I don’t really tend to identify Warren with upbeat, optimistic, feel-good songs. Nevertheless, “Mohammed’s Radio” feels like it belongs in this category. The optimism is largely in the infectious chorus, with the verses detailing the quiet desperation of most people’s lives. The chorus however, seems to celebrate the capacity of music to reach across borders and differances in race, culture, and religion, and into the heart and mind of the listener. It can be transformative, although it does seem to be less so these days than it used to be (and yes, I realize how old that makes me sound). At least in Warren’s song, Mohammed’s Radio would seem to be a rock and roll station rather than a religious one which seems appropriate, simply because it seems like music has a much better shot at bringing people together than formal religious doctrines. Not that I would say that it is an anti-religious song, but simply that its focus falls upon the power of music to create community, even a temporary one, which is perhaps the most we can ask for these days.
I should warn people in advance that this is not a funny slideshow, or even a romantic one, but rather Warren as social critic or–as I like to think of it–prophet. Not that I would argue that he was chosen by God to deliver the Word, but rather that Warren seems to have had such a keen understanding of the human character and its failings (and possibly he specialized in the American character), that he was able to see what was coming long before it had fully manifested itself. Surely “Fistful of Rain” is a song about our long and frutiless struggle to hold onto, even freeze the past in a particular idealized moment. As Jay Gatz tragically discovered (let’s see who picks up on that allusion), you can’t recreate the past, which is colored by emotions and memories, and probably never happened exactly as we now think it did. The yearning for it, nevertheless, is terribly powerful, sometimes to the point of seemingly obliterating any rational thought. .Certainly, that’s one way to explain why we are here now . . . where we are. Because of what Warren saw happening then (and perhaps foresaw happening even more in the future), trying ever so hard to do something ever so impossible, like holding onto to a fistful of rain.
While this is an odd way to begin a year, it feels appropriate for what could be described as a beginning. More a look back at the failures of the past than the successes of the future, “Empty Handed Heart” is a song from Warren Zwvon’s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School album. A marvelously self-aware love song about those bad choices a lot of people make (sometimes even us). It seems to at least hold out the possibility of a second chance, even a happy ending, while acknowledging that those are pretty rare. As a few people will notice, I sort of made it with Warren’s and Crystal’s story in the back of my mind, which sort of allowed me to emphasize the happy ending aspect, albeit a somewhat qualified one. I still find it a remarkably moving song, partly because I suspect it’s right. I believe that is Linda Rondstadt singing second descant in the last part, sounding near the peak of her powers. Hope you like it.
Here’s one I finished at the beginning of the month. I’ve always liked the Transverse City album, in part because of its distinctly experimental vibe. Warren was trying lots of new things, and they worked a lot of the time. Where the title track and “They Moved the Moon” seemed to push musical boundaries, “Nobody’s in Love This Year” pushes lyrical ones in the way it uses financial metaphors to describe love relationships or–more accurately–their collapse. It certainly captures one of the darker and more prevalent aspects of the Reagan years–one that is still with us–but it does so with Warren’s characteristic wit, lyrical grace, and melodic beauty. Hope you like it.
A reader of my “Unofficial: Warren Zevon” fan page suggested I do this song about Warren and the RR Hall of Fame. It seemed like a good idea, and I think the slideshow turned out OK. The web address at the end is to 2017 petition on change.otg to induct Warren. This petition has apparently just been closed, as the nominating ballots for 2017 have just come out, and again Warren isn’t on it. Another indifferent year in heaven, I guess. So it goes.
Although I didn’t realize it until I was actually putting it together day before yesterday, “Seminole Bingo” is kind of a natural counterpart to my “They Moved the Moon” slideshow. If the first is about the dispossession of Native Americans, the second could well be said to be about taking some of their own back from those who dispossessed them in the first place. I always felt a little uncomfortable about the first in that I realized I was quite probably radically recontextualizing the song in making it about the California genocide of Native Americans. The song could well describe any disorienting and dislocating experience, and may well have been highly personal, even autobiographical for Warren when he wrote it. What I did with it (which was not meant to be in any way prescriptive), was simply an attempt to use the song as a way of exploring my own feelings about what happened in California, and my surprise and horror at discovering it. “Seminole Bingo” is much more obviously a story song about a character who is not Warren, although the two may share some traits in common. I realize, of course, that the song is not about Michael Milliken (who did not gamble his fortune away in Florida) but–as the widely-acknowledged “junk bond king”–his image was the logical one to use. I do find myself if wondering if there is a something deeper going in the song, as the title character in essence made his fortune by selling essentially worthless bonds at vastly inflated prices. So much of modern culture seems to be predicated upon building up little or nothing into a “something,” a commodity that can be sold at vastly inflated prices based on a vastly inflated (mis)perceptions of its value. Of course, the same thing could be said about these slideshows, although the only cost to you is time, and–of course–there are many things of value in the world (Warren’s songs, for instance), you just have to learn to look for them. Anyway, here it is, and I hope you think it is worth your time.