First of all thanks to CRSM and PJM for your comments on last week’s June Tabor post. Unicorns and The Scarecrow, are great as you say. There are many more classics to seek out in the Tabor back catalogue. Thanks also to Sean Toddington for recommending the Loudon Wainwright song In C, which was new to me and is excellent.
After all that tugging at the heartstrings maybe it’s time for something ostensibly a bit more upbeat, namely the music of Warren Zevon, one of rock’s great comic lyricists.
Born in Chicago in 1947, Zevon cut his musical teeth playing keyboards on tour with the Everly Brothers. While his first solo LP, Wanted Dead Or Alive, sank without trace, his eponymous second, released in 1976, became known as the ultimate Los Angeles album. To find out why, listen to Carmelita, a song that combines the misery of heroin addiction with lashings of unnecessary geographical detail as Zevon hocks his typewriter to pay for a fix.
Well, I pawned my Smith Corona
And I went to meet my man
He hangs out down on Alvarado Street
By the Pioneer chicken stand.
Also included was I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, one of many Zevon compositions on the theme of mortality and a precursor of his own early demise. I saw him perform that year, supporting Jackson Browne at the Palace Theatre, Manchester. Browne and his band were magnificent; Zevon underwhelming with only a piano for company.
The next album, 1978’s Excitable Boy, brought Zevon’s mordant wit to the fore and featured his best-known songs Werewolves of London, Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, and Lawyers, Guns and Money.
So far so good. But Zevon struggled to repeat his success and over the years produced a series of commercial failures. Despite their poor sales figures, each album tended to contain a few little gems. Personal favourites include The Hula Hula Boys and Gorilla You’re A Desperado.
Zevon believed life should be lived to the full, hence his motto ‘Enjoy Every Sandwich’. Sadly, that meant taking everything to excess and he required frequent treatments for drug and alcohol addiction. Between spells in rehab he relaunched his career several times and in 2000 released Life’ll Kill Ya, on his recurring theme of death. Tracks included the prophetic Don’t Let Us Get Sick, plus the brilliant For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer – opening couplet: Well I can saw a woman in two, But you wouldn’t want to look in the box when I’m through.
In 2002 Zevon made the album My Ride’s Here and was diagnosed with terminal pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the membrane around the lungs and chest lining. It is thought he might have been exposed to asbestos as a child while playing in the attic of his father’s carpet store.
Rather than stopping work and taking heavy medication to fight the disease, he threw himself into recording his farewell album The Wind, featuring guest artists including Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, David Lindley, Billy Bob Thornton, Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty and Dwight Yoakam. Including the poignant Keep Me In Your Heart, it reached no 12 in the US album charts, his greatest success since Excitable Boy, and provided Zevon with his first Grammy awards. Following its release, he said his final goal was to live long enough to see the latest Bond movie. He succeeded, but died on September 7, 2003, at his home in Los Angeles. He was 56.
Warren Zevon left many musical moments to treasure – none more so, for me, than a relatively straightforward love song, Let Nothing Come Between You. Enjoy it . . . and every sandwich.