Happy Birthday, Excitable Boy

(a couple days late, but…our annual tribute to one of our favorites…)

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.

My interest in Zevon 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, three Christmases ago, which I inhaled in about two days. Compiled by his ex-wife with instruction by Warren to leave nothing out – including a recipe for meatloaf – 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 for some transgression. 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.

Here are eight songs from the late, great Warren Zevon…

Warren Zevon – Desperados Under The Eaves
from A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon (1986)

Leave it to Warren Zevon to make the hum of an air conditioner sound like a spiritual refrain.

Warren Zevon – Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner
from A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon (1986)

Streuss, a buddy from high school and college, accompanied me the first time I saw Zevon live. As Streuss was prone to declare, “I’m part Norwegian,” I think he took particular pride in the exploits of “Norway’s bravest son.”

Warren Zevon – Play It All Night Long
from A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon (1986)

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 – Splendid Isolation
from Transverse City (1989)

The first “new” album by Warren Zevon that I bought at release. There were no shortage of eclectic musicians who guested on Zevon’s albums, ranging from R.E.M. to Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan to George Clinton.

Neil Young makes an appearance on the splendid Splendid Isolation.

Warren Zevon – Heartache Spoken Here
from Mr. Bad Example (1991)

Dwight Yoakam adds harmony vocals to the twangy Heartache Spoken Here and makes me 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
from Mr. Bad Example (1991)

“They say love conquers all. You can’t start it like a car. You can’t stop it with a gun.”


Warren Zevon – Mutineer
from Mutineer (1995)

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 ever devoted an entire show to one guest). Part of the interview and a rather poignant performance of Mutineer can be seen here.

Warren Zevon – Keep Me In Your Heart
from The Wind (2003)

I wasn’t particularly wowed by Zevon’s late ’90s output, but the man went out on a high note with The Wind, released just two weeks before he passed away.

It was his sardonic wit that drew me to Warren Zevon’s music, but the man was capable of delivering the sweet with the bitter and Keep Me In Your Heart is the simple and poignant song that closed The Wind.

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