Steamshovel Press


Zevonfest 2002
by Kenn Thomas

      "Here's the song of sheer and tortion Here's the bloodbath magazine..." --Transverse City, Warren Zevon

      Ever since word reached Steamshovel Press of Warren Zevon's impending demise - the singer/songwriter has inoperable lung cancer -- the office has been conducting Zevonfest 2002. Zevon's songs play virtually 24-7 at the Steamshovel office, and I have brought him along via CD on my recent travels. His music first came from the wimpy, Dylan-wannabe, oh-so sensitive Southern Cal songwriter milieu of the late 70s. Jackson Browne, Glenn Frey, Linda Ronstadt and all such groovy people who made punk rock inevitable, appear on Zevon's earliest records. It's difficult to connect him, through that, to conspiracy themes and to find a reason for a Steamshovel editorial praising his genius. He is precisely that, however, a genius of cynicism and dark humor that demonstrates to my satisfaction anyway why rock'n'roll is the soundtrack to the global conspiracy culture.

      His 1989 cyberpunk album, Transverse City, strikes up familiar themes of the desolated cityscape, an exhausted science and the alienation found in its best known song, "Splendid Isolation." It also provides a snapshot of the political picture of the late 80s that would warp into the ugly reality that dominates everything today, a tune entitled "Turbulence":

      We've been fighting with the mujahadeen Down In Afghanistan Comrade Gorbachev Can I go back to Vladivostock, man?

      But the one classic Warren Zevon tune, one that David Letterman begged to play on a kind of farewell appearance on his Late Show, certainly ranks in the top ten list of war /anti-war songs summarizing the sad truth, "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner", about the Congolese/Bantu conflict of the mid 1960s. Often taken simply as a bizarre ghost story, "Roland" tells the tale of a mercenary whose head gets blown away by a CIA operative and who stalks eternity wreaking vengeance, even after slaying his own killer. The final verse drives its point home with a catalog of hotspots of the eternal war, as relevant now as when the song came out back in 1979, and slaps at the violence of the pseudo-left:

      In Ireland and Lebanon Palestine and Berkeley Patty Hearst Heard the Burst Of Roland's Thompson Gun And bought it!!!

      I brought Zevonfest 2002 to a bar situation recently, cranking up "Roland" and waving a mug around like it was a German drinking song, even toasting to it and, with no small measure of cynicism, the coming war with Iraq. "Time, time, time for another peaceful war..." Everybody loved the song. A couple of the guys started talking about what an effective weapon the Tommy gun makes.

      The song "Genius" appears both on Zevon's latest album, My Ride's Here, and on the new Best Of compilation, also entitled Genius. Mata Hari and lady's man Albert Einstein are among the geniuses catalogued in the song, and when the concept of conspiracy poetically emerges, it favors the outlaw:

      He thinks that he'll be alright but he doesn't know for sure Like every other unindicted co-conspirator


      The poet who lived next door when you were young and poor Grew up to be a backstabbing entrepeneur


      Everybody needs a place to stand And a method for their schemes and scams If I could only get my record clean I'd be a genius

      As he continues work on his last record, Zevon's great wish to not miss the new James Bond movie has been granted, although its title, Die Another Day, drips with the irony of many of his own song titles. On one of the Zevon web pages, a young fan grasped inarticulately at his frustration in a letter to Zevon: "Man, I'm sorry your shit's fucked." I concur. Godammit. Warren Zevon. Genius.

      While he yet lives, and long beyond, Zevonfest plays at Steamshovel.

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