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: