
Time out of mind

I never imaged that Warren was a model citizen. You can't write those kind of twisted songs and be too normal. Last year I read I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. It is the authorized biography written and collected by his ex-wife, Crystal Zevon. In some ways, I wish I hadn't read it. A very ugly story. Zevon took alcohol, drugs, sex addiction and rock star behavior to a very, very high level. Worse than that, he ultimately crapped on everyone in his life. I will spare you the details. It is not a pretty story. Did all this pain and bad behavior help create this spectacular body of work? I think it must have.

From Amazon, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, the greatest hits collection, contains most of the essential Zevon tunes. For your iTunes playlist, I recommend the following:

  1. Carmelita
  2. Mohammad's radio
  3. French Inhaler
  4. Desperados Under the Eaves
  5. Excitable Boy
  6. Werewolf of London
  7. Accidentally Like a Martyr
  8. Tenderness on the Block
  9. Lawyers Guns and Money
  10. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead
  11. Jeanie Needs a Shooter
  12. Let Nothing Come Between You
  13. Reconsider Me
  14. Suzie Lightning
  15. Mutineer


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