Friday, September 07, 2007

"Warren Zevon"

It’s a Zevon festival today, on the fourth anniversary of his untimely death.

This is the Rolling Stone review of his debut album (I know it wasn’t really the first, but for all intents and purposes it might as well have been), by Stephen Holden. Probably needless to say, the album got a good review, but Holden’s writing doesn’t knock my socks off. But the intro is good:

Warren Zevon’s first Asylum album is a contemporary comedy-western about Los Angeles. In images that are often mordantly funny and detailed right down to specific place-names, Zevon compiles a surrealistic vision of Hollywood that is one part Howard Hawks to three parts Nathanael West. Albums with a Hollywood-western theme aren’t new. But all the others have been made by die-hard romantics—the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell. In refreshing contrast, Zevon works almost exclusively with irony and satire. The appearance of an L.A. singer/songwriter who dares to puncture the seriousness of the romantics but who is also musically sophisticated enough to work in their idiom is long overdue. A competent pianist and guitarist and a fine composer, Zevon’s songs run the gamut from acoustic folk to hard rock. His best tunes even manage to use the romantic harmonies of Browne’s and the Eagles’ ballads to evoke pathos and humor simultaneously.

I especially like the contrast Holden draws between Zevon and the other major West Coast stars of the time. Of course, we know he got along well with Jackson, a close friend and mentor; he appears to have gotten on with the Eagles all right; but I don't think Joni Mitchell could stand him (if memory serves, there's a piece to that effect in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, but I can't remember all the details). But he definitely carved out his own niche.

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