A desperado for all times
The folks about whom Warren Zevon has written for more than two decades are all the same--outlaws with guns blazing, madmen who point those guns at their own heads and pull the triggers.
They're losers and loners, schizophrenics and sociopaths, outcasts and outsiders, deranged men smart enough to know they're doomed and suicidal enough to take everyone with them on that last flight out. If Zevon's songwriting hasn't experienced much growth since the '70s, when his "Excitable Boy" offed his prom date and made a cage with her bones, then at least there's a certain consistency there; only now, instead of killing the girl, Zevon's characters would probably sell her into white slavery and then use the proceeds to rip off some underclass folk who play bingo to pay off their debts.

Zevon is an author dancing in the company of songwriters, the short-story writer who tells his tales between the lines--where the notes provide the melody, where the implied is often more explicit than the revealed. There's a certain desperate honesty within Zevon's work, revealed in such songs as "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," "Desperadoes Under the Eaves," "Ain't That Pretty at All," "Carmelita," "Trouble Waiting to Happen," and "Mutineer." It's there all the time, whether he's revealing it through a sneer ("Mr. Bad Example") or a frown ("Something Sad Happened to a Clown"). Zevon's an amalgam of all his literary heroes: Liberal doses of Hunter S. Thompson (to whom Zevon dedicated last year's Mutineer), Norman Mailer, Carl Hiaasen, Thomas McGuane, and Thomas Mann filter through his work, obvious references even though they're often overlooked. In Zevon, those disparate voices come together to form a common one--the man eager to self-destruct but too smart and self-centered to do so, the loner who craves company, the renegade who turns himself in.

Zevon, the cynical sentimentalist whose love songs overflow with disdain, exudes fear and loathing as he examines the American dream (and how it translates abroad--see "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money"). "I think there is an effort on my part to lend a certain amount of implied nobility to the otherwise confused, shithead character," Zevon told the Observer in August, the songwriter certainly aware of his image and eager to embrace it after all this time. For more than 15 years, he hasn't been "F. Scott Fitzevon"--the gonzo alcoholic who traveled in So-Cal folk-rock circles, a contemporary of Jackson Browne and the Eagles but a man whose cynicism and lack of faith seemed more honest and real than theirs; now, he's the South Florida pirate, recording alone and emerging only when ready to tour. But that's no contradiction at all, simply the consistent actions of a man who abhors his world but enjoys it too much to ever leave it.

Warren Zevon performs January 20 at Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth.
--Robert Wilonsky

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