As a huge fan of Warren Zevon’s early records from the late 1970s, I was eager to get into the oral history written by his ex-wife a couple years ago. I knew little about the man, just his melodies, arrangements, and lyrics were sometimes just perfect. I want to use the word “brilliant” here, but that word isn’t strong enough for his Warren Zevon and Excitable Boyalbums.
I hit the intro section of the book, and I put it down. I just didn’t want to read another book about another terrible person who did great art. Zevon was violent toward others, a lousy dad, and someone who probably Squandered a lot of his musical abilities and artistic opportunities. I just didn’t have it in me to go through a book like this. I’ve read enough about Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and so on over the years, and stories like this can really bring you down.
I had an audio version of this book lying around in my pile of stuff to read, and I just went back to it a few days ago. It is a great compilation of oral history, diary entries, interviews, little notes around the house, all kinds of primary-source and first-person stuff. And I took on the fascinating and disgusting story of an insane genius. Mental health is a messy and overwhelming problem to read about, and addictions and financial problems and a fickle music industry go all through this book.
I never met the man, so I don’t have any like or dislike for him as a person. I find the terrible parts terrible, the sad parts sad, and the joyful parts joyful. If you’re not familiar with Zevon, check out the albums I mentioned above. If you are a fan and haven’t grabbed this book, well it’s pretty good writing and a huge dose of real insane life in America that a lot of us know something about.