Retrospective: Warren Zevon (1947 – 2003)

Posted: April 19, 2013 in Rock Music
Tags: , , , ,

Warren_Zevon

“Enjoy every sandwich.”

- Warren Zevon – to David Letterman – offering his insight on death.

Like many people I came to Warren Zevon’s music via his 1978 song “Werewolves of London” that he composed with LeRoy Marinell and Waddy Wachtel.  From the album “Excitable Boy“, the song hit the charts and stayed in the Top 40 for six weeks.  In addition to Wachtell’s guitar, the song features John McVie and Mick Fleetwood both of Fleetwood Mac fame on bass and drums respectively.  The song, notably, was produced by Jackson Browne.

Born in Chicago, the family moved to Fresno when he was a kid.  He has a somewhat unusual musical journey. As a teen he would go to Igor Stravinsky’s house where he studied classical music. After his parents divorced he quit HS and moved from LA to New York to pursue his music. There he did session work and composed jingles and even wrote some songs for The Turtles (“Like the Seasons” and “Outside Chance“). During the early 1970s, he toured regularly with the Everly Brothers as keyboard player and band leader.

Over the years I paid some attention to Warren but didn’t really focus more intently on him until I read of his diagnosis of inoperable peritoneal mesothelioma which is a disease associated with asbestos inhalation.  He reportedly had a phobia of doctors and hadn’t gone to one in 20 years until he was very sick.  He later commented in his typical wry, understated manner that not going to a doctor for so long “may have been a tactical error” on his part.

As a top-flight songwriter, Zevon has written a number of songs that are better known for being performed by others.  The most notable is probably “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” which was a huge hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1976.  I love covers. Not just because I’m an amateur musician but because they are such a testament to how a great song can sometimes be even better than originally recorded.  In honor of Warren’s death in 2003 a tribute album titled “Enjoy Your Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon” was released.  The performers are a who’s who of rock  royalty and for fans it’s a worthwhile purchase.

EnjoyEverySandwich

As far as collecting WZ recordings, you really can’t go wrong with “Excitable Boy” or his final release “The Wind” but for the casual fan I’d go for any one of the three Greatest Hits compilations that cover his music.  They include: “A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon” (1986), “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (An Anthology)“(1996), and “Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon” (2002).  I’m not sure why he released so many greatest hits albums.  He did have about a dozen studio releases and while that’s an admirable output, it’s not that many. If you need to choose among the three compilations, I’d go for the first one “A Quiet Normal Life…”.

One memorable part towards the end of his life was his final appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Letterman was a huge fan and given WZ’s now publicly known illness, he was the only guest that night and played a number of songs.  It was on this show that he uttered his now oft-quoted line “Enjoy every sandwich.” when commenting on his impending death.

Excitable_Boy_cover

Although I enjoy “Werewolves“, my two favorite WZ songs are “Accidentally Like a Martyr” and “Excitable Boy“. I’ve added both below along with some other picks.  I’ve closed with “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” – a gem of a song.

Videos

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACSeVC6umzg

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Comments
  1. Randy says:

    one of the best!

  2. Lucy says:

    Oh, no! Not “A Quiet Normal Life” – it’s got the “radio” (censored) version of Lawyers, Guns And Money. The ISWID anthology has some songs on it that are unavailable anywhere else.

    • Tim Brosnan says:

      That’s a good point, Lucy although I was aiming for if you had to choose just one of the compilations I’d go for AQNL as being more representative. Do you know of any rare recordings or boots of WZ that fans seek or trade? Thanks for commenting!

      • Lucy says:

        Absolutely! Go here: http://warrenzevon.freeforums.org/trading-and-weeding-f16.html?sid=76decb19d2acdba498ed376e00583c03

        If you want The Covers Project, I’ll need your email to invite you to join our Dropbox folder of copyrighted stuff that can’t be legally put out to the general public. The Covers Project is there, in mp3 & wav formats, along with track lists. (We’re still looking for Four Strong Winds and Pancho & Lefty, which have been mentioned as being performed by WZ at various concerts.)

        We had more stuff in the folder, but somebody cut/pasted instead of copy/paste and none of us who shared interviews, etc, have had the time to put ‘em back.

        All song lyrics are available at warrenzevon.org under the “Music” button

      • Tim Brosnan says:

        Thanks. I’d love that. I’m a big fan of artists doing covers and have collected a bunch over the years. Even came across several compilations of a single song (e.g. Fortune Teller) all by different artists. I think they were called “Garage Mechanics”.If I can help you with your search for WZ material happy to do so. I signed up for the forum.Tim > Date: Sun, 21 Apr 2013 12:25:47 +0000 > To: tbrosnan@live.com >

  3. […] Retrospective: Warren Zevon (1947 – 2003) […]

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