Contrary to what many of you may think, I do not listen only to Gilbert and Sullivan.  I occasionally listen to musical artists whose works were written as recently as this millennium, if you can imagine that.  One of my favorites is the late Warren Zevon. He was not a very nice person, to put it mildly, as I discovered from reading his ex-wife Crystal’s biography of him, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. But he wrote some great songs–here is a list of my ten favorites.

  1. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner“. (1978, with David Lindell)  This tale mixes two of my favorite subjects: mercenaries and ghosts, and is coupled to a well-crafted narrative of war and betrayal.  The opening notes give me chills every time I hear them. It was fitting that it was the last song Zevon performed publicly, during his final appearance on the David Letterman show–I think it is his greatest.
  2. Mohammed’s Radio“. (1976)  I go back and forth on whether I prefer the studio version or the live version that appeared on Stand in the Fire.  The former has better lyrics, but the latter has better energy.  Either one is brilliant, however.
  3. Transverse City“. (1989, with Stefan Arngrim) This song is also the title of Zevon’s most unjustly neglected album. For the life of me, I don’t know why people didn’t like it. (Maybe the horrible cover art?) In any case this song is a very unsettling journey through a cyberpunk landscape.
  4. Mr. Bad Example” (1991, with Jorge Calderon) Again, this was also an album title, and this song was definitely the standout (though it’s a very fine album).  An amusing saga of outrageous misdeeds that probably didn’t seem quite so outrageous to the late Mr. Zevon himself.
  5. Ourselves to Know“. (2000)  This haunting song will creep into my mind at the oddest times.  I am not a religious person, but I do find the Crusades imagery the lyrics evoke to be curiously powerful.  Zevon at his most reflective.
  6. Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)“. (2002, with Mitch Albom) I played hockey as a kid–not very well, though. Like the enforcer hero of this song, I “wasn’t that good with a puck”.  It’s one of the few inspirational sports stories I don’t find tedious.
  7. Turbulence“. (1989) Another one from Transverse City.  I love his topical political songs, and this one also contains some very nice Russian singing.
  8. The Envoy“.  (1982) Note that this is the title track of what is by far Zevon’s worst album.  There are only about four songs that are not awful on it, and this is the only one that is really “good’.  I half suspect he made the whole album just to get this gem published.
  9. “Bad Karma“. (1987) This is a great song for when you are feeling down. It won’t make you feel better exactly, but it will kind of make you laugh.
  10. My Ride’s Here“. (2002, with Paul Muldoon) It sums up Zevon’s body of work perfectly; capturing both his witty, humorous side and his melancholy gloominess.  I suspect you don’t get the full effect of it unless you are pretty familiar with his other stuff going in.

I was very disappointed to learn of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s disgraceful behavior. I have always rather enjoyed Schwarzenegger’s work. Granted, he was not exactly a great actor, as such, but he has a great screen presence.

People often talk about separating art from the artist, vis-a-vis the artist’s work being excellent, but the artist himself being a total jerk. It can be tough to enjoy a piece of art when you know the person who made it was a wretched human being. I have this problem all the time with a lot of my favorites.

For example, Chinatown is one of the greatest films ever made, in my opinion. Unfortunately, it was directed by the criminal wretch Roman Polanski. And then there’s Lawrence of Arabia, another absolutely brilliant film, directed by serial adulterer and all-around bully David Lean.

Moving on to my favorite music, I come to the great rock-and-roller,Warren Zevon. I don’t even know where to begin. Suffice it to say, he really was “Mr. Bad Example“.

(Since I wrote this last week, I’ll leave poets out of this one. Also, I should mention that Thingy had a good post on this a while back. Ta-Nehisi Coates did too, about a year ago, but I can’t find it.)

Permit me to annoy you with a silly eccentricity of mine: I don’t like it when poets and songwriters use rhymes that don’t, as it were, rhyme. By this, I mean rhyming  “name” with “lane”, or “town” with “around”, for example. (Incidentally, H. P. Lovecraft also complained about this in his essay “The Allowable Rhyme”)

I’m not necessarily saying this is wrong–who determines what is “wrong” in art, after all–but it does slightly irritate me. I suppose this is because the first time I ever paid attention to rhyming was when reading/listening to W.S. Gilbert’s lyrics and poems and he never (well, hardly ever) tried to rhyme things that didn’t actually rhyme.

Now, admittedly, I quite enjoy Warren Zevon‘s lyrics as well, and he committed this crime against rhyme quite often–probably at least once every song. So, I mean, I try not to be closed-minded about it. But at the same time, I think when people start deciding its okay to rhyme “mike” with “right” or some such, it seems to take the challenge out of it a little, maybe.

But then, I’m not a poet or songwriter, so I realize I’m really not in a position to make the rules on this.

(As a related aside, I did once think that it when be interesting if you used words like “lane” and “name” in poetry if they were incorporated into the structure of the poem itself–e.g., in a typical ABAB rhyme scheme, you could have all the A’s be rhymes and all the B’s be things like “lane” and “name”.)

While (still!) reading about the WikiLeaks affair, I was listening to some music. The song “Disorder in the House” by Warren Zevon and Jorge Calderon came up in the shuffle. It contains these lines:

“It’s the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free;

Where the less you know, the better off you’ll be.”

Anyway, I was thinking of doing a post on my opinion of WikiLeaks, (as opposed to just tweaking the Republicans and Tea Party like I’ve been doing) but it’s kind of hard, largely because I’m not sure what my opinion is yet. It’s a complex issue.