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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Department of Book Reports: "...originally it was called Catch-18."

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, by Crystal Zevon (Ecco Books,$26.95, 452 pages)
Dan last reported on a memoir with little or no titillation value, but not to fear, dear readers, I am here now to give you the memoir with more smut than you ever really wanted to know.
"I got to be Jim Morrison, a lot longer than he did." Warren Zevon to novelist Carl Hiaasen.

This bares-all-tells-all by Warren's first wife and life long friend, Crystal is touching and at the same time too close to the bone - the OCD diary entries provide the time-line. This is filled in with oral histories from the people who were there at the time. There is a "Who's Who" in the back to help you keep track of the players. The photo history generously distributed throughout includes diary pages and even D.E. Lindell Von Starich's business card, which reads:

Hero of the Oppresset
Casual Hero
World Traveler

Wars Fought
Revolutions Started
Governments Run
Uprisings Quelled

Tigers Tamed
Bars Emptied
Virgins Converted
Computers verified
Orgies Organized

All on the front of one business card. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.

Other reviews have pointed to Warren's excesses as the reason for his lack of success, but there has to be something there, another aspect that being a drunken abusive person, that still didn't piss off his real friends; they stayed to the end. Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and Linda Ronstadt , Waddy Wachtel, were early supporters and paying clients for his songs. David Letterman has been a long-time booster. The Zevons had to scrabble out an existence in Laurel Canyon while the other songsters thrived. Warren was an absentee father for his children. They seem to have an understanding of this relationship and accept what it was. Warren determined to live long enough to see the birth of his daughters' twins. He even sobered up for the occasion.

Diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2003 , Warren contacted his recording label and told his producer he wanted to put out an album. Those sessions became The Wind, with a stellar band. His son, Jordan, remembers his father saying: " 'Okay, I'm going to die but I'm not going to go out John Prine-style with the record that sells ten thousand copies.' He knew what he was doing."

This was a life of excesses. There are not any pretty answers at the end. But there is the life-body of a man's work. His music and words will stand the test of time. You can sign a petition to get Warren Zevon inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here.

Keep Me In Your Heart For a While

democommie™™™™®© has returned from the Great Roadtrip and sends these words:
In reading the book I came across the reference to Richard (?) Belzer (mostly seen on Law & Order: SVU, these days) being his opening act. I think he must have been the comic I saw at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. It was an unbelievable set. Warren was absolutely hammered when he finally came on stage, about an hour late. In the meantime the comic had started out doing fairly innocuous schtick. Somebody in the audience got on him and he did an amazingly nasty riff on that person's sexuality, intellect and appearance. It was so over the top that I'm sure a lot of people thougt it was part of the act. It was proto ugly. When the comic finally went off, Warren came on with a mostly empty bottle of what looked to be Vodka, set it down on the concert grand and just hammered the bejesus out of that piano. Wonderful show.

I saw him again, doing a solo gig, at the "Casino" in Hampton Beach, NH, a couple of years later, when he had gotten sober--at least as good a show--loudest fucking 12 string guitar I have ever heard, anywhere.

I see Warren as the same sort of guy as Mozart. I'm not talking about a comparison of their talent--God knows what Warren could have done in the Classical genre if he had really set his mind to the task of writing for symphony orchestras. It's just that Warren's music was a product of his craziness, not something he did in spite of his problems but, rather, because of them.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is available at Jackson Street Books and Fine Independent Bookstores everywhere.


  1. Warren Zevon does not belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

  2. Anonymous3:49 PM


    I'm not sure what you're getting at. I don't think Warren's in the R&RHoF, yet. As to why he would not belong there, in light of the variety of performers (Hank Williams (not his asshole son), Brenda Lee, Frank Zappa & Rick Nelson) Warren would seem to fit in. Is it because you don't think he played rock and roll (pretty hard to define, really--Hello, Queen) or because you simply didn't like his music? You're entitled to think what you like, but making a statement like you do, without any sort of explanation is sortaweak.



We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.