When I look back onto the musicians and bands that made the biggest impressions on me in my childhood, Warren Zevon undoubtedly takes the top spot. I remember sitting in my father’s pickup truck playing “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” over and over on the cassette player (if he got tired of hearing it, he never told me). The story of a Thompson submachine gun-wielding Norwegian soldier carrying on his crusade even after being beheaded really captured my imagination. When I got a little older, I began to appreciate Zevon’s caustic wit and lyrical prowess, well beyond his interesting subject matter. His songs were ones that told stories, confined to 3-4 minutes but never lacking in breadth. If there is anyone to attribute my longstanding appreciation and preoccupation with the lyrical content of songs, it was Warren Zevon. By the time I learned of his diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer in 2003, I was listening to him virtually to the exclusion of anything else. And while his eventual passing that year was a terrible thing to bear, I am grateful for the vast musical legacy he left, one that acted as the catalyst for my fascination and love of music as a whole.
Recently, I was listening to some of the odd live recordings of Zevon that I have accumulated over the years, and came across an acoustic cover of Jackson Browne’s “The Barricades of Heaven.” Browne was a long time friend of Zevon’s who initially recognized his talent and helped produce a number of his albums. The influence each had on one another was clear, with them often performing the other’s songs live. “The Barricades of Heaven” is a song which Browne wrote about where he grew up in southern California (which is also where Zevon spent much of his childhood and adult life). While Browne’s original rendition of the song is excellent, I really love the change in tone that Zevon gives it. He transforms it into a melancholy and depressing recount of his young life as a musician, the sparse instrumentation supplementing that notion. There is so much emotion in the first lines that Zevon mumbles out, a certain sadness that I feel we can all relate to at some point in our lives.
The only information that I have about the recording is the date 10/31/1999. So, from that I take it to mean that it was recorded at one of Zevon’s shows on Halloween of that year. I could not find the version anywhere online, and figured it is something that others need to hear, so I uploaded it to youtube. "Werewolves of London" might seem like the most obvious Zevon song to bring up on Halloween, but I feel this is equally appropriate.