Monday, August 7, 2017

Chaos/Confusion: Disorder In The House

Warren Zevon (w/Bruce Springsteen): Disorder In The House

Warren Zevon is one of those artists whose music I’ve enjoyed and appreciated over the years without ever really being a fan, or learning all that much about him. There’s just so much music out there, and so little time. David Letterman, on the other hand, was a huge Zevon fan. He was a guest on Letterman’s various shows more than two dozen times, and even filled in 20 times as bandleader when Paul Shaffer was unavailable.

Back in 2002, Zevon was diagnosed with lung cancer, and shortly afterwards appeared as the only guest on Letterman’s show. Their interview soon became a classic. Letterman’s respect and compassion for his dying subject, coupled with Zevon’s unflinching honesty and humor (which gave Letterman the opening to be funny, too) is striking.  During the course of their discussion, Zevon responded to Letterman’s question about his new-found understanding of life and death with the phrase “Enjoy every sandwich,” which became a pretty well-known distillation of his life's philosophy. Zevon also performed three songs on the show that night. The Letterman show is worth watching, and you can see the interview here, the performance of “Mutineer,” here, “Genius” is here, and Letterman’s request, “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner” is here. And Letterman's and Shaffer's heartfelt announcement of Zevon's death about a year later is here.

At the time of the Letterman interview, Zevon had recently released an album whose title, My Ride’s Here, seemed eerily prescient in retrospect. But to be fair, his prior album was called Life’ll Kill Ya, so it is probably more fair to say that he was comfortable with his death as a concept, not that he had any mystical foreshadowing of his demise.

After his diagnosis, Zevon worked on his last album, which ended up titled The Wind. It is hard to listen to the album without feeling that Zevon was trying to sum up his tumultuous life and preparing for its end. It includes 10 original songs (or co-writes with his long-time collaborator Jose Calderón), and a poignant cover of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” The album included numerous high profile guests, including Mick Fleetwood, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, Tom Petty, Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, T-Bone Burnett, David Lindley and Emmylou Harris.  While the album contained its share of contemplative ballads, Zevon could still rock and show his trademark twisted humor, most notably with guest Bruce Springsteen, who shared vocals and played electric guitar on the raucous “Disorder In The House.”

The song lays out the chaos and confusion in the titular house--overflowing bathtubs, falling plaster, doors coming off their hinges. It’s so bad that “even the Lhasa Apso seems to be ashamed.” Then, it becomes clear that the song is about criminals being chased by the police, but it appears that the narrator escapes.

To me, what is most memorable about the song is the fun that Zevon and Springsteen seem to have performing it. The Wind was released two weeks before Zevon died, at the age of 56. The album received five Grammy nominations, including Song of the Year for "Keep Me in Your Heart," and it won two Grammys, for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and "Disorder in the House" was awarded Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal. These were the first Grammys of Zevon's career, and I suspect that he’d be chuckling to himself if he knew what it took for him to get them.

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