Stub Heaven: The Review And The Stub To Prove It: Warren Zevon At Irving Plaza, February 1999
Lawyers, Guns and Money
I Was in the House When the House Burned Down
Mr. Bad Example
Boom Boom Mancini
Poor Poor Pitiful Me
Back in the High Life Again
(Steve Winwood cover)
My Shit’s Fucked Up
Accidentally Like a Martyr
Play It All Night Long
Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner
Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead
Werewolves of London
I got into Warren Zevon the best way imaginable: in the midst of punk, say 1978, 1979, I was caught up in the Lebanese civil war and got unstuck on Excitable Boy, the perfect soundtrack for a world where not only was everyone terrified, they were drunk, drug addled, getting laid to ridiculous degrees and dying on a very consistent basis. It was like living deep inside a Warren Zevon song, superviolence, political mayhem, life passing swiftly and the deepest of emotions raised and lowered and raised and lowered. Plus, while I was into punk, West Beirut was into Los Angeles soft rock and for all his lyrical valhallaisms, musically he was a mainstream guy, like a Lindsay Buckingham or a man who Springsteen claimed played Abel to Zevon’s Cain, Jackson Browne. Finally, Zevon was an alcoholic and civil wars are tailor made for alcoholics because time was irrational for both countries without laws and drinkers without boundaries. I once went to a disco and fighting broke out in the street outside and I got stuck there for a couple of days: that sort of thing was something like the way alcohol made you lose track of days at a time.
So I was a fan, not a major major fan. 1986’s A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon was my go to and remained so till 2002’s Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon, which became my new favorite. In the years since his death I seriously caught up though I was very aware of his material and in February 1999, I finally got to catch him live at a small club, Irving Plaza and I was very impressed. For the most part, Zevon sat behind his piano equal parts, as my friend Bob Nevin noted, droll and laconic. Without a back up band, he performed solo for 90 minutes and hit a lot of hits though missed out on “Muhammed’s Radio” and “Ain’t That Pretty At All,” and while he was certainly a cool customer, when the song required it, an early, magnificent “Boom Boom Mancini” and a devastating closing one-two “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead” and “Werewolves Of London,” clipped us about the head.
Things to do at Irving Plaza amounted to a lesson in what Zevon was, he was Raymond Chandler working in a world of lesser writers, a pulp fiction sensibility working in a mileu, a class of music, that didn’t lend itself to a Chandler vision of faded sun songs at the end of time. I mentioned “Boom Boom Mancini” but now wonder what the hell the brutal “The Factory” was doing before it: for all my respect for, say, Fleetwood Mac, they were not even close to the hardnosed blue collr brutalized stories Zevon could sing. “The Factory” was death by overwork, “Boom Boom Mancini” was entertainment by brutality, between the two they were the sort of hold your breath moment that was more like punk than big pink ever could be.
Time would run out for the cancer ravaged genius of soft rock, but it hadn’t run out in February, 1999. “My Shit’s Fucked Up,” as prescient a piece of work as you will ever hear, is so great Kinky Fucking Friedman covered it and it is from the middle of the album to the middle of a show THAT DID NOT INCLUDE “I Was in the House When the House Burned Down,” a song so great it defies me to appreciate it enough and “For My Next trick I’ll Need A Volunteer, both off his most recent album at the time and the latter which he should have played after “Accidently Like A Martyr” and before “Mutineer” except he didn’t play “Mutineer” at all. He hadn’t actually written “Keep Me in Your Heart” yet, he’d release that song a month before is death in September 2003, BUT IF HE HAD HE PROBABLY WOULDN’T HAVE PLAYED IT.
Look, watching Zevon twenty years ago, my memory is a little sketchy but what I do remember was his cool brilliance, his easy going genius, his immense skills and maximum impact with minimal sweat. And that is what makes Zevon the god of LA, he wasn’t just soft rock, he was soft rock that bit your head off. He rubbed our noses in the sidewalks of Sunset Boulevard and smirked all the way to Laurel Canyon.