You finally get on the world wide Interweb & you look for something intelligent about some shit you know about. You know, to find out more stuff , maybe connect with some like-minded people. Like you would with a book (remember them ? ) or a good magazine. You pretty soon find out that’s not so easy. There’s a bunch of cool fansites dedicated to completism but when it comes to discussion…well you may as well read Y-tube comments. It can be THAT dumb.
OK. I’m gonna have a go at writing something proper about Warren Zevon. You know Warren…OW-WOO ! Werewolves of London…that’s the guy.I’m just going to do the first LP . There are some of his LPs that are so important to me that I would not do them full justice if I banged 3 together at one time. The LP (not his first, but if you were on to the 1969 one then you were one of the very few) was released in 1976. Produced by Jackson Browne, endorsement enough in those mid-70s. Aided by the rock aristocracy of Los Angeles. There was even a Beach Boy & an Everly brother on backing vocals.
I’m going to start with “Desperado Under The Eaves” because it was the first track I heard from the album. One morning in Birmingham the local station, BRMB, played this on the morning show. I stopped my routine, I had been waiting to hear some of this. My wife would have to wait for her coffee in bed…boy, she had me trained well. The string section intro echoes “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman. The two verses are conventional enough. Then the pay-off…”I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaian hotel, I was listening to the air conditioner hum. And it went….hmm, hmm, “. OK. Harmonies from the air con, that’s new.
After years of listening to the song I still hear those Newman references. In the field of erudite, literary, ironic cynicism it is these two writers who carry the swing. The line ” but except in dreams you’re never really free” marks Warren as either a pessimist or a realist.I still love to hear the sweet hum of the air conditioning. As the song ends looking away down Gower Avenue what does he see ? The “Hollywood” sign symbolic of the city of dreamers. I am aware of the biographical genesis of the song but, y’know, I think Zevon aimed for something more in his work. Something which applied to the more general condition than to just his own screw ups.
I bought the LP & loved it. I knew that L.A. music. in the 70s it could have a softness to it not always to my liking. This was tougher, more sardonic & more imaginative. The songs, the arrangements, sometimes have the veneer of L.A. smoothness. It perhaps takes repeated listening to get to the subversion that is going on here. Linda Ronstadt, the sweetheart of the Cocaine Cowboy Rodeo, recorded 4 of the album’s songs. Her hit version of “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” takes an hilarious macho boast about excessive female attention & reduces it to blancmange.
“Mohammed’s Radio” is a song which has gained resonance over the years. “Everybody’s desperate trying to make ends meet. Work all day, still can’t pay the price of gasoline & meat. Alas their lives are incomplete.”. Soothed by the sweet & soulful drum of Mohammed’s radio, the General knows that watchfulness is necessary. Man, this is the USA in the 21st century ! I make no claims for Zevon as a prophet. I do think that his songs could capture aspects of Life’s condition which are universal. The performance of the song we see here, with Jackson Browne’s band is as good as British TV got in the mid-70s.
I’m spoiled for choice for the final clip. the beauty of “Hasten Down The Wind”, the class of “The French Inhaler”, the junkie lament of “Carmelita”. I am going with “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” because this is Warren at his most hellacious. He & Hunter S. Thompson captured that “what the fuck ?”, boundaries are there to be crossed spirit better than anyone. Whenever things are too much fun or my mind is racing with a shitstorm or I just get offered another line…Hey ! I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead !
In December 1976 my wife & I travelled from Birmingham to London to see Jackson Browne play. We wanted to be with good friends who had listened to this music with us. Warren was the support act. I don’t know if the rest of the audience knew the album but our posse thought it was the record of the year. We cheered every introduction, sang along with every chorus & generally went nuts for the man. I’m sure the people around us wondered what was going on. Jackson Browne was superb that night. he was promoting “The Pretender” & had some body of work behind him at that time. Seeing Zevon perform almost all of this record was an unforgettable treat. I don’t really have a favourite Zevon LP, different one’s for different moods. This one is possibly the strongest collection of songs he ever got together at one time.