Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Trouble Waiting to Happen

In case you haven't noticed, I have been reading I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, Crystal Zevon's oral biography of her late ex-husband. Zevon had asked her to do this, to show a full portrait of him, the ugly parts and all, and there were plenty of ugly parts: moody, drunken, manic-depressive, fully capable of slugging his wife in the throes of his alcoholism. Despite all of that, Zevon amassed an impressive number of people who were both fans and friends, although as Jackson Browne says in the book, he had a falling out with pretty much every single one of them. This number includes Stephen King, both Everly Brothers, Carl Hiaasen, David Letterman, even that treacly Mitch Albom.

The very young Zevon cut his teeth as the keysman and musical director for the Everlys in the early 1970s, and it was Phil Everly who suggested that he write a song called "Werewolves of London," after seeing the 1935 film Werewolf of London. Everly, for some unknown reason, thought the song should set off a dance craze, which is why there are lyrics about "I saw Lon Chaney walking with the queen/Doing the werewolves of London/I saw Lon Chaney Jr. walking with the queen/Doing the werewolves of London." Neither Lon Chaney was actually in Werewolf of London, but Lon Chaney Sr. was from out here in Colorado Springs. I always thought he was British; didn't you?

One of the real strengths of the book is that it gives a great perspective on Zevon's financial situation. His career was not untypical for a rock star: showing early promise in the hardscrabble years, finally a hit record ("Werewolves" went to Number 21 in 1978), followed by a brief period of stardom, then records released to diminishing returns, and finally grinding out a living on the road. (Zevon took to touring solo in the 1980s and 1990s, in large part because it was so much cheaper than paying a band. At one point, he toured with a band called the Odds, which opened the shows then appeared on Zevon's set as his backing band. Brilliant!) Although he had a house in Santa Barbara for a while (with a guesthouse he used as a studio), Zevon spent most of his career living in a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. At one point, he moved to Philadelphia and lived in a girlfriend's apartment there; she apparently threatened to sue over the book's publication, because she is referred to throughout only as "the DJ." I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't even from Philadelphia, that they changed her hometown to disguise her identity.

The biggest drawback of the book is that it doesn't mention the 1989-90 New Year's Eve show that Zevon played in Chicago, which, although the music was quite good, didn't even start until 11:45, which is hardly enough time to pump up a New Year's crowd before the ball drops. I did manage to steal a poster on the way out, though.


Catstone said...

Crystal Zevon has stated at signings that she used "the DJ" because she will not mention the woman's name in print because of the way she hurt Crystal's family (and Philly is the actual city). Besides the way Ariel was treated when visiting there, and the lies she told Crystal at the time, the DJ published an article in a city magazine that trashed Warren very cleverly. In a way, it was brilliant writing -- "yes, I was drinking heavily too, but he ..." then going into something awful he did while making herself out to be a near-saint. Beyond that, Crystal has said that much in the article was outright lies -- not differences in interpretations of events, say, but absolute untruths. I will say that in the article, the DJ pulled no punches about herself re: Warren's going into rehab, saying that when she went to visit him on the first day that was possible, she told them flat-out that she enjoyed the party life and did not want him coming home to her sober. (Of course, she still managed to end the tale with a nasty anecdote). When the people at the rehab asked her who they should call (apparently, they need to have someone to work with), she told them to call Jackson Browne. To his eternal credit, Browne stepped in.

T. Nawrocki said...

Thanks for the clarification. Crystal pulled a few punches in the book, perhaps; the DJ certainly comes off as the worst of Zevon's girlfriends (and there were many), but apparently, not quite as bad as she could have.

Alex said...

Some friends of mine were apartment managers at the building where Warren lived. They used to run into him sometimes in the halls and he was always extremely friendly (and I think brought them cookies one Christmas).

After they told me this, I checked the directory outside the front door the next time I visited (it's one of those buildings where the buzzer to the front door is keyed to people's phone lines) and sure enough the last name listed was "Zevon." I almost called to say how much I admired his music, then decided he deserved his privacy, peace, and quiet.

I'm still not sure it was the right decision...