Friday, January 11, 2008

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead by Crystal Zevon

The title is brilliant. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life And Times of Warren Zevon makes use of song titles from the beginning and end of Warren's career, effectively bracketing his life. At first blush, it appears to be a sleazy ex-wife tell-all, but Crystal wrote this book at Warren's request, and he told her to include "even the awful, ugly parts." There are plenty of those. For many years, Warren was a terrible alcoholic who would black out and abuse his wife. Even when sober, he could be very moody, and he was consistently unfaithful to the women he cared about.

The book is written in an engaging "oral history" format. Crystal interviewed 87 of Warren's friends, lovers, and associates. Her narrative weaves together their recollections with Warren's own diaries. The result is that the reader feels as if he is in a large room full of people reminiscing about Warren's life.

Warren was one of my favorite artists. I saw him in concert three times, and of course I have all of his albums. The book doesn't tell as much about his songs as I had hoped, but then, it is about his "life and times," not specifically his songwriting or recording. Although I found the 450-page book interesting, seeing all the warts tarnished his image somewhat in my mind. He often acted like a spoiled baby, especially during the drunken years, and it's hard to reconcile his lyrical depth with the shallowness of his behavior.

If you admire Warren Zevon for anything other than his songwriting or performing abilities, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead will tear apart that image. But if you're willing to acknowledge that it takes a flawed man to create such memorable work, the book is a fascinating insight into virtually every facet of his life.

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