RECONSIDER WARREN ZEVON
By Michael Maynard
May 25, 2014

Warren Zevon was a legendary musical talent, widely respected by other musicians. So why isn’t he in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame?

I remember in detail the first time I heard a Warren Zevon song. It was I was listening to “Matty In The Morning”while driving to a client’s office in the summer of 1978. I have the radio on when I drive as background noise while I think about what I’m going to do that day. So I’m listening but not really paying close attention. I heard this upbeat piano introduction and then a raspy male voicing singing:

“Well, he went down to dinner
In his Sunday Best.
Excitable boy, they all said.
Then he rubbed the pot roast
All over his chest.
Excitable boy, they all said.”

WHAT? DID I HEAR THAT CORRECTLY?

I immediately snapped to attention. The song continued.

“He took in the four a.m. show at the Clark
Excitable boy, they all said
And he bit the usherette’s leg in the dark
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy”

OK. WHERE’S THIS GOING?

“He took little Suzie to the Junior Prom
Excitable boy, they all said
And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy
After ten long years they let him out of the home
Excitable boy, they all said
And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy”

(Writer(s): Warren William Zevon, Leroy P. Marinell Copyright: Zevon Music, Tiny Tunes Music)

Ok, that was just your humorous romp about a sociopath who rapes and kills a teenage girl.

WOW! THAT WAS DIFFERENT!

I’ve been a Warren Zevon afficionado ever since.

The only rock’n’roll songs that had had that much of an impact on me when I first heard them were Elvis Presley’s “(You Ain’t Nothing But A) Hound Dog”, The Beatles’s “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and The Rolling Stones’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. Those songs were well crafted and performed, but different in style and substance than what was the norm up to the time of their release. Those songs changed the popular music business forever.

“During 1978, Zevon released Excitable Boy (produced by Jackson Browne and guitarist Waddy Wachtel) to critical acclaim and popular success. The title tune (about a juvenile sociopath’s murderous prom night) name-checked “Little Susie”, the heroine of former employers the Everly Brothers’ tune “Wake Up Little Susie”, while songs such as “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Lawyers, Guns And Money” used deadpan humor to wed geopolitical subtexts to hard-boiled narratives. Tracks from this album received heavy FM airplay and the single release “Werewolves of London”, which featured Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, was a relatively lighthearted version of Zevon’s signature macabre outlook and a Top 30 success. Rolling Stone called the album one of the most significant releases of the 1970s and placed Zevon alongside Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Bruce Springsteen as one of the four most important new artists to become well known during the decade.”

The topic of his songs covered the usual musical topics of attraction, love, and loss, but also controversial topics, such as mercenaries:

“Roland was a warrior from the Land of the Midnight Sun
With a Thompson gun for hire, fighting to be done
The deal was made in Denmark on a dark and stormy day
So he set out for Biafra to join the bloody fray

Through sixty-six and seven they fought the Congo war
With their fingers on their triggers, knee-deep in gore
For days and nights they battled the Bantu to their knees
They killed to earn their living and to help out the Congolese”

“Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner”. (Writer(s): David Eric Lindell, Warren William Zevon Copyright: Zevon Music)

International geopolitics:

“Well, I went home with the waitress
The way I always do
How was I to know
She was with the Russians, too

I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this”

“Lawyers, Guns And Money”  (Writer(s): Warren William Zevon Copyright: Zevon Music)

Drug addiction and the desperation of the heroin junkie needing a fix..

“Carmelita hold me tighter
I think I’m sinking down
And I’m all strung out on heroin
On the outskirts of town

Well, I’m sittin’ here playing solitaire
With my pearl-handled deck
The county won’t give me no more methadone
And they cut off your welfare check”

“Carmelita” ( Writer(s): Warren Zevon Copyright: Darkroom Music, Warner-tamerlane Publishing Corp.)

And even the beautiful savagery of boxing.

“When they asked him who was responsible
For the death of Du Koo Kim
He said, “Someone should have stopped the fight, and told me it was him.”
They made hypocrite judgments after the fact
But the name of the game is be hit and hit back

Hurry home early – hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon”

“Boom Boom Mancini” (Writer(s): Warren William Zevon Copyright: Zevon Music)

Zevon’s ex-wife and best friend Crystal wrote a biography of him “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, The Dirty Life And Times Of Warren Zevon”.

One of my favorite writers, Carl Hiaasen, columnist/reporter for The Miami Herald and author of many novels about the weird life and times of Florida, wrote the forward for her book.

“Warren had been clean and sober for years when we first met in 1991. He turned up at a book signing in Hollywood, and afterward we went out for Turkish coffee and talked about the private torture of writing. Warren was staggering gifted at his craft, a fact occasionally overshadowed in these pages by his off-duty escapades. What had drawn me and many other writers to his music were the lyrics- cunning, cutting and yet often elegant. Warren was contemptuous of the term “genius,” but there was authentic genius in many of his songs. I quoted him whenever possible, including these marvelous lines, which I borrowed from a newspaper column I wrote after waking up in the Beverly Hills Four Seasons during an earthquake.

And if California slides into the ocean
As the mystics and statistics say it will,
I predict this hotel room will be standing
Until I pay my bill.”

Writers are a notoriously secretive and jealous lot. Hiaasen shared a cynical view of the world and subversive sense of humor with Warren Zevon. For gifted Hiassen to be so publicly effusive in his praise of another writer, even one in another medium, is testament to Zevon’s talent. It is the same love of good writing combined with the “bad attitude” exhibited in his work that first drew me to Warren Zevon’s music.

Zevon’s personal and professional exploits, demons and controversies have been well chronicled. There’s no need to go over them all again. Read Crystal Zevon’s book , if you don’t know about his life and times, which made him a legendary figure. But 10+ years after his death, cherish the legacy of his music.

So why isn’t Warren Zevon on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? He meets all the of Hall of Fame’s criteria.

“To be eligible for induction as an artist (as a performer, composer, or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence.

We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.”

Here are the 2013 nominees to go into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The ones highlighted in bold were selected.

• The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
• Chic
• Deep Purple
Peter Gabriel
Hall and Oates
KISS
• LL Cool J
• The Meters
Nirvana
• N.W.A.
• The Replacements
Linda Ronstadt
Cat Stevens
• Link Wray
• Yes
• The Zombies

Here are the 2012 nominees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

Beastie Boys
The Cure
• Donovan
• Eric B. & Rakim
Guns ‘N Roses
• Heart
• Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
• Freddie King
Laura Nyro
Red Hot Chili Peppers
• Rufus with Chaka Khan
The Small Faces/The Faces
• The Spinners
• Donna Summer
• War

Excuse me? EXCUSE ME?

We all have our favorite artists, but given the stated criteria of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. did Cat Stevens, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Cure, The Small Faces and Guns’N’Roses have more of an impact on the music business than Warren Zevon? And who the bleep are Eric B. & Rakim?

What substances were the judges partaking when they decided upon these inductees?

Warren Zevon handled his pending death from lung cancer with grace and dignity. In the age of spoiled little-talents, like Justin Bieber, Zevon set an example that other aging rockers and their fans should follow.

That Warren Zevon is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is shameful. Warren Zevon has never even been on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination ballot. His absence makes the induction of most of the existing members a joke upon all of us for which this music genre has been an integral part of our lives.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame trustees, it’s time to reconsider Warren Zevon.

It’s long overdue.

© Copyright Michael Maynard, May 2014

Columnist/Journalist/Writer/Book Editor Co-Founder/CEO of Azimuth Partners, high tech consulting firm for 30+ years. Former columnist for the Washington Post/Newsweek syndicate.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: