THE late Warren Zevon was a dark, sly troubadour, and he had a wonderful, world-weary laugh. Tell his son, Jordan Zevon, that he has the same laugh and he nods knowingly. "It's funny, my dad and I had this thing: He would laugh and I would say, 'Johnny Pops, that's an ugly laugh.' And he would answer, 'Well, Johnny Son, it's an ugly world.' "
Zevon was like James Ellroy writing folk-rock songs. Los Angeles and all its madness is hard at the heart of his pavement tales, from the forlorn junkie of "Carmelita," who scores his heroin by the Pioneer Chicken stand on Alvarado, to the beastie who dines at Trader Vic's in "Werewolves of London." But for his son, there's no need to ponder which is the best among those L.A. songs: " 'Desperadoes Under the Eaves,' that one is his greatest song of all, I'd say, and its image of L.A. is so strong."
I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel I was staring in my empty coffee cup I was thinking that the gypsy wasn't lyin' All the salty margaritas in Los Angeles I'm gonna drink 'em up And if California slides into the ocean Like the mystics and statistics say it will I predict this motel will be standing until I pay my bill
Warren Zevon died of lung cancer in 2003. His final album, "The Wind," was not only a huge critical success, but it also won him the only two Grammys of his career, presented posthumously. At a party after the show, it was Jordan who was at the microphone with family friend Jackson Browne singing "Desperadoes Under the Eaves."
"That's when I really understood how complicated the song is. It seems simple, but my dad, who was classically trained, wrote songs that seem like they should go to one place but they go in the exact opposite direction."
The younger Zevon thought for years that the song was about the bar with the "fake palm trees and green Astroturf" at the old Tropicana Hotel, but he learned later that the Hollywood Hawaiian was one of his father's haunts in the early 1970s.
The song has the feel of a bleary morning. "Everything seems washed out, and it's that feeling of too many drinks the night before," Jordan said. "The song is like a journal entry about a rough morning."
Still waking up in the mornings with shaking hands And I'm trying to find a girl who understands me But except in dreams you're never really free Don't the sun look angry at me
The song is the final track on
"Warren Zevon," the landmark 1976 album that featured a who's who of L.A. music at the time. Browne, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Lindsey Buckingham and J.D. Souther all contributed. "You can really hear Jackson's influence there on the backing vocals."
"Desperadoes" closes with a flash of Zevon's humor.
I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel I was listening to the air conditioner hum It went mmmmmm. Look away, look away down Gower Avenue, look away .
"Great writers write what they
know, and my dad knew Los Angeles. He was born in Chicago, and if he'd stayed there or gone to New York,
his music would have been of that place."
The son of the singer laughed his father's evil laugh. "L.A. just happened to be the winner of the pageant."