David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 227: Warren Zevon (Desperadoes Under The Eaves)

February 16, 2023

I'd like to encourage all of you to participate in some Chicago-style voting behaviors.

Don't worry, I am not promoting anything illegal. In some ways, these votes lead to an election of incredible meaninglessness -- entry into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Yes, the institution that once it decided to include rap, pop, and pre-rock-and-roll era artists lost all credibility with the Rocker crowd. However, if Madonna, LL Cool J, and Billie Holliday are in the Hall, we should all be more than willing to stuff the ballot box to get Warren Zevon in.

The movement to get Warren in has been going on for about a month now. As of the time of this writing, he is as high as 3rd on a ballot with 14 names. When I first became aware of the voting, he was 7th, so a bunch of us excitable boys (and girls) already have elevated him over Iron Maiden, Willie Nelson, and Soundgarden. Only George Michael and Cyndi Lauper have more votes. Before anyone gnashes any teeth about the appropriateness of those two, or any of these other artists, to be in the Hall, just note that right now, the top 5 will appear to get in. No need to degrade Lauper on our way to elevating Zevon.

Why should you vote for Zevon? What has he ever done for rock and roll, you ask, except produce the novelty hit, "Werewolves of London"?

Well, allow me to outline his platform.

It starts with him on any platform/stage, as he was a dynamic live performer. I saw him 5 times, early on backed by a full band, later just him solo, and all were immaculate performances (check out Stand In The Fire for the power of earlier shows and Learning To Flinch for the later shows). He was manic, probably to a fault. (For evidence, while I could link to any of several performances, I choose this version of "Lawyers, Guns, and Money".)

Additionally, he was respected by his peers, in ways and volume mostly unprecedented. Zevon was supported on albums by Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, REM, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, to name a few, while honored in live performances by Bob Dylan, Dawes, and Eddie Vedder, again to name just a few.

David Letterman devoted a whole show to Zevon in his last days, not too surprising since he attracted a bevy of non-musicians to his music, including Stephen King, Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Hunter Thompson, and Billy Bob Thornton, many of whom he collaborated with for highly literate songs. "Hit Somebody," "Lord Byron's Luggage," "Bill Lee," "Frank and Jesse James," and "Boom Boom Mancini" all show a cultural literacy that stands out among the "Unskinny Bops" that dominated radio long after "Werewolves of London" was his only charting song.

He has even been the subject of scholarly tomes, such as the one written by a Media Studies and Popular Culture professor at Auburn University1 (the institution that, coincidentally, hired my Indiana University graduate student colleague who sent his ex-girlfriend Zevon's "Reconsider Me" as a plea for reconciliation).

And this is why he needs to be in the Hall of Fame; he was a literate gifted writer of songs beloved by great musicians, writers and thinkers. Zevon's inclusion in the Hall of Fame, as well as my song of choice for this series, could rest on dozens of legitimate options, and in fact, my inability to settle on one song is part of why Zevon has fallen this far into the series. Do I go for "Lawyers, Guns, and Money?" with its rather universal triad for American values in its title? Or, how about "Hasten Down The Wind," the song so painfully beautiful that even Linda Ronstadt couldn't ruin it (that is not a universal slam on Ronstadt, who has been a fantastic singer for years; however, her version of Zevon's song sucked the pain right out of it). Or, perhaps "Gorilla, You're A Desperado," which showcases Zevon's sense of humor most profoundly ("then the ape grew very depressed/went through transactional analysis/he plays racquetball and runs in the rain/still he's shackled to a platinum chain"). He famously referenced Brucellosis, Hexachlorobenzine, and regal sobriquet. There's a reason Bonnie Raitt said "Warren made someone like Randy Newman even seem normal"2.

Even though, the part of me that lives and dies by "The French Inhaler" can't believe this, I am choosing "Desperadoes Under The Eaves." Because for those of us who are leading this election ballot stuffing, we are the outlaws and desperadoes that have stood by Zevon, crouching under the eaves, all these years. It's just time we manned up and rode into town . . . well, at least Cleveland.

"Desperadoes Under The Eaves" was the closing song of Zevon's self-titled 1976 album and epitomizes why so many of us worship the ground he once walked in. Any discussion of a Zevon song has to start with the lyrics. And "Desperadoes Under The Eaves" plants us, from the outset, into the alcoholic-dazed world that frequently populated Zevon's songs:

I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel/

I was staring in my empty coffee cup/

I was thinking that the gypsy wasn't lying/

All the salty Margaritas in Los Angeles/

I'm gonna drink 'em up.

Zevon never portrayed himself through his songs and characters as anything less than flawed, so this opening to "Desperadoes Under The Eaves" could potentially cloud the song with unnecessary pathos. Luckily, that ain't Zevon's interest. Instead, he'd rather have comedy drown out tragedy for his drama, singing,

And if California slides into the ocean/

Like the mystic and statistics say it will/

I predict this motel will be standing/

Until I pay my bill.

Hungover, our narrator shuns light ("don't the sun look angry at me"), nature ("the trees look like crucified thieves"), and the courage to change ("Heaven helps the one who leaves"). Whatever dreams he has, the only place one can "really be free," they are hard to hold in the mornings "with shaking hands."

The lyrics are brief enough as to paint a picture but not smudge the edges. Too many Zevon songs feel too short, but at 4:47, "Desperadoes Under The Eaves" doesn't have that problem. In part, that's because delicate guitar work and a haunting piano melody underscore a stellar musical accompaniment. In addition, the final 2+ minutes is the never-ending "air conditioner hum," strings soaring while a bevy of fantastic voices, including Jackson Browne, Carl Wilson, J.D. Souther, and Jorge Calderon, provide exquisite depth and body to that hum.

Eventually, our narrator "looks away down Gower Avenue," Carl Wilson's voice so distinctive that Bob Dylan will call him out on 2020's "Murder Most Foul," name-checking one of California's greatest musicians from the 1960s on California's most under-rated 1970s musician (Zevon never even named by Dylan in the song). Gower Street forms one corner for the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, an appropriate dream for the self-conscious artist still cooped up in his crappy hotel.

We can't get you to the Walk of Fame, Warren, but a bunch of us are carrying you to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. You may have found the "Indifference of Heaven," but that is no longer the case back here on Earth.

1Plasketes, George. Warren Zevon: Desperado of Los Angeles. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

2Zevon, Crystal. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life And Times of Warren Zevon. New York: Ecco, 2007.

Warren Zevon. "Desperadoes Under The Eaves." Warren Zevon. Asylum, 1975. Link here.

Day 226: Small Faces "Itchycoo Park"

Day 228: The Cranberries "Linger"

See complete list here.

And vote for Warren Zevon here.