Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reconsider Me (or Warren Zevon)

Warren Zevon--"Porcelain Monkey" (mp3)
Warren Zevon--"Numb As A Statue" (mp3)
Warren Zevon--"Disorder In The House" (mp3)

One of the beautiful aspects of the many generations of Ipods is that they break after a few years, and if you're a disorganized soul like me who doesn't have all his music on one computer, doesn't have everything synched for easy reload, that means each time I get a new Ipod, I have to go through all of the cd's again.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Recently, I loaded up all of my Warren Zevon cds again, and that was quite a good thing. The man has an impressive catalog dating back to the '70's, with both his share of hits and a good list of songs that most people don't seem to know about or listen to. That's a combination I like, because it keeps me from getting tired of an artist's music. If I hear music everywhere I go all the time, I tire of it quickly. So, anyway, yeah, I've got "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" and all of that kind of stuff back in the mix again. But the twin revelations have been the material from Life'll Kill Ya and The Wind.

Those last couple of cds that came out when he was diagnosed and dying of lung cancer were hard to listen to. Even funnyish songs like "Life'll Kill Ya" or "My Shit's Fucked Up" still had the underlying reminders of impending doom for poor old Warren. And the last cd, The Wind, well, I bought it dutifully the day that it came out, and I may have "spun" it a time or two, but it didn't really take. In spite of the impressive list of guest participants, the mental image of Warren wheezing his way through songs with barely enough energy to finish them, and the whole feeling of a pre-death wake just didn't work for me.

Then, after his death, the biographies and oral histories started coming out. I read a good bit of one in a Border's in New Orleans one night. Two things emerge as real patterns: 1) the guy was one of the worst alcoholics you are ever likely to encounter, and 2) perhaps related, the guy was pretty much an asshole to everyone who knew him.

I guess I tend to get a little too caught up in judging people's lives, because I went through a similar phase when Springsteen and his first wife were splitting up and he had already taken up with Patti Scialfa and all of the noble pretensions of his music just didn't seem real to me anymore. But, I got over it.

And now, I'm able to listen to those late Zevon songs with some distance, without the back story and the images and too-real life stories and all of the other distractions. Now, for the most part, they're back to being just music, and good music at that. When a faculty member here died a few months ago, I remember another teacher telling the man's son that his father had "done it right," had "shown all of us the proper way to go about this." I'm happy to say that I think Mr. Zevon has done exactly the same thing. To quote Dylan Thomas, Mr. Zevon "rage[d] against the dying of the light" and appears to have made the decision that if music was his raison d'etre, he would be a musician until the end. Enjoy these songs with the passage of time, and I think you'll discover that not only are the songs terrific, but that you will feel like you are dipping into the stream of Mr. Zevon's music rather than coming to a dried-up pond. The humor, the insight, the sentimentality, the self-deprecation--it's all there.
Both Zevon cds mentioned in this post are available at Itunes.


John said...

I just finished reading an article in Poetry magazine on the social function of poetry. Among other points, one of the take aways was that poetry's utility "is to shake us out of our standard American buy-stuff-and-watch-TV half life." I think the same can be said for good lyrics, paired with good melodies, as well. Zevon's live version of "Splendid Isolation" does that for me as do several of his other songs. An artist worth remembering.

Jarrod Myrick said...

wow great stuff

mmrules said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mmrules said...

Thanks for the Zevon..
He proved to be Very human..
But,he also was one of the few that could put words and music together for the rest of us to enjoy..
He is greatly missed..

Neil Cake said...

'poetry's utility "is to shake us out of our standard American buy-stuff-and-watch-TV half life." '

Ye-e-e-a-a-h... but you could say that about anything that isn't buying stuff and watching tv. Poetry pre-dates tv anyway, so it's utility is goes way further than distracting us from the tv.

John said...

Neil Cake,
Agreed; there's more to it than that, of course. Here's the link to the whole article. Worth printing off and reading.

Dan said...

I am a huge Zevon fan from way back.

But. How can you determine (rightly so, in my mind) that since he was one of the worst alcoholics you are ever likely to encounter and also was pretty much an asshole to everyone who knew him, that he had "done it right"?

jed said...

The validation that Zevon did it right would be the fact that Jorge Calderon went through it all with him, right until the end.

Bob said...

Dan, sorry, I was a bit confusing there. By "did it right," I meant conducted the end of his life with purpose and apparent dignity. The rest of his life, well.