A Paean to Warren Zevon, Hivah!

I went home with a 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, hiyah!

An innocent bystander,
Somehow I got stuck between a rock and a hard place,
And I’m down on my luck.
Yes, I’m down on my luck.
Well, I’m down on my luck.

I’m hiding in Honduras, I’m a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns, and money
The shit has hit the fan.

                                                “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”

image from Britannica

I miss Warren Zevon, his catchy tunes, his erudite cynicism, his geo-political obsessions. The first Zevon song I heard came blasting from an AM/FM radio in my cramped three-brother bedroom in 1977 when I had moved back home as a place to crash before getting married. I had just dropped out of grad school, didn’t have a job, and even though my wife-to-be was relatively wealthy, my mother insisted that every day I drive fifteen miles to the Temp Agency on Rivers Avenue to see if I could cop some sort of stopgap gig in construction, a trade I had never plied. It was, in a word, depressing.

And, of course, no one ever chose me, lacking both construction boots and biceps.[1]  

The song blasting from that radio on that autumn evening was “Werewolves of London,” a joyous, literate, tongue-in-cheek send-up celebrity society.

Well, I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen
Doing the Werewolves of London
I saw Lon Chaney, Jr. walking with the Queen
Doing the Werewolves of London
I saw a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic’s
And his hair was perfect.

Those lyrics are perfect – slyly allusive, absurd, funny, like the howling ah-hoos of the chorus. With Warren I had a pal, someone I could relate to, a hip, literate compadre who employed humor to keep chase away the darkness that stalked him like an obsessive spurned lover.[2]

The majority of my hometown Summerville pals had moved on, and most of the ones who had stayed fell into the demographic of “white males without a college degree,” hard drinkers and pot smokers who wouldn’t know Lon Chaney, Jr. from Zeno of Elea.[3]

And as the years passed, I continued to follow Warren’s career and was lucky enough to see him twice, once in a bar called the Music Farm with a Canadian backup band in 1992 and a couple of years later in a solo acoustic show at Mynskens on Market Street. 

Although we would never have a conversation, he would continue to be my pal up to the very end when he accepted his death sentence of Mesothelioma with characteristic good humor. 

Warren Zevon is sitting at a table in a Hollywood hotel cafe, patiently waiting for someone to bring him a menu. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes seep by. “At a time like this,” he says with an arched eyebrow and a low, rumbling laugh, “you really get the feeling of time marching on.”

David Fricke, “Warren Zevon and the Art of Dying”

I’m writing this on 15 November 2020 in the interregnum between Trump’s concession and Biden’s inauguration and could use a new Zevon name-dropping record to drop, something rhyming “Kayleigh” and “Tiffany,” “Giuliani” and “Proud Boy Army,” something with a resonant bass line, emphatic drumming, and lively guitar licks that would provide me the opportunity to show off my gold-capped molars in a wide ass sardonic grin.

Guess I’ll just have to settle for “Boom Boom Mancini,” “Desperado’s Under the Eaves,” and “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.”


[1] I did do some substitute teaching, though it was more like babysitting than pedagogy, and eventually through a set of divine missteps seemingly ordained by Tyche herself, landed a job at a community college teaching in one semester English 101, Technical Report Writing, and Business English. Obviously, they were as desperate as I was.

[2] In fact, a hade-sporting skull bogarting a cigarette became Zevon’s trademark. 

[3] Yes, I am a card-carrying elitist. Check this out: 


An Aged Punk Is But a Paltry Thing: To Rage or Not to Rage

I remember going to a Warren Zevon show at a bar in 1992[1] and overhearing some kid say, “There’s nothing but old people here.”  He was talking about people like me, an overripe just turned 39.  As it turns out, coincidentally, the show took place a day after Zevon’s 45th birthday, and despite his semi-elderly status, he put on one helluva show. His encore cover of Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin,” actually stirred for an n-second the dead embers of my long extinguished revolutionary zeal. 

Of course, 39 or 45 might seem ancient to a 20-something, but to my mother, 60 at the time, or to my 92-year-old grandmother-in-law, I was only on the second leg of my TWC[2] flight to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no tourist returns.

[montage of calendar pages flapping and tearing off in a really stiff breeze][3]

Yikes! Seems just yesterday being a boomer meant you were young; now it’s a term of derision, a descriptor of someone in the market for a walk-in tub, someone whose gauze-wrapped brain is incapable of gazing beyond his own limited experience. In fact, aging is such an obsession that our local paper has a weekly column on how to handle encroaching decrepitude. 

I don’t usually read the column, but glancing at this week’s edition, I did a double take when I saw this headline: 

Aging for Amateurs: King Lear shows how to find freedom in limitations

WTF, my inner keyboard typed. Lear as role model? He ends up In Act 3 evicted by his fiendish daughters onto a heath during a hurricane. Earlier, the doddering king had disinherited his one decent child, Cordelia, and at the end of the play (spoiler alert) he carries her corpse in his arms as he intones, “Never, never, never, never, never?”

So I read the article, and what the author cites is a brief moment in Act 5 when Lear mistakenly thinks he and soon-to-be-hanged Cordelia are headed to prison. 

No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.

The author of the article on aging, Bert Keller, concludes

The old king acknowledges the reality of his inevitable imprisonment. Looking beyond the literal, we know what the deeper meaning here is for us: not dungeon or detention center but the limitations and losses of advanced age. Our bodies weaken, our minds slow down, hearing fails and we move around with effort. And on top of all that, now we’re shut in by COVID-19. Yet here is 80-year-old Lear, saying “Let’s away to prison” with a willing heart! That is the amazing thing. He interprets unavoidable withdrawal in terms of inner freedom.

Then again, on the other side of the poetic ledger, there is Dylan Thomas, who suggests “[w]e rage, rage, against the dying of the light,”  like my man WB Yeats who asks:

Did all old men and women, rich and poor,
Who trod upon these rocks or passed this door,
Whether in public or in secret rage
As I do now against old age?

Well, all of this is a long-winded way to introduce a clever music video on the subject, which features for a second or two my brother, the musician and actor Fleming Moore, playing a punk who has made it to his golden years.” [4]  The songwriter Killjoy says, “The song is about growing old, obsolete, irrelevant, dying, nostalgia, and being OK with all of that.”

The band is Killjoy & the Cutthroats, and the song is “Golden Years for a Gutter Punk.”  


[1] 23 January, the Music Farm, Charleston, SC

[2] Time’s Winged Chariot

[3] I prefer this cliché to the fast-forwarding of clock hands doing the dervish, spinning like crazy as the sun rises-sets outside the window.

[4] He’s the bald guy with the rake.

A Series of Subtractions

IMG_1402

Photo credit: Caroline Tinger Moore

A Series of Subtractions

 

 

 

If you make the mistake of living too long,

old age can seem like as a series of subtractions.

 

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry.

 

That romping pup you chose a flashbulb pop ago,

today, a husk headed to the vet to be put down.

 

Like the one before that and the one before that.

Jack, Sally, Bessie, Saisy, Ruskin, Milo,

 

Completing their abbreviated seven stages

right before your clear . . .  fogging . . . rheumy eyes.

 

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry.

 

And the musicians and authors you’ve loved

seem to be dropping like dragonflies.

 

Foster Wallace, Zevon, Petty,

Toni Morrison, Prince, Winehouse, Reed,

 

Kaput, no longer cranking them out,

Deaf to the doo-da-doo-a-doohs of the colored girls.

 

And who in the hell are these movie stars

in the paper celebrating birthdays today?

 

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry.

 

Quit your whining, boomer, time’s a-wasting,

beneath a mountain of books you haven’t read.

 

No use crying over spilt water bowls,

inevitability.

 

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry.

 

5 Depressing Thoughts to Usher in the Winter Solstice (Silver Lining Edition)

Depressing Thought: If the universe keeps expanding as scientists claim it will, someday our solar system will be so isolated that the night sky will only hold the moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.

Silver Lining: We’ll all be dead.

Tides HotelDepressing Thought: The Arctic is melting at rates unprecedented in the history of mankind.

Silver Lining: Future oceanfront lots in Branchville, SC are going for a song!

Depressing Thought: I weigh more now than I ever have in my entire life.

Silver Lining: The increased fat might help me survive future famines caused by global warming.

photograph by Gerry Pacher

photograph by Gerry Pacher

Depressing Thought: Because of Obama’s establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, I missed my chance to visit Havana in all of its quaint, frozen-’50’s shabby grandeur.

Silver Lining: Cuban children may soon be able to eat meat on a regular basis.

Depressing Thought: Warren Zevon will never make another record.

Silver Lining: Neither will The Ray Conniff singers.

Ray Conniff in 1979

Ray Conniff in 1979

Dick Cheney, Hunter S Thompson, and Warren Zevon Walk into an Enhanced Interrogation Station

Cheney's angry Elvis imitation

Cheney’s angry Elvis imitation

Well, this isn’t exactly news, but to say that Dick Cheney lacks empathy is to say Christopher Walken isn’t warm and fuzzy or that no one is likely to confuse Michelle Obama with Ann Coulter. Sunday on Meet the Press, Cheney couldn’t even bring himself to express remorse over the well-documented torturing of innocents when he was in charge post 9/11. I’ll hand the metaphoric mike over to Andrew Sullivan:

He was then asked about the 26 people whom the CIA admits were tortured by mistake. One of them was even frozen to death. A sane and rational and decent human being, who presided over the program that did this, might say: “The decision to torture was an extremely agonizing one, but I still believe defensible. But of course the torture of innocent people is horrifying. I deeply regret the chaos and amateurism of the program in its early phases.”

So what did Cheney actually say? When confronted with the instance of Rahman Gul, the individual tortured to death, Todd asked what the US owed these torture victims. Cheney actually said this:

The problem I have is with all the folks we did release who ended up on the battlefield … I have no problem [with torturing innocent people] as long as we achieved our objective.

Cheney makes Orwell’s Big Brother seem like a straight-shooter by comparison. He calls “water boarding” and “rectal hydration” “enhanced interrogation.”

Warren Zevon and Hunter S Thompson

Warren Zevon and Hunter S Thompson

On Meet the Press, reeking of hubris, he exhibited the same stiff-bodied surety he displayed when assuring the American people that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that we’d be greeted as liberators. As my main man Hamlet is wont to say round about Act 3, Scene 4, line 82: “O shame where is thy blush?”

Well, obviously, Dick Cheney has no shame, and my fantasy of his being prosecuted is about as likely to happen as the Carolina Panthers winning this year’s Super Bowl or Hunter S Thompson and Warren Zevon rising from the dead to perform some rectal hydration enhanced interrogation on Cheney himself.

What’s that word W liked so much?  Oh yeah, evildoer.