Warren Zevon, "Run Straight Down"

>> Monday, April 30, 2012

io9 has wrapped up their breakdown of the top hundred albums "Every Self-Respecting Science Fiction Fan Should Own", and it's the kind of thing that's pointless and quibbleful but scads of fun, so you might as well check it out. Since that link starts you off at the end of the list (or the start of the list counting down... however you want to look at it), I'll point out a ground rule that appeared in the 71-100 part of the list: only one album per artist, so as to not have a top ten list consisting of David Bowie albums. (Speaking of which--spoiler alert--the number one entry is a certain concept album whose title rhymes with "twiggy bar-dust land duh gliders bum cars", as if you wouldn't have guessed that going in. I'm sorry, there is no other correct answer for number one, screw you if you even thought it for a second.)

I wasn't surprised Warren Zevon's Transverse City didn't make the cut. Not because it isn't a totally sciencefictional LP but because it tends to get overshadowed in the man's discography. It was a bit of a commercial flop when it came out and in terms of the whole posthumous career retrospective, it has the misfortune of falling between Zevon's '80s comeback/rehab record Sentimental Hygiene and one of his iconic, career-defining records, Mr. Bad Example; and it's a little dated in terms of some of the production and themes.

But then it's a record where the session players include Neil Young, Chick Corea, Jerry Garcia, J.D. Souther, Richie Hayward, Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen, and (appearing in the above video sporting his Momentary Lapse paunch and mullet), David Gilmour. Et al. Which is a helluva guest list, y'know, the kind of all-star cast that often turned out for Zevon sessions and highlighted the whole musician's musician side of his career through its ups and downs and flirtations with massive success followed by cult-followed downturns.

"Run Straight Down", a radio single from City, is a weird-ass song, I don't think there are two ways about that. Weird-ass and awesome, I mean, and no two ways about that, either. The backing vocal's a polysyllabic robotic litany of carcinogens and teratogens and there's that sobbing, screaming classically Floydey guitar crying through it and Warren singing about robots and poisoned wastelands. Oh, and the title's consciously ripped from William Gibson's Count Zero, another SF nod. On the album, the song is the center panel in a triptych that begins with the title track (about a dystopian futuristic shopping mall) and "The Long Arm Of The Law", a song about a fugitive gunrunner living a decade-plus in the song's future ("Law" mentions a fictional South American war occurring in 1999, ten years after the album's release).

Depending on how you feel about this kind of thing, it may (or may not) be a strike against the whole record that there's nothing as morbidly funny as "Werewolves Of London" or "Mr. Bad Example" or "Poor Poor Pitiful Me", though "Splendid Isolation", a song about the narcissism of a Hughesian self-imposed exile flirts with that kind of thing. On the other hand, I'm not sure any of Zevon's other records had anything quite as hauntingly trippy as "They Moved The Moon", which could probably be best described as a phildickian breakup song. (Didja even know such a kinda thing existed?)

The funny personal story about this album that I'd actually pretty much forgotten until I started writing this: so in 1989, I'm in high school, living with my Mom, and my Dad (if I remember rightly) had pretty much moved out at that point but it hadn't been very long. And Dad had always been a Zevon fan and I wasn't sure if he had access to a CD player or a turntable, so for Christmas that year I got him Transverse City on cassette, figuring he at least had access to a tape player. And I remember him coming over to exchange presents and he hands me a predictably-CD-shaped package (music still being one of the very best gifts you can give me) and I hand him the wrapped-up tape, and we unwrap our gifts and there I am looking at Transverse City on CD and he's looking at Transverse City on cassette, and of course we got a good laugh out of that though I understand you probably had to be there. But great minds and all that.

I still have the CD, though years ago it got ripped to MP3 and now it mostly just sits on a shelf helping prop up the other dust-gathering silver platters. I'd assume he doesn't have the cassette anymore--boy, there's a basically dead technology, isn't it? Anyway, maybe not Warren's best record, but a pretty good one. Might need to take it for a spin again this week sometime.


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