Warren Piece

Zevon's older, but he can't get much wiser

Zevon need not crack jokes to satisfy anybody, except for the short-sighted handfuls who say he's little more than a dull pop anachronism who represents a backdated view of songcraft, and a protagonist lacking in essential tools to safeguard his rock 'n' roll stardom.

Shit, Zevon was always ancient as dirt, even at 25, when he was exhaling heart-barking lines about the junksick and the lovesick: "I hear Mariachi static on my radio/And the tubes they glow in dark/And I'm there with her in Esenada/And I'm here in Echo Park."

Few of the 13 Warren Zevon albums have made more than polite chart appearances. His biggest mover, 1978's Excitable Boy -- which yielded the hit "Werewolves of London" -- was only certified platinum in recent years. Zevon's record sales casually waned with each release, while quality fluctuated.

From his bio: "Before this album I had been in semi-retirement mode. I'd play a benefit here and there or do the Lettermanshow if they called, but I had basically been taking my retirement and learning to play flute. I think one of the keys to my personal happiness and my personal chaos is that I never get anything down to a science. Every time I get on stage I still kind of think, 'what am I doing here?' despite being a really old-time whore in the best Bob Fosse dancer sense of the word. To me, everything seems like that goldfish in the song by Ani DiFranco, who just keeps going around in its bowl but every time it passes the little plastic castle it's like it's brand new."

Zevon is a songwriter aging with his personal gripe attached, but doesn't err by heaving it onto the idiom of his time and calling it cultural identity.

At the risk of sounding banal, Zevon is a survivor who has thrived by observing. And as an observer, he's just made another record with its own testimonial listed right there in its title: Life'll Kill Ya.

And survival, as Zevon has proven often enough, is but one option. Hell, survivalist Hunter S. Thompson has even quoted him. Now what can that say about the man?

Warren Zevon is scheduled to perform on Saturday, April 1, at Alice Cooper'stown. Showtime is 8 p.m.

Contact Brian Smith at his online address: brian.smith@newtimes.com

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