It was on another long car trip this week that I slipped some Warren Zevon into the player, this time Genius, the collection issued in 2002. I knew every song, of course, and sang along loudly as I navigated the car through The Berkshires at night, my warble interrupted only by the occasional smack of a huge bug against the windshield and fenders. (I don’t know what flies around there at night, but I’m sure glad I wasn’t driving a convertible.)
Of course, no single disc could contain Zevon’s genius, and is the case with most veteran artists, seeing a show or listening to a collection always leaves you wanting more. So when I got home, I made a beeline for this one.
I really, really miss Warren Zevon. I can only imagine what he’d be writing about these days.
From Consumable Online, February 2000…
Some see the glass as half-empty, while others see the glass as half-full. Warren Zevon sees the glass as broken – some of the contents spilled all over his pants, and the rest rolling around on the floor.
With superb backing from longtime ace Jorge Calderon and drummer Winston Watson, Zevon continues to avoid the “big sound” for a more stripped down folk’n'roll approach. Naturally, focus then shifts to voice and words, where Zevon is king. “I can saw a woman in two/ but you won’t want to look in the box when I do,” he says in the Springsteen-ish “For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer,” which features Chuck Prophet on guitar. Taking the theme of “life sucks, then you die” to a new level, he explores the frailty of human existence and the quest for some sort of spiritual affirmation…which of course he’s skeptical about. And, just for good measure, some songs about S&M and the self-inflicted demise of Elvis Presley.
Having suffered the slings and arrows of a professional musician, Zevon’s weather-beaten attitude could be self-righteous or pastoral. Instead, underneath the surface of the crusty observer, you know he’s got it figured out; life’s too short to let the posturing and bullshit cramp our style.
“You know I hate it when you put your hand inside my head/ and switch all my priorities around,” he says in “I’ll Slow You Down,” a tale as applicable to religious uncertainty as it is to relationship angst. Maybe we can settle for a simple “don’t let us get sick/don’t let us get old/don’t let us get stupid, alright?” Even the record’s lone cover, Steve Winwood’s “Back In The High Life Again” at first seems an odd choice, but in the context of these takes on the inevitable, it’s an ironic inclusion.
“You can dream the American Dream,” Zevon says, “but you sleep with the lights on/and wake up with a scream.” Acerbic and clever as ever, Warren Zevon remains a unique treasure among American songwriters.
Listen to clips and purchase here.