What Went Right With… Warren Zevon?

Caricature of Warren Zevon by whatwentrightwith.comWarren Zevon was the very definition of an idiosyncratic musician and he was responsible for some of the most distinct and unusual lyrics in the history of Rock music. His use of dark comedy and outlandish storytelling made him a completely original singer-songwriter, and his sometimes surreal and routinely ludicrous concepts made him one of the all-time greats. In my opinion, Zevon’s musical style is what’s missing from contemporary music (and I include both mainstream and non-mainstream music in that statement).

Warren’s discography includes some of the most original lyrics of all time, and his range of topics include songs about karma, werewolves, mercenaries, drug dealers, and even covers of Bob Dylan’s and Prince’s songs. But regardless of his subject matter, Zevon has always leaned toward the darker, more unconventional, and weirder side of life.

His title track from the 1978 album Excitable Boy was an example of Zevon’s hilariously dark musical style. The humorous tale of an unstable boy begins with the child being somewhat mischievous and slightly unusual, but as he ages, this escalates to rape, murder, and dismemberment over the coming verses. From biting an usherette’s leg all the way to digging up a grave, each sentence was followed by the subtle yet brilliant line “Excitable Boy, they all said” which added some poignancy to the unfolding narrative.

Warren Zevon’s penchant for the bizarre wasn’t always macabre, in his 1980 album Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, the song “Gorilla, You’re A Desperado” told of a surreal role swapping between a man and a gorilla at the L.A. Zoo. The song begins “Big gorilla at the L.A. Zoo snatched the glasses right off my face, took the keys to my BMW, left me here to take his place. I wish the ape a lot of success, I’m sorry my apartment’s a mess…” by the end of the track, the gorilla was building a villa and getting divorced. This track showed Zevon’s quirky use of humour and his brilliant, sometimes cartoonish scenarios. And yet amidst all the joviality of his songs there was always a hint of melancholy; this song went on “…Then the ape grew very depressed, went through Transactional Analysis, he plays racquet-ball and runs in the rain, still he’s shackled to a platinum chain”.

Alongside the contrived topics, generic lyrics, and predictable rhymes in the majority of today’s soulless music, it’s a strange situation for songs almost forty years old to sound more original and refreshing than those released today. Eccentricity of character and eccentricity of art is definitely lacking in today’s hollow entertainment business, and although singers such as Kid Rock seem to revel in sampling Zevon’s music, rarely do these lames hold the same level of artistry or depth of feeling in their songs. Warren Zevon’s unique take on music will be greatly missed; a little bit country, a little bit rock, a little bit of sad and a little bit of humour, to this day there’s nobody else like him.

Wanted Dead Or Alive.

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