Let me start off by explaining two things: firstly, this post is not my long-gestating epic on Warren Zevon. Warren is my all-time favorite songwriter and I keep meaning to write a long, rambly essay about why he’s so awesome but I’ve had trouble finding the words. So this is not that post. Secondly, this post is not “about” the Colorado shootings that took place recently at a midnight showing of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. That unfortunate event was the impetus for this post, but I don’t want to cheapen that tragic event by talking about it on DEFENDING AXL ROSE (which is just a shitty music blog).
Sometimes I wonder why I even bother listening to, obsessing over, and writing about music. God knows it doesn’t make me any money. But the older I get, the more I feel this terrible compulsion to disappear into music, where I’m able to float off into another place. In college I was trained to not just read books, but write about them when I finished them. I guess that explains why I feel the urge to write about albums after I’m done listening to them: I’ve been brainwashed by the educational system. So in a nutshell, this blog is just an itch I have to scratch, and even though it feels like a waste of time, I indulge myself.
But every so often, something will happen that will really make me question all of it. Usually this is a terrible, tragic event. In the face of death, mass death of many innocent people, I can’t help but wonder “what the fuck am I doing with my life?” What does it mean? Is there a point to any of this obsessive listening, or am I just wasting my time? Does art, specifically music, offer anything other than a fleeting, masturbatory escape from brutal reality?
I’ve been asking myself these (and other) questions all week.
Whenever a violent tragedy occurs, I’m always baffled by all the macho assholes who immediately step forward to let everyone know what “they would have done” had they been there. I really can’t stand people who do this, but I was never able to articulate what it was exactly that was wrong with their braggadocious bravado. Then a few days ago it hit me. I was talking with my wife about recent events and the subject came up about thick-necked jerks who think they’d have stopped 9/11 had they just been on those planes…and then BANG! I instantly remembered Warren Zevon’s song “You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared.”
That title is ridiculous, isn’t it? But it sums up everything nicely so it gets a pass in my book. The thesis of the song, co-written by famed-gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, is that we’re not ourselves when we’re truly, deeply afraid. The song is both groovy and goofy (because that’s how Zevon rolled) but at it’s core, “You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared” is 100% true. I’ve only been terrified one or two times in my life, and I can tell you–when you’re scared you don’t act like yourself. You don’t act like yourself because human beings are animals, and when animals get scared, survival instincts kick-in. It’s easy to say that in the face of extreme danger you’d “step up” and be a hero…but the the reality is something else entirely. Can any of us really say, with anything approximating certainty, that we know what we’d do in the face of death? I don’t think so.
I’d been struggling to find the words, to sum up my position on the whole matter, when Zevon’s song suddenly sprang to mind. That a song helped resolve my feelings about a very serious matter shouldn’t be a surprise to me, but it was. Once I got to thinking about it, I realized that a life surrounded by art is more than just pretty things and cute sayings. It’s more than just a good beat and fun time. Music, good music, is more than just superficial beauty, it can enlighten us, and put into words what we know but cannot say. I’m no mental-slouch, but I was having a hard time coming up with the exact reason for why I was so pissed at these tough-guy jerkoff’s–but Hunter S. Thompson and Warren Zevon knew what I was trying to say and gave me “You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared.”
This whole experience has done nothing but affirm to me that I’m not wasting my time, there is something to be gained by enjoying music and the world of art. Rock ‘n roll ain’t noise pollution, to me it makes good, good sense.
[…] I’ve made no secret about my love of Warren Zevon. As a song-writer, Zevon remains unmatched in his ability to combine heartbreaking sincerity and with a vicious sense of humor. Warren’s career, like the roots of a gnarled tree, is a rat’s nest of odd choices and strange left-turns. One of the stranger oddities in Zevon’s catalogue is the HINDU LOVE GODS album. The Hindu Love Gods was basically Warren and alt-rockers REM sans-Michael Stipe*. The band had “existed” for a couple of years before finally coalescing around Warren’s 1987 album SENTIMENTAL HYGIENE. […]
[…] I think I may have mentioned it a time or two, but I really love Warren Zevon. I’m always trying to convince people that he’s amazing. I’m like Johnny-Appleseed, but instead of apples I spread my love of Warren’s music. And instead of walking across America (committing eco-terrorism) I say things like “Warren Zevon is my all-time favorite songwriter” at parties and I write on this blog about Warren, when I can. […]