Werewolf At Large

Woolly Warren Zevon lives to fish again another day

For much of 1991 and the first part of this year, Zevon toured with a band in support of his first solo release on Giant/Reprise, Mr. Bad Example. That album reunited the excitable one with his favorite guitarist, Waddy Wachtel, who played a large part in Zevon's late-Seventies popularity. Never one to sit still for long, Zevon leaped back into the fray with his solo tour as soon as the Bad Example jaunt concluded.

He says he looks forward to playing South Florida again, if only for the opportunity it affords him to hook up with some old cronies. "When I come down," Zevon explains, "I usually see my friend Carl Hiaasen, and we talk about how much we'd like to go fishing, and then I get back on the bus and leave. This time I'm looking forward to telling him about my largely unsuccessful but nevertheless picaresque Tasmanian trout-fishing trip." It will have to be a short story. The fishing expedition lasted less than two hours.

Many of Zevon's friends -- like noted authors Hiaasen and Tom McGuane -- are passionate anglers. It would appear fishing rods have attained favored toy status among the Hemingwayesque set. "It's a little like the last frontier," Zevon says. "Better than golf, I guess."

Considering the lycanthropist's many references to great literature and famous scribes, along with the ironic bent and colorful storytelling of his lyrics, it's not outrageous to suggest he might be thinking about following another singing fisherman, Jimmy Buffett, into the murky depths of prose writing. "No. Not at all," he says. "They want me to write liner notes for the live album, but I don't want to do it. If I spend two years, conceivably, working on a song, why turn around and write a paragraph, trying to be cute, describing the song, inventing some kind of story of where and how I wrote it besides sitting right here on the `sofa of suffering' with a pencil? Even after all these years, I enjoy writing new songs, and I'm never able to do it without some literary point of departure. When I sit down at the typewriter, if there was any reason for me to be writing at all, maybe by the third sentence I'd go, `Wait a minute! I can play this in G.' And I'd go get the guitar. If I were to try to write anything other than songs, I'd feel like I was waiting till I got to the hook, so I could start playing an instrument and singing."

It's difficult to imagine that until recently Zevon, one of the rock era's most gifted lyricists, never understood how big a part the words played. "I actually never really thought so," he claims. "I would have always said that I'm essentially a musician and a composer and I just kind of write these little poems so I'll be able to keep playing the guitar."

The man who wrote absurdist masterpieces like "Werewolves of London" and "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" often frets that his lyrics sound awkward, especially when a song is new. "It sounds dumb for a long time," he says, "and then it gradually becomes as if someone else had written it. Maybe ten years later you look back at it and it has that `written in stone' quality that any song you like has, and you realize it could never have been written any other way. And sometimes the dumbest line becomes the best line by the end of the process."

That helps explain why Zevon prefers his fledgling second career, scoring motion-picture soundtracks, to standard songwriting. "It harks back to my early classical [music] aspirations," he says. "Underscoring is a criminal amount of fun, like having the lyrics already written, and lyrics are so much the hardest part of my life.... But [writing soundtracks] is very competitive. There are a lot of cats we never heard of who went to Juilliard and write wonderful underscoring. There are a million of those cats. Now, if they need thecat who sings, `Aahhooo,' then they have to hire me."

Nobody will ever mistake Zevon for the easily bruised poseur. He not only doesn't take offense to less-than-worshipful treatments of his songs, he welcomes them. "I always liked other people interpreting my songs. I never understood the songwriters who were so finicky. I always thought it was delightful to have covers, and I guess I like just fucking around with the songs myself. I think of myself -- Jesus, I don't know how to put this -- as sort of a pure artist in the sense that I'm trying to entertain. The more spontaneous my work is, the less encumbered it is by my ideas about what it should say, the more likely it is to be honest, if there is such a thing."

That's another thing that's refreshing about Zevon -- his total lack of concern for political correctness. Try to picture Jackson Browne, a longtime friend and supporter who is the epitome of earnestness among singer-songwriters, warbling away about mercenaries, con men, and gamblers. "Martin Amis, who I don't agree with philosophically but who is a brilliant writer, said that any writers who set out to be politically correct are immediately fucked," Zevon notes. "Whatever it is I do, perhaps it's of less positive value to our culture than my colleagues who write songs about what we should be doing in and with the world we live in. Still, that's what I do."

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