I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon

I enjoyed some of Warren Zevon’s music but I didn’t realize just how much of it and how many artists that I love, that he was connected with. But that’s not why this book received five stars from me.

The book is written in a series of anecdotal paragraphs from different people in Zevon’s life. In some cases, one story will be told from the several different perspectives of all the people involved in a story. This more personal form of story telling makes you feel the more immediate impact of what was happening. This was a great time period in rock and roll in Los Angeles. It was the 1970’s and the big players like Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young etc. are all there making an appearance.

History is littered with tortured geniuses. Zevon is one of those. Rather than looking at someone through the long lens of time, this is a look at the immediate ramifications of someone who was brilliant but tortured. The impact of his behavior and actions was huge and left indelible marks on the people in his life: collaborators, children, wives and lovers and friends.

Zevon was a raging alcoholic and although he was able to write music and lyrics during these periods, he was ill equipped to handle almost any other aspect of his life. To that end, we see all the people in his life, although often damaged by his actions, creating a scenario in which they both enabled the alcoholism which in turn enabled the work to continue.

To that end, this book isn’t for everyone. The behavior of Zevon was at turns tragic, hilarious and selfish. Throughout the book I wondered why those who really cared and loved the man, allowed him to treat them the way that he did while rarely calling him on it. This might be the result of genius: one is afraid to touch any aspect of it for fear that changing one thing will change the nature of the work. For another, the checks kept coming and everyone was getting paid – except Zevon who drank away every penny.

Readers will be surprised at how much of the work they recognize and realize that like many genius’s throughout history, Zevon’s work will most likely come to be appreciated more in death than it ever was in life. He was respected and revered by artists who reached greater commercial success with his music than he did and this made him frustrated. He was a mess but oh, what a gloriously talented mess.

Easily one of the best rock biographies I have read. Worth any amount of time and money spent on it and you will end up looking for Zevon’s work and appreciating it more than you ever thought possible.


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