"I'm insane. I'm fucked up. I have problems. But I don't get depressed and I don't get bored."
Warren Zevon (1947-2003) was a Southern California singer-songwriter who had one big hit in the late 1970s with "Werewolves of London" and a cult following. Friend to Hunter S. Thompson
, he was the only known student of Igor Stravinsky
ever to break the top forty.
The list of songs he wrote for other artists is long, and may contain surprises. He wrote songs for artists ranging from The Turtles
to Linda Ronstadt
to Bruce Springsteen
, in styles from rock to country to punk. In interviews he often described himself as a "heavy metal folk singer."
In 2002, just as he was in the middle of a commercial and critical comeback while touring for his album My Ride's Here
, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and was given months to live. He recorded the critically acclaimed album The Wind
in 2003, and died a month after its release.
He's often described as a One-Hit Wonder
, though this isn't actually true. Two of his songs ("Werewolves of London" and a cover of "A Certain Girl") made the Billboard Hot 100 (and "Leave My Monkey Alone" got up to #12 on the Dance/Club list), two of his albums (A Quiet Normal Life
and The Wind
) went gold, and another (Excitable Boy
) went platinum. He also won two Grammy Awards posthumously
. These days, though, "Werewolves" is all anybody remembers
As usual, you can find the basics at The Other Wiki
"Dirty Life and Tropes":
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Several of his songs have alliterative lines.
- "Werewolves of London":
Little old lady got mutilated late last night
Werewolves of London again
- "Roland the headless Thompson Gunner":
The deal was made in Denmark
On a dark and stormy day
- Anti-Love Song: "Looking for the Next Best Thing", "Nobody's In Love This Year"
- Black Comedy: Which could sum up a lot of Zevon's career in general. See such classics as "Excitable Boy," "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," "Mr. Bad Example," and others.
- Discussing his inoperable, fatal cancer: "I may have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years."
- "Excitable Boy", perhaps, but "Roland" is hardly comedic, despite the ironic nature of how he settles his score. Roland's supernaturally reanimated corpse stalks all of Africa for the man who blew his head off. When he finds him, he blows the man's entire BODY away.
- Celebrity Cameo: David Letterman says "Hit somebody" in the chorus of "Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song)".
- Censored Title: The song "My Shit's Fucked Up" wasn't listed on the back of the CD case for Life'll Kill Ya.
- Cluster F-Bomb: "My Shit's Fucked Up," off of "Life'll Kill Ya."
- Concept Album: Transverse City, a Cyberpunk vision set about Twenty Minutes into the Future.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The junk bond king in "Seminole Bingo"
- Crapsack World: "The Indifference of Heaven," Transverse City, Life'll Kill Ya,... a recurring theme in his work, especially on his last few albums.
- Creator Breakdown/Real Life Writes the Plot: Zevon was a very personal songwriter. Many of his songs reflect his romantic feelings ("Reconsider Me," "Searching For A Heart"), his issues with drugs and alcohol ("Desperados Under The Eaves," "Trouble Waiting To Happen"), his experiences with Los Angeles and California in general ("Carmelita", most of Transverse City possibly). Of course, the man had a sense of humour, so this is lampshaded frequently (see "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," "Bad Karma," "Mr. Bad Example," etc.).
- Dead Artists Are Better: His only Grammys were awarded after his death.
- Death Song: "Something Bad Happened to a Clown," among others.
- Deep South: "Renegade"
- Downer Ending: Many of his songs and his death at 56.
- Drugs Are Bad: "Carmelita"
- Escape Artist: From "For My Next Trick, I'll Need a Volunteer":
"Put me in chains and I will escape"
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: "Gorilla, You're a Desperado".
- Also, "Leave My Monkey Alone" and "Monkey Wash Donkey Rinse." Sorta.
- The Gambler: The title character in "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded" is discouraged from marrying one, but does anyway. It doesn't turn out well.
- Also, "Seminole Bingo" and "Lawyers, Guns, and Money"
- Heavy Meta: "Mohammed's Radio", "Johnny Strikes Up the Band", "Piano Fighter"
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: "She's Too Good For Me."
- Ice Hockey: "Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song)"
- Laser-Guided Karma: "Bad Karma"
- Life Will Kill You: Well, yes. His 2000 album was even called Life'll Kill Ya.
- Live Album: Stand in the Fire and Learning to Flinch
- Long Title:
- "Backs Turned, Looking Down the Path"
- "Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School"
- "For My Next Trick, I'll Need a Volunteer"
- "Looking for the Next Best Thing"
- "Even a Dog Can Shake Hands"
- "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead"
- "Something Bad Happened to a Clown"
- "I Was in the House When the House Burned Down"
- "You're a Whole Different Person When You're Scared"
- Los Angeles: "Join Me in L.A." is just the start.
- Magic Pants: In "Werewolves of London":
Huh, I'd like to meet his tailor
- The Mexican Revolution: The subject of "Veracruz".
- Mistaken Nationality: Often mistaken for being a Brit due to his hit song's subject matter.
- No Export for You : For many years, many of Zevon's albums were unavaliable in different parts of the world, particularly Europe, for different reasons. Thankfully, this was largely changed in the 2000s when previously rare albums were finally released... with bonus tracks.
- Obligatory Bondage Song: "Hostage-O." "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" almost veers into this, but the narrator abruptly cuts off and says he doesn't want to talk about it.
- Ode To Sobriety: "Detox Mansion"
- One Woman Song:
- "A Bullet for Ramona"
- "Suzie Lightning"
- Our Werewolves Are Different: In "Werewolves of London" they satisfy their meat cravings at Chinese restaurants.
- Not exclusively. They still mutilate little old ladies and will rip your lungs out if they get the chance. More a matter of a somewhat broader diet than a human-friendly one.
- Also, Lee Ho Fook's doesn't sell beef chow mein, so some think it is people after all
- Outlaw: "Frank and Jesse James"
- Persona Non Grata: In "Lord Byrons Luggage":
"They pronounced me persona non grata
Goes to show that you can't come and go as you please"
- Precision F-Strike:
"Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money
The shit has hit the fan"
- Private Military Contractors: "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner", "Jungle Work"
- Production Posse: They didn't all show up on every album, but you can reasonably expect the following names to show up in the credits: Jackson Browne, Waddy Wachtel, Jorge Calderón, David Lindley, J.D. Souther, at least one Eagle (usually Glenn Frey, but sometimes almost the entire band), at least one member of Fleetwood Mac, and, in the later ones, his son Jordan Zevon.
- Pull a Rabbit out of My Hat: Mentioned in "For My Next Trick, I'll Need a Volunteer"
- Sanity Slippage: "Basket Case"
- Saw a Woman in Half: Mentioned in "For My Next Trick, I'll Need a Volunteer"
- Self-Titled Album: His 1976 major label debut.
- Shout-Out: "Johnny Strikes Up the Band" is reportedly a tribute to Elton John.
- The Stand in the Fire live version of "Werewolves of London" has a couple, if only in passing. Some of these are quotable in Zevon fan communities.
- "Excitable Boy" has a disturbing one. The name of the eponymous boy's victim is "Little Susie." Zevon had previously been in the Everly Brothers' road band.
- "Boom Boom Mancini"
- The "So I pawned my Smith-Coronanote " in "Carmelita" is a reference to The Lost Weekend.
- The "Norman" mentioned at the end of "The French Inhaler" is Norman Mailer.
- Something Blues: "Tule's Blues", "Rottweiler Blues"
- Surreal Music Video: Leave My Monkey Alone.
- Take That: Zevon may have had a grudge against Talking Heads. Not only did he title a song "I Was in the House When the House Burned Down", but in his song "The Overdraft" (mocking the Talking Heads's gloomy "The Overload"), the singer is paranoid and on the run much like in the Heads' "Life During Wartime" — except in Zevon's song, the guy is on the lam because of a bounced check.
"Sweet home Alabama
Play that dead band's song
Turn those speakers up full blast
Play it all night long"
- Technology Marches On: From "Networking" on 1989's Transverse City:
"Networking, I am user friendly
Networking, I install with ease
Data processed, truly Basic
I will upload you, you can download me"
- Theremin: Plays one on "Porcelain Monkey"
- Unwanted Harem: "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"
- Villain Song: "Mr. Bad Example"
- Writer of Mean Characters, Nice Songwriter: He was very polite to fans.