Singer/songwriter Warren Zevon was born on this day in 1947.
Well, I’m sitting here playing solitaire
With my pearl-handled deck
The county won’t give me no more methadone
And they cut off your welfare check
Carmelita, hold me tighter
I think I’m sinking down
And I’m all strung out on heroin
On the outskirts of town
— “Carmelita” (1974)
I first knew Warren Zevon’s music from Linda Ronstadt’s covers: she sang four songs that he included on his 1976 album (“Hasten Down the Wind”, “Mohammed’s Radio”, “Carmelita”, and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”), an album I didn’t know until Excitable Boy came out in 1978. My cousin played both albums for me, and I was immediately smitten by the poetry, the socio-political commentary, the offbeat subject matter that sometimes went to the macabre (as in the title song of the 1978 album), and Zevon’s voice, which seemed perfect for his material.
I’ve always liked those two albums the best, and I’m not sure whether it’s because they were my introduction to his music. When he released Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, I saw him perform at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium. It was a great concert, and somewhere I have a bunch of slides that I took with my camera. One day, I’ll find someone with a slide scanner and I’ll digitize them.
She’s so many women
He can’t find the one who was his friend
So he’s hanging on to half a heart
He can’t have the restless part
So he tells her to hasten down the wind
— “Hasten Down the Wind” (1975)
Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School had some good songs, as did his next studio album, The Envoy, but neither did as well as the others... and then he took a nose-dive, fired by his record label and descending into alcoholism and drug abuse. He eventually kicked the problems and came back with Sentimental Hygiene and a series of subsequent records, but I’ve just stuck with what he did on Asylum Records, and that’s how I’ll always remember his music.
Warren Zevon, who titled a song from his 1976 album “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, went to sleep on the 7th of September, 2003, at the age of only 56.
I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this
I’m the innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck
Between a rock and a hard place
And I’m down on my luck
— “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” (1977)