I Don’t Want To Love Warren Zevon, But….

The most lovely version of Carmelita with Jackson Browne.

I never considered going to watch Zevon play live. I never thought to pay attention to what he was up to. I didn’t hurry to read the gossip in Rolling Stone, and only paid passing attention when he was yuckking it up with his best buddy Letterman on the late night shows. He seemed like a haunted man to me. I didn’t need to know any more about him than was in the records I listened to. Zevon seemed to preternaturally follow me through life, Carmelita and Echo Park to Lawyers Guns and Money days when I needed rescuing from Tokyo, and it struck me recently, as I listened to Splendid Isolation, that Warren was still hanging around. I hope he doesn’t sing My Ride’s Here just yet, I’ve stuff to do before my shit is absolutely fucked up. I don’t want to love Warren Zevon, but….he kinda winds his way around my life in a sensitive whisp of sweet chords and a nihilistic sense of humor that I can’t help but want to hold a bit tighter.

Every junkie likes a good junk song, and Zevon wrote one of the best. “Carmelita, hold me tighter, I think I’m sinking down, and I’m all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town.” I remember where I was when I first heard that song: I was sitting next to Billy in some forsaken place, he put the needle onto the vinyl and I was on board, all nice, all well and good, I appreciate anyone who watches tubes as they glow in the dark. Tube amps can’t be replicated by modern electronics, they lack the warmth, the buzz, the vox humana, the depth. It wasn’t until Zevon sang about going to visit his connect who hangs out by ‘the pioneer chicken stand’ that he really won me over. I laughed, Billy laughed, we laughed together at the reality of it. It might not be the Pioneer Chicken Stand on Alvarado, but it was generally the $1 pizza joint near Times Square, or the little cinema on _____ that you could watch old movies for a similar amount, and they would let you sit in there to watch the next feature, ignoring you if you nodded out in there. Incongruous places to sell death and comfort. The magical and the mundane. The mythical figure of the man, would never be kind enough to wear Dior shoes or a fedora, or show up on time for once, or have a pearl handled deck or stories of clipper ships or the Jim Jim (Carroll) of the town, but you could rely on them to want to meet in the most awful places you can imagine to be left waiting, sticking out incongruous for hours upon hours. Trust me, no junkie worth their (chicken) salt hangs out eating fast food. There is only one reason you would be there: drugs, and the bastards know it.

Carmelita, hold me tighter. Warren knew where it was at, he knew the county would get you hooked on the ‘done, and then cut you off abruptly, he knew when shit goes south it goes south quickly, and you just know your drug buddy would lose their welfare at the same time. Warren proved sympathica and I loved him a little bit for it. I didn’t trust him. It doesn’t bode well to trust any motherfucker in that world, but I loved him for who he was. I just didn’t want to know any more. It was a sisterly love. A comrade-like affection. Warren, I’d sing, I think I’m sinking down, and I’m all strung out on heroin in the center of town.

Times change. You think you found a new Warren song for the zeitgeist. You try on Werewolves of London, but that ain’t your hood, you know a few outlaw bikers, but Frank and Jesse doesn’t hit the spot, you think you might be accidentally like a martyr, but that isn’t the gig either. The next song came on quickly. Lawyers Guns and Money. There I am in Tokyo, can’t see a way out, can’t see how to save myself or the children, can’t see a path through it. I need Lawyers, Guns and Money, and I need em fast. Except there was no quick resolution, and I continued to fail to shake anything loose. I might not have gone gambling in Honduras, but I did my fair share of gambling with situations to save us, and it only amplified the need for lawyers, guns and money. I might have had a slight reputation for going home with waitresses. Particularly in Greek restaurants. She had pretty earrings which she swapped with my sharp silver dagger shaped ones, and I was bored, and still not totally past having fun. Send lawyers guns and money, babe. I don’t think she was with the Russians, and I wouldn’t much care if she was.

Warren did it again, captured the situation in a few words and four chords. Maybe three. I can’t quite remember. I might have spent too long with Carmelita – in the past, don’t worry, brothers and sisters – and my memory ain’t what it should be. Bangs round the head, misspent youths, who knows, but I figure I might be a touch punchy at this point like an old boxer should be.

I never got the lawyers or guns, but between me and Billy we managed to figure out an escape route. Only took the best part of two decades. It didn’t even cost that much money. A beat up old punk with a heart of (mostly) gold, and a beat up truck was all we needed. I almost won. Almost. I never did enjoy gambling. Little risks sometimes cost everything. Warren knew that. Good old Warren.

I hadn’t even thought of Warren for years, when youtube (the sadness, I’m left listening on soulless computer speakers, the indignity!) suggested Splendid Isolation. I want to live in the desert like Georgia O’Keefe. I want to live on the Upper East Side, and never go down in the street. Warren appears to be following me. Warren, Warren, how did you know? He knew it would get here. He knew I would dream of splendid isolation. He knew I would become old and grouchy. He knew I wouldn’t care to wake up with anyone next to me. I never did much, anyway. I was the kind of girl who wanted my hook ups to get the fuck out of there by morning. He knew I would not ever want anybody new. He knew I would define the word jaded. He knew I would stare down the barrel of old age alone, and there was nothing to be done about any of it.

I would have enjoyed a shack in the desert a mile as the crow flies, from O’Keefe. A shotgun over the door. Foil over the windows, and that I would end up laying in bed hearing echoes of the screams of my beautiful children as a fist smashes into my face and glass flies around me. He knows that I would end up chasing ghosts down paths to oak trees and whirlpools, and they would turn round, hair covering their faces, beckoning me into the forever, just out of reach, uncatchable and I scream for them to stop and wait for me.

If I never needed to go outside I wouldn’t. I am not lucky enough to be able to indulge myself like a successful artist, isolated amongst thousands, removed from a society that couldn’t stop trying to kill me and everything and everybody I love.

If I could, I would shut myself off entirely. I am terrified of the world. I am scared of the future, and with good reason. “Stop saying sorry, TPS,” kindly people tell me, censuring me for my apologies. I can’t. I get the sneaking feeling if I am not made to beg for forgiveness my face will be smashed in again, and I’ll lose the sight on the other side, or the rest of my hearing, or my good leg will be crushed under a boot. I can’t help but think if I am not silent and still and apologetic my son will be dragged away from me, and I’ll never see him again, and I’ll end up in a prison cell, or on a street corner if I am lucky. I won’t be tricked into it. If I have to live amongst people I’ll do it on my own terms. Who knows, one day perhaps I can have a gate in the desert, that people come and stand by to visit. And then go again.

You have to excuse me, friends, my ride’s here…..


  1. Ian Kiely

    This was incredible to read! I’ve been a massive Warren Zevon fan for years now and your appreciation for his work and unique style is incredible to read about.

    Warren was an original and the first of his kind. Maybe that’s why he never broke completely through to the main stream. I think that’s why anyone who finds him and enjoys his work feels like a member of a small but dedicated community. After all he was just an Exciteable Boy!

    1. The Paltry Sum

      You know he was, Ian…just had to rub that pot roast all over his chest. To me, Warren belongs with the poets not the rock stars, I am immensely fond of him as a writer. I am so pleased you enjoyed my writing, Ian. I am working on breaking through into a proper freelance writing career. Very nice to meet you. TPS

      1. Ian Kiely

        I love that the roast story is true too! Yes I agree with that, Warren has more in common with Bukowski and Hunter S Thompson. Nobody could piece music together like Warren.

        The very best of luck to you with all your writing and freelance work.

      2. Ian Kiely

        They did actually meet Hunter Thompson and Warren Zevon! They even have photos and some video of them together, I believe they became friends and everything. Thanks so much for the Bukowski link too

      3. The Paltry Sum

        “Warren is a profoundly mysterious man, and I have learned not to argue with him, about hockey or anything else. He is a dangerous drinker, and a whole different person when he’s afraid.” – Hunter about Warren…

  2. ailixchaerea

    Warren Zevon was a gift while he was still alive! ‘Carmelita’ & ‘Splendid Isolation’ is an emotional touchstone for me and I don’t think there’s a song from ‘Life’ll Kill Ya’ that I don’t love. Really underrated lyricist

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