I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – The Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon tells one of the best, saddest and shortest stories in rock history. I was a fan of Warren Zevon and it took only three days to read its 400-plus pages. Zevon’s life is detailed as he rose from obscurity to the peak of acclaim as a songwriter if not as a performer.
When he transitions into journeyman status after his initial burst of success in the 70s, and his family disintegrates, you suffer every blow with him as things slow down after leaving Asylum in the 80s and signing with Virgin, Giant and finally, Artemis Records. While Danny Goldberg played a supportive role there, he goes off on Krumper. Wow. A brutal indictment in print from a great artist. Bad, but Artemis heralded his last lap and he may have thought so even before he got sick.
The book and Zevon’s diary reveal a moment quite close to home when he hears from his daughter in Fresno, where he has gone to deal with the death of his grandmother a few days prior. She was upset because a radio station said Zevon had a death in the family, since he had rescheduled an interview, and called to see who had died. Zevon sardonically reported the incident in his diary, “why else would someone cancel an interview with 101.9?” It’s easy to picture a miffed/arrogant Merilee saying on the air Zevon that hadn’t shown up (as opposed to “rescheduled” or something ambiguous). Poor (poor pitiful) Warren Zevon indeed having to kowtow to these folks. The industry is rough on artists (but he was rough on the industry too).
Warren Zevon left us with a lot of great music and his wife Crystal did a great job telling us where it came from.