The Highest Ever IQ Recorded In Fresno
September 8, 2018 12:34 AM   Subscribe

Music critics now tend to prefer earnestness and unambiguous virtue

(Referring to the subject matter of songs) that... doesn't seem particularly true to me. His personal behavior is more of an obstacle for listeners now, yes - though I'm not sure that's the main thing that stops people from getting into his music because I'm not sure people who don't care about his music know about it.
posted by atoxyl at 1:21 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]

Music critics now tend to prefer earnestness and unambiguous virtue

You name three artists who meet those criteria and I'll show you three with scandals that just haven't yet been made public.
posted by rokusan at 1:40 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]

Wow I cannot believe that much time has passed. He was always a strong favourite of mine, and the last few months I have been re listening. He was a skilled lyricist and musician.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:53 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]

For members of the Warren Zevon tribe, your favorite Zevon song says a lot about you. I don’t mean his best song — that is pretty clearly “Desperados Under the Eaves,” from the self-titled album.

Makes sense, my fav song of his also happens to be his best one.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:17 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

Hard to pick just one. Maybe "Looking For The Next Best Thing".
posted by thelonius at 4:01 AM on September 8

If I had to pick it would be Mohammed’s Radio
posted by Gilgongo at 4:13 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]

As you might expect from my username, I can't pick a favorite. (Although the song I named myself after is up there.) It's impossible.

Instead I'll pick out a couple of my favorites that are possibly a little less well-known: Carmelita, which is a perfect example of his "despair and substance abuse in California" subgenre, and Detox Mansion, because (among other reasons) the guitar is fucking amazing.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:23 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]

Surprised not to see "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," which has always been my favorite.
posted by jzb at 5:47 AM on September 8 [12 favorites]

So much to nitpick about this. I must resist. But this

In the next verse, he pardons Mancini for killing the South Korean fighter Duk-koo Kim during a 1982 bout.

is not so.

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 judgements after the fact
But the name of the game is be hit and hit back

The "him" is ambiguous and the "name of the game" remark is about the boxing audience's complicity.
posted by hawthorne at 6:02 AM on September 8 [5 favorites]

The "him" is ambiguous

I always took it to refer to Kim; on that reading, what's ambiguous is who Mancini thought he was fighting.
posted by thelonius at 6:23 AM on September 8

jzb: Surprised not to see "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner ," which has always been my favorite.

Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner has always been my favorite also, and was the song a friend used to introduce me to Warren Zevon. I was fortunate enough to see Warren Zevon play that live in 1982. One of the best concerts I've seen, he was very animated jumping all over the stage, he even did a somersault. He dedicated "The Envoy" to Philip Habib, and said, "If he don't like it, fuck him!"
posted by Rob Rockets at 6:43 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]

I am also astonished it has been that long. I was just listening to Zevon yesterday and am pretty sure I want this played at my funeral.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:20 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]

It's hard to pick a favorite, but The Worrier King seems to get stuck in my head a lot, probably because of that guitar hook. Perhaps because I heard it for the first time when I saw him playing it live at one of those "stripped-down solo gigs in secondary, Middle American markets," and it made an impression on me.

That was a great show. He alternated between two identical black 12-strings guitars, which he played through a looper to lay down a rhythm track he could play over. There was a not-very-good piano at the venue (a low, shambling bar that usually booked heavy-metal acts) that he attempted a few numbers on before giving up on it.
posted by adamrice at 7:57 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

Seminole Bingo or Rottweiler Blues.
posted by Splunge at 8:27 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]

Can't believe I forgot Bill Lee, which for an embarrassingly long time I thought was a very oblique Burroughs reference.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:41 AM on September 8

Oh, yeah, it's "Roland" for me, no question.

I listened to a lot of Zevon throughout my childhood because my dad is a fan, and it was often in the car. It honestly frightened me when I was little. I thought that the restaurant in "Werewolves of London" actually served human flesh, and I felt bad about the "little old lady" every time. When I was older than that, but still a kid, the music still made me feel uncomfortable somehow, something like the way I would feel when I had to stand in a bar or some other extremely grownup place being extremely quiet so that no one would notice me and throw me out. The music wasn't for me; neither was the world, of course. I tried to appreciate it as well as I could.

Generally, I strenuously avoid reading unnecessary biography on musicians or artists that I've enjoyed, so I wish I hadn't clicked on this article. My attitude has gone from "Zevon, yeah, I ought to get around to listening to more of him" to "Zevon? Naw, let's don't." Zevon's reputation will, I am sure, survive me.

Hyden seems to think that we now want "unambiguous virtue" just as a fad, that we're lowering hemlines and raising necklines the way the early Victorians did after the Regency. No, we're actually listening to women and considering that their problems matter. Zevon was "shy and introspective"? You don't say. I have never seen a woman be able to use "shy and introspective" as an excuse for anything, much less becoming a blackout wife-beating drunk. It amazes me to see it used for male celebrities who are assholes. I know that I was supposed to be focused on Zevon's bond with Letterman, but all I could think was that here was someone else who has never paid any public price for his treatment of women. People at a certain level of Genius(TM) have been living by different rules than the rest of us, and I'm not sorry that is beginning to change. And I don't think it will truly affect the work of Zevon, who was savvy enough to know that his death would bring him a little sainthood for the road.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:44 AM on September 8 [9 favorites]

I was always quite fond of "Excitable Boy" and "Play it All Night Long."

Zevon's vocal delivery on the earlier albums conveyed this amazing almost desparate irony that I still find compelling, and which seemed downright revolutionary when I was 10-11. He seemed smart and pissed off even when I didn't understand all the references, which was what drew me to punk rock a few years later.

I don't really care for much of the later stuff, but always enjoyed his weird Letterman appearances. Like Zappa in the eighties he made better interviews than songs IMO.

Enjoy every sandwich.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:03 AM on September 8

The weirdest thing to me about Zevon is that he somehow bridged the social gap between Jesse Ventura, Hunter Thompson, and the members of R.E.M. That's a pretty diverse set of associates.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 9:08 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

And I don't think it will truly affect the work of Zevon, who was savvy enough to know that his death would bring him a little sainthood for the road.

Of course now that he's dead, money from the music presumably goes to his wife and daughter who bore the brunt of his terribleness, so it feels like a different case than supporting an abuser whose still alive. Maybe it's just rationalizing though.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:29 AM on September 8 [8 favorites]

I think it's probably just me, but I have a lot of fondness for his 1989 semi-concept album, Transverse City. A lot of it is pretty goofy, but "Long Arm of the Law" and "Splendid Isolation" are great.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:08 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, Transverse City. Fascinating album—it always struck me as a soundtrack for a movie never made. Not surprised to learn that it was inspired by Neuromancer.

For whatever reason, I could never get into The Wind. I bought it right when it was released, listened to it a couple of times, and then never again. I've done that with some albums that are good but difficult to listen to (notably Elvis Costello's Spike), but this is different—I just didn't like it.
posted by adamrice at 12:14 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]

I read this article yesterday and was stunned that it had been 15 years since he died.

Another fan of Transverse City - I think that was the first album of his I purchased, because of the Gibson/cyberpunk connection.

Other favorites:
Porcelain Monkey
Piano Fighter
posted by mogget at 1:31 PM on September 8

Before he made up characters in Warren Zevon songs, Warren Zevon was a character in a Warren Zevon song.

This is the thing even many Zevon fans don't appreciate about his music, how much of it was informed & inspired by his life. Here's a few.

Desperados Under The Eaves - beautiful song about one of his dark periods, lost in alcohol & living in a dive hotel.
Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner - about an ex mercenary bar owner he befriended while living in Spain.
Lawyers, Guns & Money - a riff on Warren's habit of turning to his mobster father for bail money whenever his antics got out of hand.
Piano Fighter - Warren's father gave him a piano he'd won in a poker game for Christmas when Warren was 9, setting off a fight between his parents notable for a carving knife thrown at his mother, thankfully missing.

Without all that chaos & dysfunction there'd be none of the stories that make his music so memorable.
posted by scalefree at 4:47 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]

I can't believe it's been so long.

I'm a “Roland” man too, of course. It's been in my act for long enough that I've had to change, "Now it's ten years later," four times.

I'm also partial to “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” [Live; Includes “Trouble” and a short interview]. Here's a live version of the same tune from 1980. That whole concert is on YouTube actually.

I also just put the Hindu Love Gods version of “Raspberry Beret” into my everyday playlist.

However, I have to agree that I'm less thrilled to find out that he was a drunk and abusive towards his family. Although I guess that's all right there in his music if you listen.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:18 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]

I thought that the restaurant in "Werewolves of London" actually served human flesh, and I felt bad about the "little old lady" every time.

Yabut remember the werewolf whose hair was perfect
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:15 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]

Wow. 15 years. Feels like just five minutes since we've made some polyvinyl chloride at the factory. Had no idea he could be so shitty but the words to the epic "Splendid Isolation" should've been my clue.
posted by riverlife at 8:52 PM on September 8

> I also just put the Hindu Love Gods version of “Raspberry Beret” into my everyday playlist.

Now there are two of us!
posted by rokusan at 10:59 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]

You know, I'm not sure I've ever actually seen berets for sale in a second-hand store.
posted by thelonius at 5:19 AM on September 9

I love "Excitable Boy" and "Roland" and "Werewolves", but always go back to "My Shit's Fucked Up" as my favorite.
posted by hanov3r at 5:05 PM on September 9

Accidentally Like A Martyr
posted by kirkaracha at 5:24 PM on September 9

The owners of the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel changed its name to the Princess Grace for some dumb reason, but I was happy to note on a recent swing by that the custom double-H door handles are still there. I rubbed the left one for luck and went away thinking about that crazy L.A. boy. Fifteen years, man. When he died, the sleepy, sleazy, beautiful Hollywood neighborhood he sang about was still mostly intact. The politicians sold it cheap to developers, and now it's just cranes and party hotels and no more old weirdos with stories to tell.
posted by Scram at 5:58 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]

"I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns, and money
Dad, get me out of this, hiyah!"
posted by e1c at 7:46 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]

In addition to Jesse Ventura, Hunter Thompson, the members of R.E.M., and Dave Letterman, let's not forget his collaboration with Mitch Albom in Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song)
posted by whuppy at 12:11 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]

posted by thelonius at 12:33 PM on September 10

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