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Nothing's Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon

Doug Collette By

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Nonetheless, at about the midway point of this book, a certain monotony sets in. Not surprisingly, this is the interval where, having stopped drinking (at least to great excess as in the past), Warren Zevon's addictive personality has taken him to harder drugs, specifically, cocaine and painkillers. At around this time too, his fortunes as a recording artist have fallen off from the peaks he had attained both critical and commercial, so he stands on the verge of being dismissed from the roster of an Asylum label in the midst of drastic changes from its original David Geffen-conceived, artist-friendly approach. It only stands to reason, then, that Kushins' narrative would drag here, yet, in a very real sense, this tone, intentional or not, accurately mirrors Zevon's life at this particular juncture.

That somewhat turgid tempo continues more or less til the man becomes wholly and completely sober in 1986. At this point, the story Kushins tells turns noticeably brighter, borderline colorful, as Warren Zevon's moves fully into sobriety, albeit somewhat fitfully. Not surprisingly, he follows his muse (or his muse follows him) to begin writing memorable material again and performing in a way that invites deserved attention, rather than deflecting the wrong kind, as in the years just prior. All of which occurs with the unflagging assistance of a record label manager, Andrew Slater, who turns his fan stance toward the practical means and ends of recording and promotion on behalf of an initially recalcitrant object of devotion.

The initial promise of a new recording contract isn't exactly for naught, at least as C.M. Kushins describes it. Sentimental Hygiene (Virgin, 1987) and Transverse City (Virgin, 1987) reintroduce Warren to an even larger audience than that which stayed loyal to him at his low(est) points. But as the author recounts Zevon's two-album tenure with that nascent label and moves on to the circumstances that gave birth to Mr. Bad Example (Giant, 1991), Mutineer (Giant, 1995), then Life'll Kill Ya (Artemis, 2000) and My Ride's Here (Artemis, 2002), he reveals a deeply-entrenched work ethic and meticulous studio craftsmanship, not to mention openness to new technology, that found their level in the newly-sober and stable Warren Zevon. Such well-established good habits offset at least to some degree the ever-increasing quirks of the man's personality, including a growing OCD.

In an ironic twist the subject of this book would relish, the narrative takes on a more informal, almost conversational tone. The man who wrote "Werewolves of London" works assiduously to dispel that novelty aspect of his oeuvre as wends his way through the tragicomic series of major label recording deals; the upshot of that tortuous process ultimately leaves Warren Zevon, like so many professional musicians, touring to make a living. It's a fate that the man views with equanimity, at least based on the author's quotes culled from media interviews over those years in the Nineties during which Zevon perfected his own recording techniques. Those otherwise mundane elements of the story heighten a dramatic conclusion that might be deemed implausible were it submitted as a story idea for a Hollywood movie script.

In fact, VH1 (Inside) Out -Keep Me in Your Heart (Artemis, 2004) documented on film the last months of Warren Zevon's life as he battled cancer, strove to record his final album and eventually hung on, with no little travail at certain points, to complete The Wind (Artemis, 2003). The multiple posthumous Grammy Awards bestowed upon the work were decidedly ironic, but no less the poetic justice by which Zevon was able to survive long enough to see daughter Ariel give birth to twins before he passes; the turbulent relationship he and she endured over the years, similar to that the father conducted with son Jordan, mirrors the fractious on-and-off intimacy of Warren Zevon's other intimate relationships, friends and significant others alike.

And even though C.M. Kushins never got to meet and converse with the object of his admiration, he might count himself among that number. At least based on his "Coda" to Nothing's Bad Luck (the phrase one of Zevon's favorite aphorisms, perfectly suited to the arch air in the posed cover photo). Befitting its subtitle (and its seven-year gestation period), The Lives of Warren Zevon is nothing if not exhaustive, fully and completely so with its author adding that aforementioned footnote to it all: what at first sounds like self-indulgent self-congratulations quickly turns into what sounds like nothing so much as an honest and forthright acknowledgment of the object of his admiration as a self-renewing source of inspiration.

With that inclusion, this author reminds readers what lies at the heart of every fan's long-term and deep esteem for their favorite practitioners of any of the arts. Kushins certainly aimed high in his ambition(s) for this book and he exceeded his goal(s), to the betterment of anyone who reads it.

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