DIARY 15 SEPTEMBER 2003
WARREN ZEVON - RIP @ 56
FROM ADELAIDE TO LAID IN THE SHADE
"14 hours later I was down in Adelaide/ looking through want ads
sipping Fosters in the shade/ I opened up an agency somewhere down the
line/ to hire Aboriginals to work the opal mines/ but I attached their
wages and took a whopping cut/ whisked away their workman's comp and pauperised
the lot." - Mr Bad Example - Warren Zevon-Jorge Calderon.
Chicago born singer-songwriter Warren Zevon first toured Australia
with Little River Band in 1990 he soaked up Aussie culture from the
shade of the Hilton circuit.
It's not clear how many shonky corporate crooks he put on the griller
but by the time he returned in 1992 he had released his hilarious
parodic travelogue as the title track of his 11th album 'Mr Bad Example.'
So when I asked him about the source of his song at a packed gig with
Steve Hoy at Melbourne nightclub Grain Store he just laughed and joked
about crime novelist Ken Millar who wrote under the name of Ross McDonald.
Zevon, who died @ 56 on September 7, dedicated his 1980 disc 'Bad
Luck Streak In Dancing School' to Millar.
spawned by the bearded baritone's battle with alcoholism in 1979-80 at
a rehab centre in Santa Barbara, was released the same year as first live
album 'Stand In The Fire.'
Zevon later released second live disc 'Learning To Flinch' - a collage
of concerts in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, England and the U.S. in
AND CRIME WRITERS
Zevon fled Los Angeles for Santa Barbara - home of Millar - to escape
demons which tuned him into a gun slinger in his home studio.
The singer preceded Texan troubadour Steve Earle by more than a decade
as he fired three bullets from his 44 Magnum into his face on a cover
of the 1978 'Excitable Boy' album.
Six times wed Earle shot one of his CDS because his record company had
changed his song sequencing.
Zevon also wrote songs with Jimmy Buffett writing mate Thomas McGuane
as early as 1982 - they penned 'The Overdraft' for 'The Envoy.'
Buffett collaborated with Hiassen and was quoted in crime novels by Floridian
writer John D McDonald that featured the character Travis McGee.
On the not so cryptic 2002 album 'My Ride's Here,' Zevon penned 'You're
A Whole Different Person When You're Scared' with Hunter S Thompson.
But his most productive novelist collaborator was satirical Floridian
crime writer and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen who quoted him in
his book 'Native Tongue.'
Zevon flew to Miami after reading the book and they wrote 'Seminole Bingo'
and 'Rottweiler Blues' for his 1995 disc 'Mutineer.' They penned 'Basket
Case,' which shared title with a Hiassen novel, for 'My Ride's Here.'
Twice wed Zevon became an honorary member of the 'Rock Bottom Remainders'
- a band of writers including humorist and fellow Miami Herald columnist
"In 1998, at Hiaasen's urging, we invited Zevon to perform with the
band," Barry revealed in an obituary to Zevon who recorded his final
album 'The Wind' after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form
of cancer, inoperable, in August, 2002.
"It's the same disease that killed Steve McQueen which amused Zevon
who could find humour in pretty much anything. To our shock, he agreed,
and flew to Miami to join us on stage for a performance at the Miami Book
Fair. We did several of his songs, including 'Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,'
hilarious 'Hula Hula Boys,' legendary 'Lawyers, Guns and Money.' We also
did 'Werewolves of London' but Zevon insisted that it had to be sung by
Stephen King. King happily agreed, belting out a truly frightening version
of the song, much to Zevon's delight."
GUNS & MONEY
Not surprisingly, 'Lawyers, Guns & Money,' - penned in 1978 - became
Zevon's best known tune here.
It was the theme for the groundbreaking Melbourne RRR-FM radio show of
lawyers Ross Campbell and Dennis Connell under their alter egos of Stevenson
It featured Ross's latter day 3AW breakfast co-host John Burns, aka Sir
Lunchalot and Melbourne Chief Magistrate John 'Darcy' Dugan.
Other regulars included famed crime fighter Chief Inspector Kim West and
writer John Silvester - both under aliases.
The top rating breakfast boys hosted a dinner party for Zevon - an honour
they also bestowed on Texan tunesmith Guy Clark on his tours.
Zevon obituaries have described him as a cult figure and rock singer but
he was much more that that.
He also earned healthy royalties from his lucrative career as a country
songwriter and some time singer of honky tonk tunes.
His recording career, which began in 1969 when he took on production of
debut disc 'Wanted Dead Or Alive' after splitting with Kim Fowley, had
much greater longevity than most rock acts whose shelf life was a paltry
decade or less.
Zevon wrote seven of the nine songs on 'Wanted Dead Or Alive,' now released
with a previously unavailable 10 track disc, 'A Leaf In The Wind.'
WAS A GAMBLER
The former child prodigy hung out with classical composer Igor Stravinsky
at the age of 14 after being introduced by writer/conductor Robert Craft
in San Pedro.
Zevon was the son of a Russian immigrant boxer who eked out a not so humble
living as a card sharp in the windy city before the family moved to Arizona
He developed wanderlust after his parents split when he was 15 - his father
died at 86 in 1996.
And, it was in a car that Poppa Zevon won in a card game, that Warren
first headed to the thriving folk scene of Greenwich Village in 1963.
The Turtles made a Zevon song, 'Like the Seasons,' the B side of their
big hit 'Happy Together,' and also cut his 'Outside Chance.
Those royalties paid his rent for years - he also played guitar on a late
Phil Ochs tune 'Pleasures Of The Harbour.'
BROS AND POT ROASTS
Zevon could afford to cut loose from 1970 as leader of the band for the
Everly Bros - Don and Phil who inspired his 1972 song 'Frank And Jesse
Phil Everly was also the source for 'Werewolves Of London'
Zevon met second wife Crystal in 1971, wed her in Nevada in 1974 but they
divorced after producing a daughter Ariel who rewarded them with twin
grand sons just before the singer died.
Art imitated life when Zevon adorned his chest with one of Crystal's pot
roasts and then sang about it.
A roast, with a Smith & Wesson as the meat among the vegetables, appeared
on the inside sleeve of the 1978 album 'Excitable Boy' and featured in
the lyrics of the title track.
LINDA RONSTADT FOUR PLAY
But it was in 1973 that he penned two of his biggest earners - 'Poor,
Poor, Pitiful Me' and 'Hasten Down The Wind' for Linda Ronstadt.
Linda left Tucson, Arizona, for L.A. in 1964 and made three albums with
the 'Stone Poneys' from 1967 before choosing 'Hasten Down The Wind' as
the title track of her 1976 album.
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me was a hit for Linda in 1977 and had a second wind
as a country chart topper for Canadian chanteuse Terri Clark in 1996.
Ronstadt also earned royalties for Zevon with 1976 tune Mohammed's Radio
and oft recorded 'Carmelita' - a staple for Melbourne outlaw band 'Hit
And Run' in the 70's.
Zevon was busted for drunk driving outside the famed Troubadour bar in
L.A. in 1975 and fled to sing country songs in the Dubliner bar in Sitges,
Spain, where he also read McDonald novels.
It was there he met Soldier Of Fortune refugee and bar owner David Lindell
whose business card read "guerilla and mercenary soldier."
They later wrote both 'Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner' and 'Night
Time In The Switching Yard' after long booze fuelled nights and days.
Zevon returned to Spain after releasing his 1976 self titled disc, produced
by Jackson Browne, and wrote the aptly titled 'Lawyers, Guns And Money'
- also cut by Hank Williams Jr.
And he also performed the late Waylon Jennings tune 'Bob Wills Is Still
The King' in live shows.
But he had no luck pushing one of his songs to George Jones.
That was despite the duet with Kentucky born Dwight Yoakam on 'Heartache
Spoken Here' on Mr Bad Example.
ZEVON REACHED DWIGHT YOAKAM
Zevon revealed he discovered Yoakam after surfing his car radio dial in
Los Angeles - Dwight returned the compliment by guesting on the singer's
final disc 'The Wind.'
"I was just driving along avoiding, as I usually do, anything that
sounds like a rock station on the radio," Zevon revealed one the
eve of his 1992 Australian tour.
"I was flipping back and forward from jazz and news stations. I don't
think we have a classical station in this city of eight million people.
I listened to a country station and I heard Dwight Yoakam.
"I'd known his name for years but didn't know what he sounded like
and I was really knocked out. It was what inspired me to write the country
songs on Mr Bad Example. So when we finally got around to recording Heartache
Spoken Here I suggested we see if he'd sing on it."
Zevon recalled in 2000 that many of his covers by other artist had been
"I'll write a song and say 'I wrote this song for George Jones. Please
give this song to George Jones with my respect and admiration.' What's
this guy sell, he can't even listen to it. Nothing. And then a month later
I find out I have a No 1 country song 'Poor, Poor Pitiful Me' by Terri
Zevon composed jingles for television and radio commercials in the sixties.
He also wrote 'She Quit Me Man' for the movie 'Midnight Cowboy,' starring
Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight.
Ironically, Voight is the father of Angelina Jolie - fifth ex-wife of
Billy Bob Thornton who also appears on The Wind.
Zevon had a cameo in 1988 John Hughes comedy 'She's Having a Baby,' and
ill fated Yoakam directed western 'South of Heaven, West of Hell.'
He later contributed several songs to soundtracks and themes to TV series
'TekWar,' 'Tales From The Crypt,' 'Route 66' and the movie 'Things to
Do in Denver When You're Dead.'
And he was a frequent guest band leader on the top rating David Letterman
Show - an entire episode of the show was devoted to him last year.
Letterman provided backing vocals on 'Hit Somebody' - a Zevon elegy on
2002 disc 'My Ride's Here' to a professional hockey dude who longs to
be a goal-scoring hero.
Zevon's fascination with death can be traced back to the title of 1969
debut 'Wanted Dead Or Alive' which also included 'A Bullet For Ramona.'
'I'll Sleep When I'm Dead' surfaced on his self titled 1976 disc - his
It also recurs with 'Veracruz' which features Woodrow Wilson's guns, 'Roland
The Headless Thompson Gunner' and the title track of 1978 disc 'Excitable
Zevon teamed with latter day producer Jorge Calderon, their lyrical guns
blazing, on 'Jungle Work' on 1980 disc 'Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School.'
It also has a co-write with Bruce Springsteen on 'Jeannie Needs A Shooter.'
There's death by gun in 'Charlie's Medicine' on 1982 disc 'The Envoy.'
The title track is a prophetic piece on wars still sizzling 21 years later,
replete with an Elvis ode 'Jesus Mentioned.'
Zevon recalls his rehab in 'Detox Mansion' that he wrote with Calderon
for 1987 disc 'Sentimental Hygiene,' featuring REM.
And the late Jerry Garcia and bassist Howie Epstein, pharmaceutical casualties,
guest on 1989 album 'Transverse City' which features Neil Young and Jefferson
Airplane survivors Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady.
Zevon also joined REM members Bill Berry, Mike Buck and Mike Mills for
an album of covers in 1990 as 'Hindu Love Gods.'
TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD
But it was 1991 disc 'Mr Bad Example' that gave birth to his movie song
'Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead.'
Teaming with novelist Hiassen on 1995 disc 'Mutineer' enabled them to
satirise fast buck bozos in their junk bond kings parody 'Seminole Bingo'
and 'Rottweiler Blues.'
"Got a Glock in the bedside table/ machine gun leaning by the bedroom
door/ Kevlar vest in the closet, well, I wear it when I go to the store."
The singer may have vanquished villains by the score but turned the smoking
gun on himself in 2000 disc 'Life'll Kill Ya' - first of a trilogy for
Artemis Records (also a latter day home of Steve Earle.)
This was about two years before Zevon was diagnosed but his inside sleeve
featured a graveyard of corpses.
"Some get the awful, awful diseases, Some get the knife, some get
the gun, Some get to die in their sleep, at the age of 101."
So how much was prophesy with song titles such as 'I Was In The House
When The House Burned Down,' 'My Shit's Fucked Up,' final track 'Don't
Let Us Get Sick' and the title track?
The singer impaled himself when he penned 'Macgillycuddy's Reeks' and
the title track of 'My Ride's Here' with Irish poet Paul Muldoon.
"I was staying at the Marriott with Jesus and John Wayne/ I was waiting
for a chariot, they were waiting for a train."
That song became a self fulfilling prophecy when he was diagnosed in August,
2002. "I keep asking myself how I suddenly was thrust into the position
of travel agent for death," Zevon later revealed."
"But then, of course, the whole point of why it's so strange that
I had already assigned myself to that role so many years of writing ago."
So it was natural Zevon chose only one cover for his finale album 'The
Wind' - Dylan epic 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door.'
Dylan had already included Zevon songs in his live shows when he received
the news of his protege's pending death.
See Review of The Wind below which features Springsteen, Jackson Browne,
Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Ry Cooder, Thornton and Yoakam.
FROM THE CRYPT
Death was a cruel career move for Zevon but the flood of retrospectives,
re-releases and tributes date back to 1966.
Asylum released a CD version of The Best Of Warren Zevon - A Quite Normal
Life which debuted on vinyl in 1986.
This year EMI/Capitol re-released 'Wanted Dead Or Live' with the bonus
10 track album 'A Leaf In The Wind.'
It was recorded before Zevon went to Spain in the early seventies and
features songs such as 'Jukin', 'Tules Blues' and 'Doin' The Missouri
The label has also re-released Sentimental Hygiene and Transverse City
with bonus tracks and appearances by Dylan and George Clinton.
In 1996 Rhino Records released a double CD 'I'll Sleep When I'm Dead'
and later a single disc retrospective 'Genius.'
There's also another historic disc called 'The First Sessions' from 1966.
The First Sessions features singles and covers by Zevon and partner Violet
Santangelo as he was finishing at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.
According to Santangelo, now known as Laura Kenyon (derived from Laurel
Canyon, the hippie hideaway over Hollywood), the two formed a platonic
bond and retreated to her bedroom to listen to Beatles records after school.
There's a cover of 'I've Just Seen a Face,' Dylan's 'If You Gotta Go,
Go Now' and Jimmy Reed's "Peeping and Hiding".
The First Sessions also contains demos Zevon cut after he quit the partnership.
Among them is 'A Bullet for Ramona' containing a murder confession and
a defence: "Oh, today I shot Ramona, Ma/ She ain't gonna cheat on
American PAY- TV network also recorded a documentary about the making
of final studio disc The Wind.
'Warren Zevon: Keep Me in Your Heart,' was the first episode of the channel's
new 'Inside Out' series.
The documentary depicted Zevon's trademark candour and sardonic humour
as he fought the clock to finish his album.
BLOWING IN THE WIND
WARREN ZEVON - THE WIND (Artemis-Difrint). When Chicago born Warren
Zevon, son of a card sharp, received his death sentence 13 month ago he
played his last ace with vicarious glee.
Zevon, 56, arose from his deathbed, rounded up his mates and cut his 14th
and final album.
And, despite vocal frailties, the cancer ridden singer proved the death
he predicted in song many times, was a not so cryptic career move.
The former Everly Brothers band leader sets the mood with Dirty Life And
Times and Disorder In The House.
"Some days I feel like my shadow's casting me/ some days the sun
don't shine/ some times I wonder what tomorrow's going to bring/ when
I think about my dirty life and times."
Zevon first hit Greenwich Village in a sports car his dad won in a card
game and sings of a fork in the road to the cold shoulder which cost him
his health but also produced some of the most macabre, sardonic works.
His self deprecatory humour sets up a character who seeks a surrogate
sister of his lover with "low self esteem" while he is "winding
down my dirty life and times."
This parodic parable segues into "disorder in the house/ it's a fate
worse than fame/ even the Lhasa Apso seems to be ashamed."
The rocking anthem, with Springsteen on guitar, swaggers with a salacious
sting akin to Australia inspired 1991 title track Mr Bad Example and is
followed by his only cover - a revamp of mentor Bob Dylan's amazingly
apt Knockin' On Heaven's Door.
Zevon introduces Numb As A Statue with a quip "let's do another bad
one because I like it when the blood drains from Dave's face."
It's assumed the face is Letterman or Dave Barry and not David Lindley
(one of three slide guitarists with Joe Walsh and Ry Cooder).
Certainly not docco narrator and harmony singer Billy Bob Thornton whose
fifth ex-wife Angelina Jolie's blood once hung around his neck.
Pain killers drive the lyric "I'm as numb as a statue I might have
to beg, borrow or steal some feelings from you/ so I can have some feelings
But there's suffice soul left on love ballads She's Too Good For Me and
El Amor de mi Vida.
There's shades of Tony Joe White in the groove of the haunting Prison
Grove - one of the highlights.
Mood swings include a jam with Walsh on bluesy Rub Me Raw and faux fervour
in The Rest Of The Night.
But the curtain falls on Please Stay and tear jerking Dylanesque finale
Keep Me In Your Heart For A While - penned for partner Kristen.
"Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath/keep me in your
heart for a while/ I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse/keep
me in your heart for a while."
Such sorrow should not shock - this is the long goodbye for the genius
who wrote Hasten Down The Wind for Linda Ronstadt. - DAVID DAWSON
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