As a longtime resident of Nashville, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet lots of failed dickweed musicians. I’ve also met lots of successful dickweed musicians. My point is, musicians are dickweeds. However, not even I was prepared for the endless deluge of dickweedery chronicled in I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon.
When I was half-assedly maintaining the Mangy Dog website, I wrote a quick column the day after Zevon’s death; I was a fan of his music, and his Letterman appearance was one of the most moving talkshow appearances ever. Senator Steve Cohen of Memphis wrote me a nice letter (long since lost in the inbox ether) thanking me for my kind words. It made me feel good . . . Until I read this book. Now I just want to take a shower.
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is an oral history by Warren Zevon’s ex-wife Crystal, who comes across as a completely awful person as well. In fact, one can make a strong case that every musician living in L.A. between 1965 and 1985 was awful. However, Zevon was a special kind of asshole. A list of Zevon’s sins include:
– A level of alcoholism that one crony describes thusly – “The only other time I saw somebody drink like that was when I watched Leaving Las Vegas.” (!)
– A bad habit of blacking out and beating the shit out of his wife/girlfriend/kids/total strangers
– A long period of sobriety that was spent filming himself have sex with whores. Zevon’s sex addiction was massive, and he didn’t hide it. As he told one gullible idiot (strikethrough) actress girlfriend: “Warren told me, ‘I never masturbate. You figure it out.” Aww. Best Hallmark card ever.
– Manipulating a chick into getting an abortion, because kids are a hassle, dude! (this was during his sobriety)
– An OCD compulsion that made him stop at every mall that he encountered so he could buy a certain kind of dark gray Calvin Klein t-shirt. He compiled hundreds of these shirts . . .and never took them out of the wrapper.
– His death gave a platform to some of the most vacuous twats ever. Zevon’s never-ending harem of loopy broads is amazing; It’s like every gullible ninny in the Golden State gave it up to him at some point. The nitwits include actresses, artists, and all kinds of goofball hangers-on, all of whom happily forgive Warren for all of the drunken beatings as soon as they hear his pretty songs. At least 5 times in this book, some dummy says the following: “I was so mad at him; but then he played me [title of one of his songs], and then we had sex!” Great job, ladies.
The book was compiled from interviews and Zevon’s personal diaries. The author of the book is Crystal Zevon, who was one half of the Zevon Baby-Making Tandem, an Olympian parenting partnership. If Warren’s not beating the kids or blacking out, Mom is getting too drunk and blacking out and pretending that she doesn’t have kids. The two kids they had are interviewed frequently in the book, describing in depth just how badly their parents suck; I wanted to adopt them, even though I think they may be older than me. It’s all very gross and sad.
One problem of the book is that the whole time, you can hear an ax grinding. After a while Zevon’s never-ending excesses left me numb. I’d say 50 pages of the book actually talk about Warren’s music; the rest is “After Warren kicked me in the neck, he drank a barrel of vodka and threw our kids over a cliff. But then he came home and played “Excitable Boy,” and SWOOOOOON!!!” Even the foreword, written by journalist Carl Hiassen, calls the book’s reportage “at times excessive,” which is the foreword version of “JESUS! ENOUGH ALREADY!”
Does this diminish Zevon’s art? Certainly not. If we were to only enjoy art from people that were clean and nice and normal, there would be no art. Artists are fuckered in the head; Most interesting people are, regardless of the field. Besides, is it THAT much of a shock that a musician fucks around and drinks too much? Maybe not, but I still wish I hadn’t read this book.
Now here’s Warren in a happier time . . . when he was dying of cancer: