Sunday, February 17

Music: Warren Zevon

In college I was friends with a floor full of guys.

I know that must sound odd, but I grew up with only one older brother and no sisters on a small street that had only boys for several years. This meant that in many ways, as I got older, I was often more comfortable hanging out with groups of guys than I was with girls although eventually I learned to fully enjoy the individual charms and advantages of both genders.

But as I say, back in college, at least for the first two years, there was this floor of guys in my dorm. One I was sort of going out with - he was 6'7 to my 4'11, quite a difference no matter how you try to visualize us together; one was a sort of friend from high school with whom I'd always had a twisted relationship; and the rest had a variety of odd nicknames but all were willing to play me at Killer Backgammon, which we would do at the beginning of every evening, waiting for the night proper to take over.

Those evenings together would start almost right after dinner ended, so about seven o'clock. Sometimes, one or more of my girlfriends would accompany me, particularly the closer it got to Thursday night - party time - but more often than not I went alone. So we'd play KB while having a few early beers or what-have-you, while trying to decide whether to go out or stay in and, no matter which we chose, just what sort of mischief we might like to get up to, pacing ourselves because those nights were never properly ended until at least one or more of us had seen the sun rise. OK, at least one of the sunrise watchers was almost always me. I loved those mornings when, having survived another night, I made it back to my own room in the other tower, on the top floor in the building high on a hill, and looked out my window, seeing dawn break golden across the campus.

But getting back to those nights.

In between and around whatever else we were doing, there was always a soundtrack playing. It might have been Bruce Springsteen or the Stones or Led Zeppelin, it might even have been Pat Benatar, but at least once a night one of the guys would put on Warren Zevon's "Excitable Boy" album. It was those guys who first taught me that there was a lot more to Warren Zevon than just "Werewolves of London." There was a dangerous playfulness (the eponymous "Excitable Boy"), there was a playful dangerousness ("Lawyers, Guns & Money"), there was a booming voice like no other ("When Johnny Strikes Up the Band"), there was an amazingly aching tender ballad ("Accidentally, Like a Martyr"). But the one song that always got us on our feet, no matter what else we were doing at the time, was "Roland, the Headless Thompson Gunner." Who can explain it, why a bizarre little song about a ghost mercenary combing Africa for revenge would have such a constant effect on us, would make us sway our beer mugs back and forth like we were part of some rugby team at Oxford, would make us feel more alive and at one together than anything else we ever did?

We all lived in the same dorm through my sophomore year until we scattered, mostly me, to far corners of the campus. As the years went on, I scattered further, scattered faster.

Two New Year's Eves ago, we had a party here as we almost always do. One of the people in attendance was a friend who'd recently returned from the war in Iraq. Because of his National Guard reserve status, he'd been called up to serve his country again at age 50 and had come back changed from the man we'd known before. He wore his camouflage fatigues to the party that night, even his cap, looking very much the soldier he could no longer stop being. As the night wore on I put on Warren Zevon's "Excitable Boy" - only it was a CD now and not the eight-track I'd had in college - because I knew he was a fan too. Well, we got through the first few songs normal enough, but then "Roland" came on and before I knew it, this soldier and I were in the kitchen, arms around each other's shoulders, singing so loudly about the ghost mercenary in Africa that no one else there could really talk over us until the song was done; if they wanted their voices to be heard, they would just have to join in singing.

We did that several more times that night.

I hated it when Warren Zevon died on September 7, 2003, still hate it. His music has so much been the soundtrack of my life, the thread that oftentimes binds me most tightly to other people, some of the music that most makes me feel passionate about being alive. I wish he could have lived forever.


Be well. Don't forget to write.


Jessica Burkhart said...

My dad used to be really old country stars like Hank Williams when we took business trips together when I was a kid. He didn't have the tapes anymore, but last Christmas, his brother burned all of his old country favs onto CDs. Now, when I hear them, I think of our road trips!

Jessica Burkhart said...

Sorry! I meant to say "used to PLAY." :)

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Jessica, of course it might be even more fun if your dad *were* a really old country star! Or maybe not even the "really old" part, just the rest.

Melissa said...

My mom LOVED John Denver and The Carpenters, and when I was growing up, she'd play them while she cooked. I find myself humming "Country Roads" and "Top of the World" in my kitchen these days, and I love the memories.

Amanda Ashby said...

Right now I'm all about David Bowie and I swear he's written a song for just about every emotion I've ever felt. I saw him in concert when I was 15 and can still remember skipping school to get there in time!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Melissa, I can't do much with "Top of the World," but ooh, "Country Roads!"

Amanda, yeah, David Bowie, so many good ones for so many moods and the man looked way better at 55 than at 25 or 35.

Sara Hantz said...

So many songs take me back to my youth... David Bowie, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Prince... Whenever I hear their music I get all nostalgic. And then wonder where the years have gone to... it seems like only yesterday when the most I had to worry about was what to wear on an evening out!!!

Jon Clinch said...

One of WZ's best albums has been out of print so long it'll make your head spin. It's the eponymously-titled HINDU LOVE GODS, his one-off record of old blues numbers done with REM (minus that annoying Michael Stipe). I kid you not. It's the real deal.


-- Jon

Anonymous said...

You had me at Zevon. I stayed home from work the day he died, and I cried.

I have everything he ever released, and a couple of things that were never officially released. I used two songs off of "My Ride's Here" to help me get over the death of a friend. (As much as one can ever "get over" something like that.)

Seriously cool blog entry, Lauren.

Oh, on MySpace I'm "Roland The Headless Magic Hat."

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Sara, here's to simpler times, when all we had to worry about was what to wear!

Jon, it's a serious honor to have you here. I've not heard of the album you mention. Should our paths ever cross anywhere other than cyberspace, you will have to play it for me.

Anonymous, thank you so much. For a long time after Warren died, I wore as my cyber-tagline "Send Lawyers, Guns & Money." There have been times in life when I've felt I needed all three. Well, maybe not the guns. Oh and on MySpace I go by Lauren Baratz-Logsted - makes me rather easy to find. :)

Anonymous said...

Brings to mind two other sadly departed singers. Jeff Buckley and Laura Nyro, born the same year as WZ.

Richard Lewis said...

"Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money" had some pretty real meaning for some of us in some situations in SE Asia. The theme song for some surfer guys I knew, stuck in the Indonesian jungle...

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Anonymous, WZ was so blocking out the sun for me yesterday, I'd forgotten about those two other losses - thank you for reminding me.

Richard, you've led quite the life, haven't you? So glad you're here.

Erica Orloff said...

My dad played swing music all the time--Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Django Reinhardt. Its' the soundtrack to my childhood, even though it's generations removed from me.

My own soundtrack . . . Bruce Springsteen. Certain songs can take me back to freeze-frame moments in my life--trips to the Jersey Shore, haunting the Stone Pony hoping he might show up there, old pool halls in Asbury Park. Still love Bruce.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Erica, in terms of older musical artists, I have an enormous fondness for Frank Sinatra. And as for Bruce Springsteen - God, yes! His music imprinted so much of my youth and I still get great enjoyment listening to him. In college, I used to have what I called my manic-depressive Bruce two-pack: I'd put on "Spirits in the Night" to which I'd do this insane little dance, followed immediately by "Point Blank." Oh, and "For You" was like my own personal anthem.

Sara Hantz said...

OMG Frank Sinatra - when I was about fifteen my parents took me to The Royal Albert Hall to here him sing.... what a night..... I have no idea how old he was then, but it didn't matter!!!!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

What a great memory to have, Sara!

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