Monday, November 16, 2015

Warren Zevon - Excitable Boy

Excitable Boy (1978) ***1/2

I stumbled across a dusty Tibetan ouija board in a Chinese knick-knack shop in the alley behind my apartment and to break it in, I have contacted the spirit of Warren Zevon himself for this review.

Creative Noise:  Hiya, Mr. Zevon.  Do you mind if I call you Warren?

Warren Zevon:  Call me Mr. Bad Example.

CN:  Fine.  How's the air up there?

WZ:  Up there?  Why would you assume I went up there?  No, where I am it's hot, damn hot, dusty, and I can't even find a decent bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin.  The only liquor on tap is this 3.2% crap.  Piss water that has the audacity to label itself beer.  I've knocked back a dozen in two hours tonight and all I feel is the urge to piss all over the walls.  Boring as hell burg, too.  My only consolation is that I'm told that Merle Haggard and Lemmy might be arriving here anytime soon, so at least I might have a couple of drinking buddies.

CN:  You tell me you've been sent to an eternity in Oklahoma for your sins?  I am so sorry, man.  It ain't Denver, but there are things to do in Tulsa when you're dead.

WZ:  Tulsa?  I could only wish.  No, they sent me straight to Muskogee.  I transform into a headless werewolf at dusk and howl my one big hit to put the scare into Okies.

CN: I've observed that quite a few followups to great debut albums suffer from slightly inferior copycat syndrome - the Byrds, the Pretenders, et. al.  Your debut and Excitable Boy seem to have certain twins in common - "Johnny Strikes Up the Band" takes up the place of "Mohammed's Radio" as the lyrically slight, upbeat most danceable tune, while "Accidentally Like a Martyr" is a somewhat superior take on "Hasten Down the Wind".  And it still sucks.  This England Dan & John Ford Coley soft-rock tripe is beneath you.

WZ:  I agree.  That is only one of the many, many sins for which I am paying penance.

CN: "Nighttime in the Switching Yard" is even worse.  What is a near-sighted Jewish kid from the Midwest doing fooling around with funk?  "Join Me in L.A." was such a bad idea you had to do it twice?

WZ: I'm not entirely responsible.  If you look at the credits, it was co-written by the entire studio band.  It seemed like a groovy jam at the time.  And it was.  It just didn't make the transition to record very well.

CN:  Let me focus on the positives before I start pissing you off too much.  I've heard you can have problems with your temper when you've been drinking-

WZ:  3.2% beers!  You think I'm a lightweight?

CN:  I would never imply that.  Your feats of alcoholism were legendary.  My favorite line in "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" is "he found him in Mombasa in a bar room drinking gin".  I like songs that tell interesting stories, beyond the usual boy-meets-girl stuff.  "Veracruz", for the same reasons - it's the only song about Woodrow Wilson's invasion during the Mexican Revolution that I'm aware of.

WZ:  I'm proud of that one.  I should've brushed up on my Spanish for some of those lines, but I was rusty so I had Jorge sing'em.  "Roland" is one of my signature tunes, but like "Werewolves" it became something of an albatross over the years.  You know how people demand that one song of yours over and over and ignore all your other stuff....

CN:.....yeah, yeah, that's why I've danced around mentioning that one.  Scoring Fleetwood Mac's rhythm section probably had a lot to do with it being such a big hit, don't you think?  The track swings.

WZ:  I spent the rest of my life being known for one goddamn novelty song.  Everywhere I went people would howl "a-woo!" at me.  Drove me to drink.

CN: I didn't think you needed any help.  And it's a great novelty tune!  I bet you got sick of "Lawyers, Guns, and Money", too.

WZ:  That one I could tolerate.  It has "shit" in the chorus, so it wasn't so overplayed.

CN:  I'm looking at the credits right now.  Jackson Browne co-wrote "Tenderness on the Block"?  No wonder it's so boring and forgettable.

WZ:  Hey now, Jackson's a nice guy.

CN:  A boring and forgettable nice guy, if his music is anything to go by.  And I hear he's not so nice to his wives.

WZ:  Neither was I.  Another reason I'm stuck haunting Dust Bowl, OK instead of swapping brandies with Stravinsky up there.

CN:  Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, he taught you piano when you were a kid, didn't he?

WZ:  Yup.

CN: What do you think he'd make of this bright, gifted kid he'd taught classical piano pieces to, growing up to write murder-rape fantasies set to basic bar room boogie?  I'm sure there are tears in heaven.

WZ:  First of all, I'm not even sure if Stravinsky is in heaven, and second of all, where do you get off mocking one of my most clever, wittiest songs?  I named the record after it!

CN:  Look, Warren, like a lot of people, you're not nearly as clever or witty as you think you are.  Plus, while it's catchy, it is pretty basic, and overall it comes across as a little....uh....sorry, man, but just kind of stupid, you know?

WZ:  If I didn't have to start stalking the town in the next hour or so, I'd come all the way over there to wherever the hell you are and slit your throat, you condescending rock critic piece of shit.  I work hard for months writing songs and putting together my best effort at an album, and people like you who haven't ever created anything themselves, you people come and shit all over my art.

CN:  Calm down, excitable boy.  Where did that come from?!

WZ:  I snuck an emergency stash of whiskey in my boots, just for desperate situations.

CN:  Maybe let's wrap this up then.  In conclusion, like all of your albums, Excitable Boy is an uneven mix of some very good songs and some not so very good songs-

WZ: Listen you son of bitch, a knife to the throat is too quick.  I'm going to tie you to a tree in the woods and rape your girlfriend while all the while making you watch, and then I'm going to slice you with a couple dozen cuts so you can die a slow, painful death from bleeding from your wounds.  Maybe some wild animals will smell your blood and devour your flesh - if you're lucky.

CN:  Jeezus.  You stole that from Rashomon.  Even your murder-rape fantasies are derivative.

WZ: Derivative?  Derivative?  DERIVATIVE?  Once you've had a major international hit and a thirty year career in music-

Connection disrupted

I tried calling Warren back a few days later, when I figured he'd sobered up, but somehow the lines got crossed, and the ouija board hooked me into GG Allin's answering machine instead.

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