So, how far along was I with Warren Zevon ? It’s been a while. “Bad Luck Streak” made the top 20 in the US & Warren got drunk for the next decade. It was to be another 20 years & he would be dying before he enjoyed such commercial successwith an LP of new songs. In the next 7 years a live album was released.( He has said that he has no recollection of the live shows being recorded). Only one studio record came from this period ,”The Envoy”. I liked them both but then Zevon was my thing.
There are contemporary live clips of Warren performing this song but I can’t bring myself to add them to this. He looks so rough, has a pretty average band & is attempting some sort of rabble rousing, crowd pleasing schtick. His only peer at this time, Randy Newman was getting to play concert halls while people listened. Zevon could rock but he was never a ” rocker”, He was schlepping around the States, the audience wanted those crazy, wild man songs about Lynyrd Skynyrd & werewolves. The result “Ain’t That Pretty At All”. The cynicism about the world was now being turned upon himself. His conclusion, “I would rather feel bad than not feel anything at all”.Warren’s muscular rejection of the beauty in the world makes for a great song. That “I’ve been to Rome…Guess what ?”, pure Warren. Like Lee Ho Fook’s I’ve been to the Louvre but I did not “hurl myself against the wall”. Saw some prettiness too.
Was this song not a hit record ? If Fleetwood Mac had used this tune with Stevie Nicks singing about some unreal shit like pixies and fairy dust then it would have been. I’m joking of course, it was the hit of the year. All the poodle-haired schlock-rock bands broke up & labels only signed writers of cynical but intelligent songs…yeah right.
In 1982 I had blown a seemingly “perfect” marriage & never expected to fall in love with such intensity ever again. I was, though, “Looking For The Next Best Thing”. Here came WZ & put it more succinctly, more melodically than I could hope to. It’s not just that I found a fellow traveller in Warren. If you are young & reading this please, please stay on that “road to perfection”. It’s a hard road & if you end up appreciating the best but settling for less then that’s not bad & you will not be the only one. Listening to “The Envoy” again there are some really good songs full of sardonic humour. There are 2, apart from this, that sound like hit records. There is this next killer track too.
“Jesus Mentioned” is my favourite song about digging up Elvis Presley ever. I could tell you it is a modern blues which is sad, beautiful & strange, but it would make this song no better. A mix of my most loved Zevon tracks includes this one from “The Envoy” every time. (Only “Best Thing” made the official hits LP from here).
This LP is not a beginner’s guide. A skinny 31 minutes, there are variations on themes that he has realized better in other songs. However, if you know those themes then the album is rewarding. Asylum, his record label, quit on Warren after this & he struggled for a while. I’m not sure how I missed his visits to Britain. I must have had something really good to do on the nights of his gigs. I do know that, at a gig in London, he was so drunk that people were walking out on him. Re-hab & revival were 5 years away & it was worth the wait.