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Wednesday, July 24, 2002

HIGH NOTES

Warren Zevon: 'My Ride's Here'


Despite having predicted his own irrelevance as far back as 1976 on the song "Desperados Under the Eaves," Warren Zevon has outlasted his more illustrious L.A. pals The Eagles and mentor Jackson Browne even if his awkward song stylings and unpretty baritone haven't changed a bit. And while Zevon himself admits he's overstayed the snickering welcome he received in 1977 for his only hit, "Werewolves of London," he's unapologetic about continuing to exploit his image as the Robert Stone of rock.

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But as he proves on his new album, "My Ride's Here," Zevon may be more relevant than ever; which isn't to say the zeitgeist has caught up with him, only that the sine wave of pop-culture cynicism has risen to a point where it once again dovetails with his sour wit. The perfect antidote to the self-deprecating sappiness that fuels the current emo-core craze can be found in Zevon's short stories of real losers and real jerks. He has no problem aligning Russell Crowe with Hafez Assad on the asshole curve and can pinpoint Albert Einstein's genius in his ability to "make out like Charlie Sheen" while "working on his universal plan."

Zevon's own peculiar genius has always been the way he simultaneously promotes and ridicules the basest human impulses. On the opening rocker, "Sacrificial Lambs," he rails: "Take a look at my family tree, every brother and sister wants something for free." In the almost epic "Hit Somebody," a doltish Canadian farm boy becomes a hockey star simply because he can kick butt: "The king of the goons with a box for a throne."

In Zevon's world, people do not fall out of love, they fall into a mire of bitterness that puts love into proper perspective. "Did you light the candles? Did you put on 'Kind of Blue'?" he sarcastically asks a former lover who is now dating her hairdresser. "Guess what? I never liked the way he cut your hair."

The "lawyers, guns and money" theme that has kept Zevon barely creditworthy as a working singer-songwriter is less pronounced here, though he continues to tap hard-boiled scribes as writing partners (Hunter S. Thompson, Carl Hiaasen . . . what, still no Robert Stone?). If any theme is ascendant it's redemption, most literally on the title cut, where Zevon shares a hotel lobby with John Wayne, Jesus Christ and most of the Romantic poets. Even Charlton Heston walks in, pushing "the tablets of the Law" ("It's still the greatest story ever told," says ol' Chuck, a salesman to the end). Our protagonist demurs: "I'd like to stay, but I'm bound for glory." Warren Zevon, optimist. Who would have guessed that?



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