I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon (Ecco)

A cult artist dies, after experiencing a burst of increased celebrity as a direct result of calculatedly marketing his own impending demise. Old fans are reminded of how much they always dug his work, and a few new ones arrive to explore the back catalog. Then comes the book, an oral history compiled by a long-suffering, long-forgiving former wife, the result of a promise to the dying man. And for Warren Zevon’s fans, be they diehard or more casual, everything changes forever. For in addition to his undeniable gifts as a wordsmith and piano fighter, the delicate character studies and the self-mythologies, the werewolves and the pot roasts and the neo-noir visions of Los Angeles, it turns out Warren Zevon was something of a monster. And his shenanigans—born of cruelty, drug abuse, family skeletons, egomania and OCD—are revealed here through the words of those who loved and suffered alongside him, coloring the music with broad strokes of memorable misbehavior and strangeness. The result is a big, messy, sad and rather moving piece of mass biography in which the various players move in and out of Zevon’s orbit and reflect upon their mutual impact. Perhaps inevitably, given the damage done, this is less of a creative biography than a psycho-chemical one, and at times it is relentlessly dark and repetitious. But anyone who finds Zevon of interest as an artist will appreciate the guts and care Crystal Zevon exhibits in assembling these tales, and it’s a must for fans of rock and roll horror stories. (Who could have imagined that this thoughtful, intellectual fellow who hobnobbed with Stravinsky as a teen would personally surpass the excesses of any half dozen cock rock idols? Only everyone, it seems, who ever met the man.)

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