Sometimes I forget he's gone

Last updated 09:49 03/07/2012

There's a track on the new Dirty Three album called Sometimes I Forget You've Gone. It's fast becoming my favourite piece of music by the Dirty Three. It's still got a bit of competition - but what a lovely thing it is. A showcase for Jim White and gorgeously evocative (to me anyway) as a sound-painting; it's been a favourite walk-home-from-work song for a while now. I really love the new album, sure, but for me this track is head and shoulders above anything else.

Warren And so on a recent stroll home from a bit of clock-punching I got to thinking about how, as the piano makes room for the splashes of colour from the drums, this tune - probably a stretch to call it a tune - really does suit its title.

Then the mind wandered a bit further - as is often the way when the correct instrumental music is on - and I got to thinking about Warren Zevon. There's really no link between him and the Dirty Three that I am aiming for. But with that idea of the Dirty Three's song-title, Sometimes I Forget You've Gone, I realised that the musicians we miss are of course still with us in song. And that is the only way that they were with us - in the sense that we "know" these people through their music. And we don't even know them as "people", we know them as songwriters, performers, musicians.

If I want to forget that Warren Zevon is gone I have any one of the incredible songs he left us with to take on board. And for me that list would include Hasten Down the Wind, Poor Poor Pitiful Me, Mohammed's Radio, Lawyers, Guns and Money, Accidentally Like a Martyr, Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, Werewolves of London, Excitable Boy, Empty-Handed Heart, Play It All Night Long, Reconsider Me, Boom Boom Mancini, Searching for a HeartSplendid Isolation, Dirty Little ReligionMr. Bad Example, Life'll Kill Ya, Porcelain Monkey, Hostage-O, Don't Let Us Get Sick, For My Next Trick I'll Need a Volunteer and Keep Me in Your Heart.

That's a partial list.

But if I had to pick just one song I'd make it Empty Hearted Town. Some days that is my favourite song by anyone. Ever.

But it's bittersweet, always. Because you listen to Empty Hearted Town - or to any of these songs, and you realise he is gone, has been since late 2003; nearly 10 years have passed already.

I just can't imagine anyone else writing those songs. That's the thing for me with Warren Zevon. That's the mark he made. I can imagine a bunch of people wanting to write those sorts of songs, quality-wise, humour-wise. I can certainly understand people wishing that they could write a song as sharp and funny and nasty as the best material that came from the pen and mind of Warren Zevon. But it hasn't happened.

He had a way with a cover-version too - as this sublime transmogrification of Steve Winwood's Back in the High Life shows. Or when he teamed up with most of R.E.M. to rip through this Prince ditty.

And he never lost the magic. Okay, in the rush to release material toward the end of his life My Ride's Here didn't contain his finest work - but The Wind (released just a couple of weeks before his death) had some lovely moments and I consider 2000's Life'll Kill Ya close enough to a career-high.

I don't think of Warren Zevon as a musician - though he was certainly very talented. One of my favourite albums is the collection of solo live recordings released in 1993, Learning To Flinch (it even includes a performance from an Auckland gig). And Zevon served his words well with just his own piano and guitar.

But he's one of just a handful of musicians I think about almost entirely in writing terms; for me he was a songwriter first and foremost. I'd even go so far as to say he was a writer, a satirist - and sentimentalist - who just used the idea of songwriting (and the idea of the song) as his medium. It was a format that suited, or that he made suit his ideas.

We won't get better than Warren Zevon. He wasn't ever punk - but he was. He wasn't quite folk - but he was. And when he slotted into the LA singer/songwriter scene of the 1970s you could almost see the sly grin on each and every one of his songs.

I often forget Warren Zevon is gone. Because I have his albums still to keep me company. And then when I get through one of his records - or a selection of songs, a compilation, even the well-meaning but ultimately half-baked tribute album - I realise that Zevon is gone. He won't be back. And we won't see his kind again.Zevon

He gave us enough of the good stuff. But still, I sometimes think it would be nice if he were here. Just for one more song or two.

Postscript: And one more gem from Warren.

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22 comments
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Gary   #1   10:00 am Jul 03 2012

Genius indeed. Lucky enough to see him at the Gluepot in Auckland on the Learning to Flinch tour, a memory that has never faded. The last gem says it all really, as he faced death with quiet resignation. I'd add I'll Sleep When I'm Dead to the list of top songs.

Alan Perrott   #2   10:10 am Jul 03 2012

damn, I thought this was going to be about the Lightning Seeds...no matter, I'll check again tomorrow.

UK Music Fan   #3   10:17 am Jul 03 2012

The fact is though that Ian Broudie's "Life of Riley" is a stronger song than anything in Zevon's catalogue.

Interestingly, there is a connection betwen Zevon and the mighty Lightning Seeds - Zevon used to regularly perform the Prince song "Rasberry Beret" live, and the Lightning Seeds named themselves after a misheard lyric in that song: "Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees."

I would havw liked to see a collaboration between Zevon and the Lightning Seeds, the 'Seeds superior musicianship and polish would certainly really lift some of Zevon's sloppily performed songs, although the songs are certainly are weaker than Broudie's.

sludgie   #4   10:37 am Jul 03 2012

Like Gary saw him at the Gluepot as well. Great one man show. A favourite artist and songwriter. No one album stands out to me - all have some stuff I really do not rate, however all have absolutely magnificant tracks that other songwriters would kill for. Some songs you missed include - keep me in your heart (what a last song), The French Inhaler (possibly the nastiest song ever written), Desperadoes Under the Eaves, -------------------- Anyway I'd rather feel bad than feel nothing at all.

m.s.p   #5   10:38 am Jul 03 2012

Was just listening to him yesterday. When in doubt, put on Zevon. Always stokes the fires, does Warren.

Jonny   #6   10:40 am Jul 03 2012

"Albert Einstein was a ladies' man/ While he was working on his universal plan/ He was makin' out like Charlie Sheen/ He was a genius." Just the other day I got a little drunk and texted 'Zevon for life' to a friend.Guy had something nobody else ever will. Sometimes I forget he's gone.

Secret Goldfish   #7   10:45 am Jul 03 2012

Well I liked Werewolves of London...

&rew   #8   11:02 am Jul 03 2012

He certainly had a way about him. I love many of his more odd-ball songs (Werewolves of London, Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, Excitable Boy), and you're right - nobody but Zevon could have done them. Reconsider Me is almost always on my "best of" playlists. Carmelita is another favourite.

Scott   #9   11:37 am Jul 03 2012

But isnt that the beauty of Warren Zevon, the sloppy musicianship with the lyrical witt.

Steve Cournane   #10   11:42 am Jul 03 2012

weird I had never heard that song empty handed hearted town , I guess because I have never heard the preludes release, Nice writeup and you hit the nail on the head, He was a damn fine writer first and foremost.


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