That's Life!  (source:


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 personally."

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 dwell on."

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 virtual-reality show."

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 million."

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!