I became obsessed with Warren Zevon in college, although I first heard him when I was just a boy. My father loved “Werewolves of London,” which was the biggest hit Zevon ever had. My old man used to get especially excited at the line “I saw a werewolf drinking a Piña Colada at Trader Vic’s—and his hair was perfect.” He thought that was just the best. And so did I, which makes this instance one of the only things my father and I have ever agreed on.
By the time I made it to Berkeley, I had become a werewolf of sorts myself. I preferred straight rum to Piña Coladas and my hair was far from perfect, but I would find myself transforming into a beast rather frequently nonetheless. Empty bottles were my full moons, and Warren Zevon became my patron saint of lycanthropic alcoholism.
The first friend I made at Berkeley was a Zevon enthusiast and he quickly converted me. We were both artistic and misunderstood (by our own reckoning), and we related to Zevon, whose creative genius and reckless exploits we worshipped. The two of us talked about Warren as if he were a close friend of ours; we felt like we knew him intimately and that he was with us in spirit at all times. Despite the fact that Zevon had been dead for years, his cult of personality was alive and well in Berkeley, and we even started our own religious order in his honor: Zevonism.
The tenets of Zevonism were never really laid down concretely. For the most part, we just wanted to live up to the legend of Zevon by trying to mimic his mythical proclivities for drinking, drugging, womanizing, and bad behavior in general. In this regard, we did rather well for ourselves.
It was the spring of 2009, my last semester at Berkeley, and I had endeavored to drink myself to death. I was terrified of graduating (or not graduating), I had completely lost touch with reality (as a result of my personal habits), and my fiancé had left me (for a hairdresser). I spent the majority of my time alone, locked in a room drinking and listening to Zevon records, particularly his self-titled album.
That entire album was, and still is, one of my favorites of all time. I’m listening to it as I write this. Every song hit me in a personal and poetic way that not many others have; Warren was singing to me, man. But the last track, the coda of the entire affair, was it. That was my song.
I must have listened to “Desperados Under The Eaves” five thousand times that semester, drinking all the while and crying about my chick and cursing the hairdressing profession and writing letters to Warren asking him for direction. Saint Zevon, I called him.** He was my personal patron saint, after all, and if he couldn’t help me, well I was most certainly in trouble.
Still waking up in the morning with shaking hands
(Yeah, every single morning.)
And I’m trying to find a girl who understands me
(I thought I had one, Warren, except she bailed for a bitch barber, bud.)
But except in dreams, you’re never really free
(What’s the difference between dreams and drinking really, Warren?)
Don’t the sun look angry at me?
(It most certainly does and I’m never leaving this unlit room, man.)
So I kept waking up in the morning with shaking hands and I never found that girl that understands me and I never really felt free (in dreams or drinking) and the sun carried on shooting me mean looks. I didn’t succeed in drinking myself to death but I did succeed in graduating, which, at the time, seemed like the worse of the two scenarios.
That was undoubtedly one of the darkest periods of my young life and one that I will forever associate with that song. But I don’t blame Zevon for all that. It’s a powerful song. A little too powerful perhaps: as I listen to it now, I find myself inexplicably and uncontrollably cursing hairdressers.
Don’t you feel like desperados under the eaves?
You’re god damn right I do, Warren….
*Excitable Boy was the title of Zevon’s third album.
**I still refer to him this way.