Happy Birthday, Excitable Boy

That’s right. If it hadn’t been for a miserable little tumor, Warren Zevon might be having cake and wearing a silly hat today. Unfortunately, Mr. Bad Example couldn’t be with us today.

I suppose my interest in him began with his 1987 album Sentimental Hygiene. I was in college and the fact that the members of R.E.M. served as Zevon’s backing band legally mandated my curiosity.

The album left me slightly underwhelmed but intrigued enough to snag a copy of the compilation A Quiet, Normal Life: The Best Of Warren Zevon. It was a revelation as I discovered there was much, much more to the man than a single song about werewolves – beheaded mercenaries, diplomats, duplicitous waitresses, and innumerable other, colorful ne’er-do-wells populated the lyrics.

I was hooked.

Paloma gave me a copy of his biography, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, this past Christmas which I inhaled in about two days. Compiled by his ex-wife with instruction by Warren to leave nothing out, there’s not a dull moment, although it is so candid that it’s a bit exhausting at times.

The man did lead a full-grown life that would make for a good screenplay. If you can start a story with a sixteen year-old kid stealing a Corvette which his Russian father – who is a professional gambler – has won in a card game and taking off to New York to be a folk singer in the late ‘60s even though he aspires to be the next Igor Stravinsky (under whom he has studied)…

By the time I graduated from college, I had listened to a lot of Zevon and had seen him live at The Vogue in Indianapolis. I’d continue to listen to a lot of Zevon and I’d see two more of his shows.

I also once had a bizarre dream where Warren had been sentenced to some community service work. He was to take underprivileged kids camping.

Instead, this motley collection of kids ended up in sleeping bags on the floor of some posh hotel suite; the carnage of dozens of room service trays everywhere (certainly at least one pot roast).

And Warren? He was standing amidst the wreckage, cigarette in hand as he growled, “We’re roughing it now, aren’t we kids?”

Wherever he might be on this day, I hope he’s enjoying a sandwich.

Warren Zevon – Desparados Under The Eaves
Leave it to Zevon to make the hum of an air conditioner sound like a spiritual event.

Warren Zevon – Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner
Chris, one of my best friends in high school (and college), accompanied me the first time I saw Zevon live. As Chris liked to declare, “I’m part Norwegian” and I think he took particular pride in the exploits of “Norway’s bravest son.”

Warren Zevon – Play It All Night Long
Life is hard and apparently more so in the rural South. Possibly the only song in the history of mankind which mentions brucellosis.

Warren Zevon – Reconsider Me
Warren was a black-out alcoholic and could be a rather prickly fellow. I suspect he had to make the titular request more than a few times to the ones he loved.

Warren Zevon – Splendid Isolation
Warren had an eclectic group of fellow musicians who guested on his records, ranging from R.E.M. to Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan to George Clinton. Neil Young makes an appearance on Splendid Isolation.

Warren Zevon – Heartache Spoke Here
Dwight Yoakam adds harmony vocals to this twangy track. Makes one wonder of the hijinks which might have ensued had Warren gone country and ended up at the Grand Ol’ Opry.

Warren Zevon – Searching For A Heart
“They say love conquers all. You can’t start it like a car. You can’t stop it with a gun.” Perfect.

Warren Zevon – Mutineer
Near the end of his life as he was dying from cancer, Warren made an appearance on long-time fan David Letterman’s show (the only time Letterman has devoted an entire show to one guest). Part of the interview and a rather poignant performance of Mutineer can be seen here

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One Response to Happy Birthday, Excitable Boy

  1. halfhearteddude says:

    Oh, I must find that book. A much underappreciated artist. People seem to remember only Werewolves and Excitable Boy. But Lawyers, Guns And Money is such a great song. And the totally forgotten Jeannie Needs A Shooter, especially the version from the fantastic Stand In The Fire album.

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