Sunday, March 29, 2020


Actually, I am neither isolating, much, nor even distancing a whole lot, bar maintaining the antisocial 2 metre rule. I am purportedly front line. But not, as yet anyway, the trenches of ICU and the emergency room, touching washed and wiped wood, given my day job is a primary care physician. As yet I am not seeing the sick, as in C-19, not knowingly, anyhow, my role being to keep the show on the road for the rest: the old, those with chronic conditions, those with new acutes of other origin. And the worried. Lots of those, often struggling with how the new societal expectations inflict upon them, upon their loved ones and their livelihoods. We "see" each other on the phone, on-line and by e-mail: it is remarkable how much can be done remotely. Sure, some greater level of risk assessment, a constant coin flipping in the air, but it is, anyway, largely what we do, sift the grey of the majority into the black or white of algorithms often more intuitive than proscribed. Antibody testing for me and my colleagues is promised, the sooner the better.

Warren Zevon has been a frequent cipher on these pages. I see I have already written about him, so this ain't the time to reprise the old terrific songs/nasty guy schtick, but he seems to have songs for the moment, any moment. Splendid Isolation jumps out as one for the now. OK, this wasn't written from any experience thereof, it was more a desire to attain it. How many of us at the moment, I wonder, wished we might have been more careful in our wishes ahead of lock-down? Cos we now have all the time to do do those things put off until we wished we had more time. So, how's the garden looking, those shelves in the kitchen, playing the piano, learning a language? To be fair, I am aware that these are the things many actually are belatedly turning to, whilst many others frantically scour the social media for anything and everything, anything other than to stop and take stock. Maybe that's harsh. My i-phone tells me of a stratospheric rise in my own i-time, but I confess to a little seeping in of ennui. Do I really need to check the news and the updates every other minute? Once or twice a day being arguably enough, say ten times for expediency's sake.

So, back in 1989, Zevon was quite the ticket. The song comes from his eighth album, Transverse City, a big budget endeavour to regain the high ground of his earlier work, as he drifted within turmoils of his recurring personal life crises, booze, drugs and relationships. The supporting cast was stellar: Hot Tuna/Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady, jazz keyboard maestro Chick Corea, Little Feat's Richie Hayward and guitars scattered between Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Neil Young and David Gilmour, fer chrissakes.... On the song itself, only Shakey from the above list appears, on backing vocals, the guitar duties being handled by erstwhile Tom Petty associate and current Fleetwood Mac-er, Mike Campbell, no mean slouch himself. The lyrics are typically the Zevon mix of the erudite and the snarky, referencing both the painter Georgia O'Keefe and Michael Jackson, with sufficient room to ascertain that, yes, he probably would like some time alone and off the treadmill. The album bombed against the expectation invested, Virgin records promptly dropping him from their roster, echoing the dumping of him by Asylum in 1982, following album number six, The Envoy.

Whilst I enjoy  the studio version of the song, I confess to a greater love for the live solo version on Learning to Flinch, his twelve string guitar a glorious shimmer, alone on stage seeming a better setting for the song. Indeed, given the decidedly variable content of, frankly, much of his output, some killer and more filler, it is this album too which I return as often as any.

I finally point you to the direction of Enjoy Every Sandwich: the Songs of Warren Zevon, a 2004 tribute album, songs performed by friends and family. The bemusing album title comes from an interview with the already dying Zevon, when, in response to a question asking as to the lessons he was learning about life in death, gave an answer around having not earlier understood the need to enjoy every sandwich. Gulp. Here the song is tackled by Pete Yorn, perhaps unfairly better known for his musical collaborations with Scarlett Johansson, than for his own eminently serviceable fare.

Here's a slew of versions. Sure, I commend them, but, in these trying times, however much solace there is in recorded music, spare a thought for the musicians still trying to eke a livelihood from their muse, performing home concerts on the various platforms. Let's support these artists too. If there hasn't yet been a new version of this song, I guess it can't or won't be long. Go search Bandcamp.

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