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Song of the Day: Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money”

Today’s Song of the Day opens like this:

I went home with a waitress
the way I always do.
How was I to know
she was with the Russians too?

So you know that (1) you are in good hands, lyrically, and (2) you are not in Kansas anymore / this is not your father’s rock and roll.

And just look at that face… There’s a line from the BBC comedy Black Books where Bernard says of Manny “half Iago, half Fu Manchu, all bastard.” I wish I could come up with something as witty and pithy because, well, just look at that face. A bit angel, a bit devil, a dangerous nerd. Just looking at that cover, you knew, even before you got that flat plastic thing spinning, that you were in for a wild ride to strange lands.

Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” – from the album Excitable Boy (1978)

I can’t believe this album came out in 1978, but on that point both Amazon.com and Wikipedia agree. For me this record exists a few years later, when my friends and I were in our last year of high school and first year of university and felt like we were indeed traveling in strange lands, without a map—but with this record we at least had a troubadour along for the ride.

This isn’t even the best or most well-known song on the album, nor is it my favorite (that would be “Roland, the Headless Thompson Gunner”—which hits me where I live politically, and in which Berkeley gets a shout out), but it may be the funniest. Listening to it now, when it still gives as much pleasure as it did 30 years ago, what strikes me is how few rock songs, still, manage to break out of the ghetto of cars, guitars and relationships, and sing about other stuff in direct and accessible ways, and in particular to tell stories, especially stories that have nothing to do with the musician, and are just… stories.

Here’s what Amazon.com has to say about this album:

With this 1978 LP, Warren Zevon stepped forward as something of the dark prince of California. Like fellow Southern California outcast Randy Newman, Zevon achieved some fame, albeit not what his talent would have earned him had he written songs more like his mellower pal Jackson Browne and a little less like Jack the Ripper in a convertible. Fascinated with bloodthirsty antiheroes, Zevon wrote with the flair of a desperately bright pulp writer and summoned images of mutilated mercenaries (“Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”), pampered bad boys (“Lawyers, Guns and Money”), helpless sickos (the title track), and, of course, feral Chinese-food fiends (“Werewolves of London”). Excitable Boy’s 1976 predecessor (Warren Zevon) may be a more consistent album, but this is the one that put Zevon in the public consciousness as someone to keep an eye on–for protection as well as promise. –Steven Stolder

And here’s the big hit from the album: “Werewolves of London.”

Zevon kind of disappeared off the popular radar after this album came out, only to reappear a few years ago when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It’s a shame that his career should have been like that – a huge splash with Excitable Boy and then so little until the cancer brought him a weird and distressing kind of attention. In fact, we should never have stopped listening to him, and in particular, to “Lawyers, Guns and Money.”

For more…

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows

zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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