It is serendipity that brings me to consider “Sentimental Hygiene” on the anniversary of the death of Warren Zevon. It is enough to state that the manner of his dying was the measure of the man. There is no sadness at his passing. This music has served me well for 25 years and will do so for the next 25 (with Jah’s grace). I am no necromantic and today I need some….
Those 1980s eh ? Thatcher over here & Reagan over there. The backlash against the “Love Generation”, a coalition which proved to be too loose to prevent the handing back of the reins to the “oligarchy of pimps & preachers who…worship money, power & death” (H.S.T.). So what does a poor boy do, clean & sober or not, when you are not as young as you were & the rules of the game have changed. Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender” was a 70s take on “the longing for love & the struggle for the legal tender”. Now his friend produced a snapshot of life in the 80s for those who were “trying to get along”.
There was something else new around in the 80s & that was AIDS. Initially seen as “God’s punishment” on homosexuals, this “epidemic” was used by the forces of reaction to fight back against more liberated sexual attitudes. There were ad campaigns equating unprotected sex with Russian roulette. Sexual health is an important issue but the agenda was more pernicious. “Sentimental Hygiene”, an emotional attachment with a degree of re-assurance that sexual contact was not gonna kill you, was the best a person could hope for while they were searching for a heart.
Warren Zevon was revitalised on this LP. Old friends from L.A. were still around but the new guests brought an energy to the music, an assertiveness, that matched the new songs. R.E.M are all present, Bob Dylan, Tony Levin & Flea show out on bass, the latter on a song arranged by George Clinton. There is not a Zevon aficionado who had not wanted to hear Neil Young stretch out on one of the rockier tunes. On this title track we got our wish & we were right. This is one of the great track one, side one’s. Here was an album you could play to the unconverted, even the unimpressed & they would listen.
The gap on the record between “Detox Mansion” & “Bad Karma” always produces a little buzz of anticipation for this listener. I am going to hear R.E.M. rock out with Warren on just the funniest “where did it all go wrong ?” song ever. At first I celebrated a return to form, health & humour. Now I enjoy a great rock song. A touch of sitar (just a touch mind) is always a good thing when used well. “It’s a dog’s life but it’s not my fault”. Boy…if i ever get a tattoo.
Selecting 3 tracks from an LP is what I do on these things. It could have been any of them it is that strong. It was not going to be “Reconsider Me” though. I give you some of myself in this blog but I just can’t write about that great song without giving too much. A very important song. This will do the job though.
“Boom Boom Mancini” is the best sports song ever.(The Fall’s “Kicker Conspiracy” gives it a run). Ray Mancini, a world champion boxer at 21 years old, was a blue collar hero who’s all-action, dramatic, often brutal fights made him a star in the 80s. This taut rocker (R.E.M. again) catalogues his career including the fight after which Duk Koo Kim died. Boom Boom was more affected by this tragedy than the lyrics state but the license taken by Warren emphasizes a colder reality about boxing & it’s appeal.It is this harshness that has the fan of the chorus hurrying home to catch the Mancini fight.
Warren Zevon came to Britain to promote the LP & we got tickets for a gig at the Hammersmith Odeon. He played there twice, a month apart, I am guessing we were at the January concert because we were on the case as soon as they were announced. It is this set I am listening to now (I love the Internet). Five of us went together & we met so many friends in that horrible bar at the back of the Odeon. Sue let us get a couple of drinks along & produced a bottle of magic mushroom tea she was contributing to the occasion…well OK.The mood throughout the bar was of eager anticipation. this was a big gig for all of us.
Warren had a great band. I can only name Ian Wallace, drummer for almost everybody. I have always liked very tall women in very short dresses & there were two of those in the band too. It was a greatest hits really but he looked so well, sounded so strong, the whole thing was just so great. I will say that I thought at the time that he would rarely have so many fervent admirers in one place & that he could have played longer. Ah..it was the mushrooms and plain greediness, that’s all. In the 11 years since I had last seen him play a lot had happened to Warren & a lot had happened to me. His music had inspired, provoked, had reminded me of beauty & to keep strong. I was in the moment at the gig but I was storing the positivity & the sense of enjoyment I was getting from being there.
On the way out I asked my good friend & housemate Carol if it had been a good night for her. She had, I asked if she recognised the songs. She said, “Mal, I have lived with you for 5 years. I know every one of them !”. I learned this year that Carol has cancer. I love her more than I have ever loved any of this music.