Remembering Warren Zevon on his 69th Birthday

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Video of the Week: Terminally Ill Warren Zevon Records His Final Album in 2002

On the 10th Anniversary of His Death, Watch Warren Zevon’s First & Last Appearances on Letterman

Warren Zevon … 'He had tonnes of charisma.'

(Source: Open Culture)

Singer/songwriter Warren Zevon died of lung cancer ten years ago tomorrow. I remember the day of his passing well, but at the time I was a little baffled by the enormous number of tributes to the musician, who I vaguely thought of (stupidly) as a novelty songwriter vaguely associated with the L.A. soft rock scene. How wrong I was. I arrived at the Zevon party late, but I finally showed up, and came to understand why almost every musician from the seventies and eighties that I admire deeply admires Warren Zevon and his hardbitten, witty, and unsentimental narrative style. There’s so much Zevon in so many troubadours I love: Joe Jackson, Tom Waits, Springsteen. Always on the cusp of stardom but never quite a star like peers and former roommates Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and Jackson Browne, Zevon was nevertheless one of the most well-regarded writers of the L.A. rock scene. Whether it was his misanthropic commitment to his cynicism—as Allmusic describes his personality—that sidelined him or his struggles with acute alcoholism isn’t entirely clear, but he always had his champions among critics and peers alike.

In addition to the aforementioned luminaries, Zevon’s career was boosted by members of R.E.M., with whom he recorded under the name Hindu Love Gods, and—most visibly and consistently—by David Letterman, who had a twenty year relationship with Zevon as his guest and sometime substitute band leader. At the top of the post, you can see Zevon’s final appearance on Letterman’s show. The two attempt light banter but lapse occasionally into awkward pauses as they discuss Zevon’s diagnosis. The talk is frank and filled with mordant wit, as was Zevon’s way, and Letterman confesses he’s astounded at his longtime friend’s ability to keep his sense of humor. When Letterman asks Zevon if he’s learned something Dave doesn’t know about life and death, Zevon responds with the endlessly quotable line, “not unless I know how much you’re supposed to enjoy every sandwich.” In the clip above, watch one of Zevon’s final performances on the same show. He plays the powerful ballad “Mutineer,” a song with a fitting epitaph for Zevon’s life: “ain’t no room on board for the insincere.”

And in the clip above, see Zevon’s first appearance on Letterman in 1982, playing “Excitable Boy” and “The Overdraft.” Watching these early and late performances, I’m baffled again—this time by why Warren Zevon wasn’t a major star. But it doesn’t matter. Those who know his work, including nearly every major singer/songwriter of the last forty years, know how amazing he was. For more of Zevon’s amazingness, check out this full 1982 concert film from an appearance in Passaic, New Jersey. And please, remember to enjoy every sandwich.

Songs You May Have Missed #224

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Warren Zevon: “Looking For the Next Best Thing” (1982)

Some years ago a little stray quote made its way to my doorstep. And since I’ve long since forgotten where it came from I’ve adopted it and treated it as my own. It went something like: A great guitar solo has a beginning, a middle and an end.

When I think of the quote, this is the song that always comes to mind. Session ace Waddy Wachtel’s solo in “Looking For the Next Best Thing” is like a little half-minute story, and a how-to guide for budding prospectives on constructing a solo that doesn’t just sound like a lot of wanking around.

The song has significance for me beyond the fact that it contains one of my favorite solos. Let’s just say that, hypothetically, if two people who each had some less-than-successful relationship history found themselves attracted to each other, this song could potentially make a nice icebreaker between them.

From Scorn For Zevon, A Father-Daughter Moment Is Born

zevon

(Source: npr)

When she was a kid, NPR listener Christina Pappas hated her dad’s taste in music. (Still does, she says.) But her hatred was centered on one particular song: “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon.

“I’d hear it on the radio, or my dad would play it on the CD player, and I’d go on these very long, elaborate rants about this song, and it’s what’s wrong with the world today,” Pappas says. “You know, if our parents are listening to songs with this kind of nonsensical lyrics, then how can we ever hope to inherit a better world for them — very melodramatic rants.”

Pappas says she’s since come to appreciate Zevon’s other songs, but at the time, her hatred for “Werewolves” was more something to “goad [her] dad with,” a running joke that’s been going on for more than 20 years. Then her father got a cell phone.

“My dad’s a truck driver now, and whenever he’s on the road and hears this song, he will call me, no matter what time of day, usually not too far into the night,” Pappas says. “And he will blast the song into the phone and I will begin one of my rants, and then we’ll have a good laugh together. And then we’ll just chat and catch up, so it’s also a good way to make sure that we talk to each other at least once or twice a week.”

Christiana Pappas and her dad.

Christiana Pappas and her dad.

‘Wolfing’

Her family now calls it “wolfing,” and in college, her roommates didn’t understand. At one point, a voicemail message containing nothing but the chorus to “Werewolves in London” almost resulted in a call to the police in case it was a stalker.

“I had to say, ‘No, no. This is not a stalker. This is my father,'” Pappas says, laughing.

Even before Christina Pappas got engaged, the next running joke was that “Werewolves of London” would play at her wedding.

“I told my father when I called his home — when I was engaged — the first thing I said to him was, ‘Just so we’re clear, I am not dancing to ‘Werewolves of London’ at my wedding,'” she says. “He kind of laughed and said, ‘Oh, come on.’ I said, ‘No, it’s not happening.’ My stepmother reminded him that it was my day and not his, and he agreed that whatever song I chose — that’s what we would dance to.”

Embracing The Inevitable

As the wedding drew nearer, Pappas says she just couldn’t see herself dancing to “What a Wonderful World” as planned. On her wedding day, she could no longer avoid the inevitable.

“Once that opening bass line started playing to that song, my dad froze,” Pappas says. “And he looked at me and I just smiled and said, ‘This is the only song we could ever dance to.’ And he started crying and I started crying. I can honestly say that’s probably the second time in my life I’ve seen my father tear up. We danced to ‘Werewolves of London’ — we danced and sang along to ‘Werewolves of London.'”

And howled?

“And howled for all it was worth.”

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