Thursday, January 31, 2008

Warren Zevon’s bad night

There are gaps in my pop-culture education. For example: I have never owned a record or CD by Bob Dylan. (I bet a white boy just fainted reading that. But it’s true.)

Lately I’ve wanted to fill some of those gaps. (Dylan’s not at the top of the list, however.) So I’m checking out some Warren Zevon.

Remember the “Werewolves of London” scene in “The Color of Money”? Cool scene, right? That was all I knew of Zevon’s music. That plus his occasional appearances on Letterman. And his one-off collaboration with George Clinton... a 1987 track called “Leave My Monkey Alone.” (Wanna hear it? It’s not good. Seriously, it blows. But if you’re curious, here it is... for historical purposes only.)

The track that’s got me wild about Warren Zevon right now is actually a bootleg. I stumbled across it on the intertubes. I will share it with you now.

On March 18, 2000, Zevon played a solo gig at Club Bene in South Amboy, N.J. (A Jersey Shore dive, basically.) No band. Just him, a guitar, a harmonica and a keyboard. A different kind of show for him.

Okay, now listen to him perform a song called “My Shit’s Fucked Up.” Lyrically, it’s loaded with Zevon’s dark sense of humor and fatalism. It’s especially powerful considering that Mr. Zevon would be diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2002. (He died in 2003.)

So... in 2000, Warren Zevon, with just his guitar, performs “My Shit’s Fucked Up.” Mid-way through the song, somebody yells out: “This sucks!” And repeats it. (This being a fan-recorded bootleg, the heckling is easy to hear.)

The thing is... it doesn’t suck! It has a haunting melody, and Zevon’s guitar playing is superb. If I had been lucky enough to witness this performance, I’m sure I would’ve perceived it as something special.

Still, that anonymous douchebag yelling “This sucks!” makes this recording extra special to me. Sort of a perfect artifact of Warren Zevon’s peculiar career.

Okay, let’s get to it now. Click here to hear the live solo performance of “My Shit’s Fucked Up.”

You can download the complete bootleg recording of Zevon’s March 18, 2000, show at Club Bene – any or all of it – by following this link to Internet Archive. Won’t cost you nothing.

And if you’d like to read a fan review of this particular gig – posted on the Web in August of 2000 – follow this link. According to the fan, Zevon’s performance was great, but “the crowd was dead. They just weren’t into it for some reason.”


Son of Slam said...

You must listen to "Roland, the Headless Thompson Gunner". One of the finest songs about Norwegian mercenaries fighting in the Congo ever recorded.

Anonymous said...

I'm partial to "Lawyers, Guns and Money."

UBM, check out Hindu Love Gods. It's Warren backed by Mills, Buck & Berry of R.E.M. Fun stuff:

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks, dez.

And welcome, s.o.s.

Anonymous said...

Hey. I am white. But didn't faint :) However, Dylan has a long history of songs relaying the oppression of black people (often in the south) which perhaps you were unaware of (or perhaps you were).

Here are four quick examples off the top of my head. There are many more.

Check out "Oxford Town" off the Freewhelin.

Check out "The Lonesome death of Hattie Carrol" (although not specifically mentioned to be black, it reads as a white guy killing a black houseworker).

Check out "Hurricane", Dylan spent many years in the 70's trying to free black boxer Hurricane Ruben Carter (regardless of whether or not he was innocent, he still championed him).

And finally check the line in "Joey"

"his closest friends were black men, cause they seemed to understand what its like to live your life with shackles on your hand" (paraprhased but close.)

By the way....i LOVE your blog. Please check out some dylan though. For a writer of your stature Dylan is a true wordsmith.

thanks for some entertaining/thought provoking during my daily read of your blog

Alan Sepinwall said...

UBM, another one to look for is "Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)," which Zevon co-wrote with sportswriter Mitch Albom, and which has David Letterman singing the chorus. Despite the title and the collaborators, it's a lot darker than your average novelty tune, and kind of touching by the end.

I love Zevon, and am looking forward to hearing that concert.

sakredkow said...

Trouble is for those of us, those who feel like Dylan enhanced or even altered our lives, to try to explain why or how to people who don’t like him or who are disinterested is all but impossible. Nor is a single song gonna do it (you gotta get a sense of the layers and layers of accomplishment from BD – and frankly I thought Oxford Town cited by anonymous was juvenilia). I hear just hear myself sounding like some ridiculous variant of a Deadhead.

One thing for sure – Dylan was and remains a complete original in terms of his songwriting, his performances, and his strange, ineluctable persona. But I can understand someone saying, “Yeah, I get that, I just don’t dig him though.”

I do think he is more of a poet (and sometimes a prophet – although I understand the cringe factor that arouses) than virtually all of his contemporaries. I also think having a strong sense of personal poetic sensibility makes him more accessible to some. But poetry, too, is just not everybody’s thing.

I would say, however, for any reasonably intelligent person who loves music, but who hasn’t been much exposed to Dylan yet, well it’s worth them spending some time – not just one or two songs – to see if he doesn’t eventually touch them on a very deep and personal level.

BTW – Dylan was a fan of Warren Zevon, and for a period often played “Lawyers, Guns and Money” in concert. If I recall correctly, I think I even have a bootleg of Dylan performing “Werewolves of London.”

Dollar Bill said...

Plus as much as a fan I am of Dylan's lyrics(not voice)a- la "All Along The Watchtower",I give him the most respect for regarding another singer/writer as one of the greatest poets...Smokey Robinson.

Undercover Black Man said...

Alan: Thanks for the pointage. I have a true sense of tingling anticipation as I prepare to dive into Zevon's catalog.

phx: I appreciate your standing tall for Dylan. I think part of what turned me off has nothing to do with him; it's the worshipful tone from the establishment rock press. Through the '80s and '90s, every new Dylan album was treated as an "event." It was like reading Jehovah's Witness pamphlets.

I'll find my way to the classic Dylan one day.

catstone said...

I was at the Club Bene show -- the very last time I saw Warren Zevon live. All I can say is that people near me were into it. Some people are just whstledicks.
There are a ton of excellent WZ boots out there, including the Denver Bluebird show, a favorite of many WZ fans. I have a weakness to the Irving Plaza Show. And for those who prefer the pro stuff, "Stand in the Fire" was re-released last year. It kicks ass.

Anonymous said...

The only Dylan material in my album collection (5,000+) are covers by others.

Knockin on Heavens Door by Guns-n-Roses and Jimi's masterful reworking of All Along the Watchtower among others.

No Zevon either.

But something tells me I have more of Phil Lynott's work than most reading here.


Undercover Black Man said...

Render: What's your excuse, vis-a-vis Dylan?

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Dave, I was just thinking about getting some Dylan the other day. Classic Dylan, too. Reason: I was in a restaurant and they were playing some Dylan. I started digging on the lyrics. They were kinda deep. Don't ask me to name the song, but I dug it. It was kinda soulful to me. Much like Willie Nelson. Quirky folk soul.

bklyn6 said...

The only Warren Zevon song I know is "Werewolves".

However, Dylan has a long history of songs relaying the oppression of black people (often in the south) which perhaps you were unaware of (or perhaps you were).

Only recently was I made aware of this. As for Dylan, I don't know much of his music either. Oh, I've heard the "Hurricane" song, but only recently did I learn it's relevance. I do remember hearing "Serve Somebody" on urban contemporary radio. (The DJ must've been Frankie Crocker.)

Undercover Black Man said...

Catstone: Thanks for those recommended boots!

Anonymous said...

UBM: Mom was an old school Folkie (Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, the Farina's etc) who later turned into a hippie, like most of my babysitters.

Mom was, and I think, remains disgusted that Dylan went electric.

Either way, I had a bellyfull of that stuff as a little kid.

I prefer my music to be angry, aggressive, and amplified to the maximum.

When punk went mainstream, I went death metal...and never left.

Just don't tell anybody about my Enya albums ok?


Anonymous said...

Do anything you want to...


Undercover Black Man said...

^ Cool vid.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip. Always thought he was one of the most underrated musicians ever, and always dug him.

Love the blog. Keep speakin' truth to power....

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I appreciate that, Rooster.

Jeff Vaca said...

UBM, I can promise you that you are in for some rare treats as you dive into the Zevon catalogue. If you've got a five-changer CD player, I'd suggest you start with the following:

- Warren Zevon, 1976
- Learning to Flinch (live), 1993
- Life'll Kill Ya, 2000
- My Ride's Here, 2002
- Excitable Boy, 1978

If you can stand some self-promotion...I posted several times on Zevon last year after his wife's book, "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," came out (you should buy that, and read along as you listen). Here's one of them:

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks for the info, Jeff. I don't mind self-promotion if you come with good information. I'll read yer post gratefully.

quirkychick said...

I LOVE Excitable Boy.
I had never really given Warren Zevon much time or attention until my friend Louie (who has one of those 5000+ vinyl collections) was spinning all kinds of awesome tunes at a house party. Turns out I really dig Warren Zevon - a lot.
Sorry I never got to see him live.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, to bring the Dylan and the Zevon discussion together, if you read the fascinating Zevon biography[1] by his ex-wife Crystal, you'll find that Zevon was a HUGE fan of Dylan's.

Apparently the feeling was mutual, because both Dylan and his son Jacob (lead singer of the Wallflowers) both performed on the Zevon tribute album "Enjoy Every Sandwich" [2]. Bob Dylan did "Mutineer" and the Wallflowers did "Lawyers Guns and Money".



Tyrone said...

What Alan Sepinwall said. If you're dry-eyed at the end of Hit Somebody, I don't even wanna know you.

Joe Crawford said...

UBM, if you're on a Zevon kick you might check out this story of covers and originals. I like Coverville, great little podcast with obscure and not obscure covers. Consider it "extra material" like at the end of an after-school special where they recommend you visit your local library for more about the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Anonymous said...

To take the Zevon/Dylan family connection even further, Dylan's acclaimed and Grammy-winning 1997 album "Time Out of Mind" takes its name from lyrics from the Zevon track "Accidentally Like a Martyr," which appears on "Excitable Boy."

When Dylan was on tour in fall 2002 -- after the news had come out that Zevon was dying of cancer -- he began to incorporate Warren covers into his live show.

I was lucky enought to see two of the three shows Dylan played to re-open The Wiltern in L.A., and which featured Bob and his crew performing Mutineer, Accidentally Like a Martyr and Lawyers Guns and Money during the stand.

On the last night, after Lawyers Guns and Money and as Dylan was in the midst of Boots of Spanish Leather, I happened to be standing at the very rear of the lower level of the theater, near the exit to the lobby. Walking out, toward me/the exit, being led/escorted by an official-looking woman with a laminate around her neck was none other than Warren Zevon, writer of the song Dylan had just performed. I was certain I'd pull the "uh, Mr. Fan, I'm a big Zevon of yours" kind of faux-pas, but I rallied with a clap on the back, a heartfelt but hopefully encouraging, "Keep your head up, we're all in your corner," and a firm handshake. He said thanks, smiled, looked me in the eye, returned the handshake, and was off into the lobby.

Priceless memory.

RP ("send lawyers guns and money ... the shit has hit the fan!")

Anonymous said...

RP: An interesting addendum to that story about Dylan and "Accidentally Like a Martyr" is that Zevon came up with that non-sequitur of a title as a tribute to similarly named Dylan songs like "Absolutely Sweet Marie" and "Positively Fourth Street."

Springsteen is another Zevon admirer. He co-wrote "Jeannie Needs a Shooter," sang backup on several songs on Zevon's final album, and plays a bitchin' guitar solo on "Disorder in the House."

And I endorse the previous suggestion to pick up "Stand in the Fire," a real kick-ass live album. Interesting trivia on that album: Zevon's backing band on that tour is actually a bunch of guys who used to be in a Zevon cover group. He heard their stuff, and liked them enough to hire them.

Anonymous said...

If you're liking Zevon at all, you must find and listen to "Play It All Night Long." It will be worth it.
Oh, and "Boom-Boom Mancini."
Hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoy this blog.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the late commentary but I've been out of the country and feel a little compelled to chime in since Zevon was a musical fixture of my youngest years in the 80's-- "Excitable Boy" and Tom Wait's "Rain Dogs" were two albums which I can remember listening to when I was six or seven...

The real problem with Zevon's oeuvre has always been his inconsistency (not a single album plays through without a horrible idea masquerading as a song) and the concepts of rock production during various periods of his career can often prevent the numerous gems from shining without a lot of work by the listener to see the value... To my mind his three best albums are his self titled from 1976, "Excitable Boy" and his final album "The Wind" but none of the three are spared inexcusable gaffes on the part of the labels or Zevon himself... If you're not prepared to overlook the superfluous exertions of David Lindley or the terrible decisions made by Jackson Browne at the console the earlier two mentioned will not pass the mustard-- Waddy Watchel seems to be the only session player who seemed to understand what needed doing... However if you're interested in Zevon both of the earlier albums are pretty essential, and there are compilations available which borrow very heavily from them which may give you an economical idea of whether the entire records are worth the investment such as "A Quiet Normal Life"...

"The Wind" is on one side a pretty standard adult contemporary rock album not unlike any number of "comeback" attempts by aging has beens weighted with more successful names on the liner notes... Although it seems to be the most consistent album Zevon could release in twenty years and still suffers a couple embarrassing songs; however the self-consciousness which went into the writing and recording is unique... Understandably-- he was dying and he knew it and this was his final testament to the world... The difficulty in discerning the overall worth of the album is attempting to segregate knowing what you know when listening and allowing the music to flow freely unencumbered by knowledge of the circumstances which brought it into being...

The entire 80's catalogue is widely deplored for obvious reasons-- by "Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School" Zevon was having stardom tantrums and devolving into a drug and alcohol volcano which would over-shadow any work he could get together... Still, an occasional moment of brilliance would bubble up from the cesspool for anyone to enjoy if they could get over the horrible production-- similar to Joan Armtrading's late 70's and early 80's work... The best way to deal with that period of Zevon and his resurgence in the late 90's are probably finding some comprehensive compilations and trying really hard to forgive everyone involved for their bad decisions and bowing to commercial pressures...

All in all I think Warren Zevon is one of those people who you either trust and like or could give a shit about and there's no conversion available... If you're not willing to walk through the mire and meet him on his own terms, knowing it that it's not going to be perfect, you may as well concentrate on another fringe personality...

Anonymous said...

check out a cool Zevon cover band :

Tom Degan said...

I've just regained consciousness....Never owned a Bob Dylan record?


Tom Degan