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I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon

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When Warren Zevon died in 2003, he left behind a rich catalog of dark, witty rock 'n' roll classics, including "Lawyers, Guns and Money," "Excitable Boy," and the immortal "Werewolves of London." He... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Warren from Every Angle--A Genius of a Biography

My introduction to Warren Zevon came in the early 1980's when I was in a record store in Gainesville, FL looking for a new album that had just came out (I don't remember what the album was). While in the store I was caught up with the album they were playing over the PA system..a singer was singing about being in Hawaii and abandoned by his girl to the "Hula, Hula" boys with a refrain in Hawain. It piqued my interest. I listened on to the next song which was about going to Memphis, Graceland to be exact and digging up the king and begging him to sing about those heavenly mansions Jesus mentioned and imagining him (Elvis) walking on the water with his diet pills. I was hooked. Who was the artist? I asked the guy at the counter. Warren Zevon. The album? The Envoy. The EnvoyWhich only recently has been made availble on CD. Thus I was introduced to Warren Zevon. I became a big fan, there is something about a certian class of artists, usually more know for their songwriting than their singing that has always categorized my favorite singers. People as diverse as Tom T. Hall, David Alan Coe, John Prine, Matraca Berg, Neil Young, Neil Diamond and Warren Zevon have long been my favorites. In some ways Zevon was the most diverse of all of them. One minute you were apt to hear a classical string piece introducing some twangy anthem to "playing that dead band's song...all night long" (the dead band referring to another of my long time favorites Lynyrd Skynrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" the next some hard rocking tune. Zevon in many ways defies definition. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon in some ways is just as quirky a biography as the singer was in life. When my copy first arrived I was disappointed, because it didn't seem like a biography at all, but rather a collection of interviews, journal entries, reminicences. But like the genius that the book is about, I soon found their was a genius to what Crystal Zevon (Warren's second ex-wife) had put together. Here is the gripping and moving tale of the real Warren Zevon told from every angle, by people who both loved and hated hiim. The details read like a life long confession--mostly of failures, but with glimmers of grace here and there. The stories behind many of the songs co-written by Warren Zevon are here and as this became my lunch time reading over the past month, I found myself going back and listening to the music from the different periods of his life. One of the most intriquing elements of the bio, that is very minor in the book but is there throughout his life is Zevon's fascination with the Catholic Church. In Spain he tries to convince then wife Crystal that they convert--she's reluctant, so nothing happens. Later when asked by someone what his religion he says, "Catholic." He attends Mass with a woman whom he sleeps with in the same apartment building, another time when troubled in Ireland he finds a Catholic Church and enters during Mass emerging afterwards

A Great, Brave and Fitting Bio for "Mr. Bad Example"

I love Warren Zevon's music and have for over 30 years. He wrote brilliant, insightful, inciting, exciting, sensitive, literate rock and roll, full of humor and keen observations. There was no one like Warren Zevon. After his drugs and drinking took him into the wall in the 80s, I was overjoyed to see him come roaring back with Sentimental Hygiene. In the last fifteen years, I really respected that despite declining commercial success he was out on the road, often by himself, coming to towns like mine where he'd pack a 700 seat hall and really pour himself into a great performance. Anyone who hasn't listened to Warren's music should grab one of his 'greatest hits' collections as a starter. You'll probably want a lot more. But no matter how you feel about his artistry, if you at all care about rock and roll, or heroic stories of families and friends dealing with addiction and its fall out, you must read this book. It's an amazing and well told tale by one of the many people who incredibly stuck by Warren through it all, his only wife, Crystal Zevon, the mother of his daughter, Ariel. The story of Warren's own life is compelling: son of a Russian American gangster and raised in a dysfunctional fatherless household in Fresno. Autodidact and musical genius with the goal of becoming a star. Dark, drunken and addicted excesses and self-destructiveness, resentful brooding, in the craziness of the star-infested, druggy and self-indulgent scene of 70s LA rock and roll. Amazing friends and family, including especially Crystal and his daughter and son, who stood by him and forgave him and loved him, despite his huge failures and the pain he dished out. A family wracked by addiction and alcoholism, yet mostly overcoming and triumphing bravely. Warren told Crystal to leave in the bad parts, and a lot of them are here. It might be difficult for people who don't know his music or never saw him perform to understand why so many people stood by him through such frequent ugliness. He was endearing, and remains so despite the nastiness, cruelty, selfishness and self hatred that this book describes. The book is brilliantly narrated and written, with lots of photos and personal stories from friends like Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bob Thornton, utilizing interviews, commentary and Warren's own journal. There is a lot to be learned from Warren's life and the story of his friends and family through it all, and it's a tremendous credit to Crystal and those who loved him and stuck by Warren that this biography was able to be written and delivered. "Some have the speed, and the right combination, but if you can't take the punches it don't mean a thing." Thanks from a fan to Crystal, Ariel and Jordan.

Warts and All

If you like rock and roll and the songwriter culture in the 70s in Los Angeles, this is the book for you whether you know Warren Zevon's music or not. I do not know his music other than Werewolves. I'm sure I've heard some of the others but don't identify them with him, who I really had not heard of. But I attended a small political function for Steve Cohen where Jackson Browne and JD Souther played. Browne and Cohen's banter about Warren Zevon was very intriguing. What was a "straight laced" politician doing hanging out with a rock n roll bad boy like Warren Zevon? Also, it was very obvious Jackson Browne had deep long-standing feeling for Zevon and he even played a couple of his songs that night. So I was intrigued and immediately bought the book. This book WILL NOT DISAPPOINT. It will make you think, it will make you mad and it will make you sad. Warren Zevon was not a nice guy. Ok, there I said. How can you think otherwise when a minor star brutally beats his wife repeatedly? Of course, he was a raging alcoholic. So, the first part of this book is the rock and roll lifestyle of drugs, drink and sex. But after his brush with fame, he settles in to a "B" list star at parties with wealthy rock stars like the Eagles but coming home to a small apartment. He missed his "wealth" window in a haze of drugs and alcohol. But Warren was a creative, intelligent soul. I eventually was able to set aside the wife beating and general berating of anyone who disagreed with him. What remains is a guy struggling to fit back in to a broken family as a recovering alcoholic while pursuing numerous love interests and interesting friends. Maybe the most compelling subplot is the almost wealthy rock star on the downward side of fame and how you live with this. Or, the significance of discovering you are dying publicly and how you and the public react including your uber-fan David Letterman. Or possibly for us baby boomers, the fascinating tale of drugs, sex and rock and roll particularly in the 70s singer/songwriter genre. Regardless of your particular interest this book is a great read. I applaud his family for telling the story warts and all. This is not a great man here, too many warts. But it is a man trying to find his way and reconciling all his negatives with the positives including a very unique songwriting talent.

Poor, Poor Pitiful Me

Crystal Zevon's "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" is un-putdownable for Warren Zevon fans like me. And I imagine even those unfamiliar with his work will be mightily entertained. I don't think I've read such a revealing rock book since Stephen Davis' Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga, about Led Zeppelin. I remember when Zevon's album "The Envoy" came out in 1982 it seemed to me to be a little thin compared with his previous epic, brilliant records. I had no idea, of course. It turns out Zevon was drinking and drugging himself into near oblivion during the 1970's and much of the '80's. When he emerged from this ordeal for the '90's he had lost commercial momentum and he watched his career dwindle to almost nothing. It's a sad story much of the time, but it's enlivened by Zevon's brilliantly perverse personality. He was called the Dorothy Parker of rock because of his wit, but he was something much tougher: some sort of mutant combination of Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, Randy Newman, and Igor Stravinsky. Crystal Zevon, his former wife and mother of his daughter, has interviewed many of the closest people to the late musician and has constructed an oral history of his life. Within her narrative framework each person takes turns telling stories in their own words, supplemented by Zevon's surprisingly detailed and hair-raising, candid diaries, and dozens of terrific personal and family photos. It's a similar format to George Plimpton's Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintences and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career and Peter Manso's Mailer: His Life and Times. (I think that is company in which Zevon would be glad to be included, given his literary bent.) Crystal has been able to put together an amazingly life-like, three-dimensional portrait of a complex person for whom the good and bad parts were inextricably linked. Much of the rock-star behavior detailed here can only be described as despicable. As Crystal walked out the door for the last time Zevon hurled at her, "You're trying to turn Dylan Thomas into Robert Young" and more poignantly, "I'll never be your father." Zevon hit his wife when he was loaded; was a financial deadbeat with some of his closest musical collaborators; was a shamefully neglectful father; emotionally manhandled a series of smart, pretty girlfriends; wasted fortunes on OCD-compelled shopping sprees; had many sordid misadventures with groupies and self-produced porn; and could be a spiteful, sorry jerk to be around. Much of this can be laid at the feet of his alcohol and drug addictions (which continued even after the famous "Rolling Stone" cover story which celebrated his supposed new sobriety.) What makes us care about his tale is his palpable humanity which comes through clearly in these pages. He was fiercely intelligent (if something of an intellectual star-chaser, to use a less obscene term). He was touchingly humble about himself, even as he was aware of his commanding stren

he's out there somewhere, howling at the moon

When Warren Zevon found out he was dying he asked his long-suffering ex-wife, Crystal to put together this book. Zevon died in 2003. Meanwhile, Crystal has been getting this project together; great photos, quotes from his many friends, amazing memories. Zevon was a classic example of a great talent who had many troubles. Drink-drugs-episodes of madness. Anybody who ever heard "The Werewolves of London" understands the tortured genius that was he. It's good stuff. Crystal remembered their first night in a new apartment: "we decided to celebrate with Warren's favorite meal at home. I made pot roast cooked in cognac-based onion soup. Warren got dressed up in his one white dress shirt and when he tasted the pot roast, he grabbed a fistful, jumped up on the countertop, ripped off the buttons to his shirt and proceeded to rub the meat all over his chest." Zevon fans will savor these delicious memories.
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