Ill Sleep When Im Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon

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His first musical break was getting a tune onto the soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy , and his best-known song, "Werewolves of London," is a send-up of Lon Cheney-era horror movies. In concert he would toss out references to Hitchcock and Peckinpah and, due partly to his deep emergence in Los Angeles popular culture in the s, the bulk of Zevon's songs were consistently and effortlessly filmic, using a string of images to tell a story.

It's fitting, then, that the first book-length treatment of his tumultuous life is in the form of an oral history, already a mere step away from the biopic or an especially pitiful episode of VH1's Behind the Music.

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

Crystal Zevon, the singer's wife for seven years and exhaustively tolerant companion-for-life, has compiled a kaleidoscopic set of recollections from Zevon's family, lovers, fellow musicians, friends and admirers. You can almost hear the sound of the clapboard between comments.

The movie at times is impossible to watch without flinching. The youth and early starving-musician scenes zip by easily enough, even if they never entirely explain the volcanic rage that fueled Zevon's life and music, and eventually destroyed just about everyone around him. And destruction is what the Behind the Music audience really craves: the soaring arc of success -- which for Zevon came in the form of his near-perfect album Excitable Boy -- and then the inevitable slide into self-inflicted ruin.

Warren delivers the goods, and how. Devotees of the rock-and-roll tell-all think Hammer of the Gods , or No One Here Gets Out Alive may have a high tolerance for the genre's deadpan renditions of bad-boy antics: the trashed hotel room, the pliant and disposable groupies.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

Zevon seemed to crave the decadence almost as if that -- rather than money, fame or achievement -- was the goal. In a beautifully self-aware quip, he told Carl Hiassen: "I got to be Jim Morrison a lot longer than he did.

It's one thing, though, to read about a musician who beats his wife -- black-and-blue, in the face, while she's driving, because of course he's far too drunk to take the wheel -- and quite another to hear such tales in the victim's own words. Spare a moment to contemplate the masochism of the rockstar's wife.

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It is a desperate, dead-end role. Without him, she has no fame, no identity; with him, her life is hell.


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  6. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life And Times Of Warren Zevon.
  7. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon (Crystal Zevon).

And that, unfortunately, limits this book's power: much of the time the reader is unsure who to root for. Just as cynical horror movie audiences yell at the screen: "Don't open that door!


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In the face of his repeated abuse, about the only redemptive thing one can say about Warren is that at least he was capable of writing a witty song about it. But that's not why this book received five stars.


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  • The book I read this book in May of This biography covers the late singer-songwriter's wild life, including his childhood and youth as the only child of a Jewish gangster father and a long-suffering Crystal Zevon is Warren Zevon's former wife and lifelong friend. She lives in Vermont near her daughter, son-in-law, and twin grandsons.

    Crystal Zevon.

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