By Rob O'Connor
Asked where he feels he stands in his career and in life, Warren
Zevon is not slow to offer his insights. "I'd say the
hearse is at the curb at this point, both professionally and
Um, why? "Because I'm old."
At barely over 50, Zevon may be rushing things a bit. But he
likes the position "elder statesman" puts him in. His
new album, Life'll
Kill Ya, a primarily home-recorded affair with suitable
overdubs, is practically a concept album on aging.
"Mortality puts the 'I' in 'issue,'" says Zevon.
"I think partly I'm making fun of the seriousness with which
people take it. They take the young seriously and turning 30 and
turning 40 and turning 60, and I meet somebody famous who's my age
and the first thing they say in a conspiratorial whisper is, 'How
do you feel about turning that corner?' And you say, 'What
corner?' [They say], 'When you turn 50.' It's a tiresome thing to
Such tiresome dwelling has unleashed the typically sardonic
Zevon wit. His doctor gives it to him straight for "My Sh-t's
F--ked Up," another perfect argument against HMOs.
"Don't Let Us Get Sick" delivers a prayer-like mantra
for those heading for the managed-care hills. "I Was In The
House When The House Burned Down" and "For My Next Trick
I'll Need A Volunteer" suggest that for all the empowerment
Home Depot has given the average American male, there's still a
potential downside to this do-it-yourself world.
For a natural-born performer like Zevon, smaller halls and
doing it yourself have taken their toll (kids, in the 1970s this
guy looked like a Southern California beach-bum accountant who'd
taken enough cocaine to convince himself he was Bruce
Springsteen, and who performed like a far more demented
version of the "Werewolves Of London" guy he sang
about). When I ask him if he prefers the "intimacy" of
smaller clubs, he wastes no time popping the balloon.
"I don't believe that anyone on Earth would rather play a
small venue, except maybe the Rolling
Stones. Then it turns out they're playing a f--king corporate
party," he laughs. "No, I say that to audiences in small
clubs. Nobody plays a club because they wanted to play an intimate
venue. They play the club because their manager told them that
their agent told them that they're afraid they can't fill a
theater. They played the theater because their agent told them
they were afraid they couldn't fill the shed. You know that and I
know that, and the audience should all know that, too. There's
enough smoke and mirrors in my profession without outright lying
to them. I'd rather play Budokan with an amazing sound system and
some next-century audio-visual hardwired-to-your-brain
At the same time, Zevon sounds content--like a man who has
learned to accept his lot in life and play with it.
"Sometimes I'll spend a year practicing the flute or trying
to learn Russian. There's a world of sh-t to do. I'm lazy, but I'm
not easily bored. There's a lot of things to do."
Since his last offering, 1995's Mutineer,
Zevon even decided to learn and record Steve
Winwood's "Back In The High Life Again."
"I've been telling people that I really just constructed
the entire album to enable me to cover 'Back In The High Life' and
make it seem ironic, but it serves a purpose on the album. It is
ironic, obviously, very obviously. The real reason is, I've always
loved that song, and all human beings love Steve Winwood."
Zevon's also been spotted filling in for Paul
Shaffer on The
Late Show With David Letterman. "Everybody's got to
like somebody, and somebody's got to like me," says Zevon.
"It would appear after 20 years [Letterman] does like me. I
was scheduled for the very first show. I ended up not being on
that show, but I was on shortly thereafter. It's easy and he seems
to enjoy talking to me and I'm able to respond to him without
quaking, so it works out well."
TV lights may be attractive, but Zevon has no plans of giving
up his day job. "I have a funny job and I've done it a long
time. It's this funny job that Dylan
invented. It's halfway writing poetry. The truth that I hid from
all my life is that it's really 52% writing words; the
musicianship is just a little secondary. But I'm certainly never
going to tilt the balance any farther with writing words than I've
had to already. I always thought I had to write poetry so people
would let me play music. 'Can I play a drum solo now?'"
As for being "too old to rock n' roll," I offer that Muddy
Waters was still out there until the end. Zevon puts it into
perspective. "I think he had kids play lead guitar for him.
They'd shovel out some underpaid kid and he'd play the lead.
Aren't I correct? Norman Mailer is still going, but he's one in a
His reasons for living, however, have definitely changed. In
the beginning? "Who gets the most chicks? That's really all
that matters. You can't have any other motives to go into the pop
music field. Every other motive is highly suspect." Nowadays?
"If I live to the end of the day, what's on TV? I'm happy.
I'll enjoy myself. I'll keep myself entertained."
Hey, Warren, don't look now, but there's a Boy Meets World
marathon on tonight. Meet ya in the den!