Why Warren Zevon Was Awesome: Cliff's Notes Version
We all know the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is bullshit.
But since it's induction season, it's worth mentioning that Los Angeles legend Warren Zevon has once again been ignored.
Not that the RnR HoF is capable of recognizing his greatness, but on this occasion it's worth spelling out the Cliff's Notes version of what made Zevon awesome.
Most people know "Werewolves of London," and that Zevon collaborated with Hunter S. Thompson.
But the rest of his story is pretty rock and roll too.
The son of a Russian gangster and Mormon mother, as a teenager in L.A. he struck up a friendship with composer Igor Stravinsky. In his early 20s, he sold a song to The Turtles and even had a song in Midnight Cowboy.
Did you know he was tied up with Runaways svengali Kim Fowley? Yep. In 1969 Zevon recorded his first album with him. Seven years later, while living in a small apartment with Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, he released his sophomore effort, produced by Jackson Browne.
"Werewolves of London" he wrote on a drunken dare from the Everly Brothers, came out In 1979 on his biggest album Excitable Boy.
That same year, Rolling Stone hailed him as an equal to Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. Two years later his Stand in the Fire, was released, and became one of the most critically acclaimed live albums of all time.
Eventually, Zevon's career took a plunge at the hands of alcoholism. There were some minor peaks, like when a young R.E.M. was his backing band on 1987's Sentimental Hygiene, but his career never fully recovered.
Even when he died at 56 from lung cancer, and his hit "Keep Me in Your Heart" started showing up in movies and TV shows, he never got that all-too-familiar posthumous boom.
"Warren was always the odd man out. If you look at the era he came from, with the Southern California singer/songwriters, he was right in the middle of it," Warren's ex-wife and biographer Crystal Zevon tells us. "But he comes from another place. He was Southern California noir."
L.A. was either the focus, or heavily mentioned in some of his most well-known songs, like "The French Inhaler," "Carmelita," and "Lawyers, Guns and Money." Los Angeles seeped out of the pores of his songs. He sang about the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel, Pioneer Chicken, Echo Park and scores of other spots.
Returning to the RnR HoF, remember that Zevon has been eligible for induction for 20 years. Almost all of his famous contemporaries have been inducted. Most were more commercially successful than Zevon, but his influence to the musical landscape is equally felt. Inductee Linda Ronstadt used Zevon's song "Hasten Down the Wind" as the title track for her seventh album. She later had a hit with a cover of Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me."
He was a songwriter's songwriter. And hey, maybe he wasn't always a good guy, but he was a great rock and roller.
"It's a travesty," Crystal Zevon says. "But it's been the story of his career."
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