Look Away Down Gower Avenue
‘Nothing’s Bad Luck’: The Definitive Biography of Warren Zevon
In the final pages of Nothing’s Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon, C.M. Kushins admits he tried to use as objective a voice as usual and hopes that Warren Zevon’s family, friends, and fans feel he’s done a sufficient job with his subject. This isn’t the case with every music biography, but it’s not surprising for a book about Zevon. He attracts the kind of fanaticism from which it’s hard to separate.
The fact that Zevon’s always been a little beyond mainstream acceptance makes his outlaw appeal a little greater, but also urges his fans to sing his praises a little stronger. I should know. When I wrote about the injustice of Zevon having never even been nominated for the Rock and Roll of Fame, I received an overwhelming response to the piece, and to the man. His ex-wife, son, and best friend all gave me the approval of which Kushins speaks. I know how important it is.
Kushins’ book is hardly the first biography of Warren William Zevon. Warren’s ex-wife Crystal wrote I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon four years after his death in 2007. From the opening pages, it was clear that Warren was as tortured as we always thought. Before his passing from mesothelioma, he asked his son Jordan to be sure to remove his porn collection after he was gone. He asked Crystal that she tell his whole story, “the gristle as well as the meat.” She did just that, albeit in the form of an oral history.
The last four years have seen a pair of Zevon biographies. In 2016’s Warren Zevon: Desperado of Los Angeles, George Plasketes gave an academic and exhaustive account of Zevon’s legacy. Last year, Backbeat released Accidentally Like A Martyr: The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon by James Campion, which offered a more thematic study of Zevon’s life and work. Steven Hyden also penned an excellent piece on The Ringer in advance of his upcoming book with ex-Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman. Gorman participated in the sessions for Zevon’s final album, The Wind. Appropriately, it was a cover of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.”
“I remember I went, ‘Oh my God, that’s fucking Warren Zevon,’” Gorman recalled 16 years later. “He was moving slow, and you could tell he didn’t feel good. I went from super excited to really sad.”
Zevon’s illness and the final album brought plenty of sympathy. But that went away long ago. The Rock Hall still hasn’t nominated him, even though David Letterman urged them to do so when he inducted Pearl Jam last year. Kushins’ book confirms that Jann Wenner’s disgust at Zevon’s alcoholic excess during their first meeting led to a Jack Wolz/Johnny Fontane vendetta. Be careful, Jann. No one’s going to leave a horse’s head in your bed. But I don’t think your past is any cleaner than the rest of ours. Less so, I bet.
“Nothing’s Bad Luck” was apparently Zevon’s OCD mantra that he used to try to keep the demons at bay. The “lives” Kushins describes are the stages of Zevon’s struggles, redemption, addiction, and illness. Even thinking I knew all there was to know about Zevon, Kushins’ work enthralled me. This may very become the definitive work on Warren, as it strikes the perfect balance among all the preceding books on him.
Kushins never allows himself to go too far in any one direction, no matter how tempting that must have been. There are fresh anecdotes and new perspectives throughout. If you want to understand the genius of Zevon and the “dirty life and times” that fueled it, this is the perfect place to start. You’ll understand why so many people both went to bat for and tried to sabotage him over the years. God knows he sabotaged himself plenty. But Kushins does a fantastic job in giving us the full picture with this most enigmatic of subjects. It’s well worth your time.
In the book, Kushins repeatedly references “Backs Turned Looking Down The Path” from Zevon’s star-studded 1976 debut, as one of his most personal songs. Eleven years after Rhino released the two-CD deluxe edition was released by Rhino, it seems that much more personal.
I was caught between the years
Cost me nearly all my tears
With my back turned looking down the path
(Da Capo Press, May 7, 2019)