I’ve loved music since I was a kid. Of course, in my youngest days, I was perhaps a bit more into the breathing fire and spitting blood aspects of it than to the music itself. Outside of the world of music, the influence of my dad looms largest in my life, but he didn’t really care much for music, especially my music, but I did get a few bits of music from him. He liked Elton John and that first greatest hits 8 track formed a significant part of my elementary age musical rotation, especially if you eliminated bands whose guitars didn’t spark and smoke in concert. Mostly though, his taste was pretty poor. He liked the Montovani Orchestra and Pete Fountain. He had records by Jim Nabors and Ed Ames. In the 80’s, he really enjoyed Linda Ronstadt’s records with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra and 20 years later still, Celtic Woman pretty much stayed in his car’s CD player. It’s funny, because my dad almost never liked things to be easy (a theme in the eulogy I wrote for him when he passed away a few years ago), but he had no interest in being challenged by music. I think he just didn’t hold the arts in general in high enough esteem.
All that being said, there were occasional surprises and perhaps my favorite was Warren Zevon. Zevon is in a way the poster child for outsider music. He was, as both a man and a musician, somewhat skewed and as such, difficult to appreciate for those who did not want to step a little outside of the passive listening of hooks over substance radio music. Yes, “Werewolves of London” became a staple of classic rock radio, but the degree to which its popularity outshone all other work by Zevon proves the point that he was off the beaten path, so to speak. Somehow or another, my father stumbled upon Warren Zevon. I think “Excitable Boy” may have been on a mixtape given him to him by a friend. But the song that really grabbed my dad was “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.”
Knowing my dad, I suspect he was most attracted to the rich storytelling rather than the allegorical undercurrent about our world of seemingly endless conflicts. From a deal “made in Denmark on a dark and stormy day,” to “that son-of-a-bitch Van Owen [blowing] off Roland’s head,” to from Roland finding Van Owen “in Mombassa in a barroom drinking gin” and blowing his body “from there to Johannesburg,” the lyrics have just the amount of detail to bring us into its world. Like all great writing, whether lyrics or literature, it also leaves enough detail to our imagination that we in the first world can relate to the wars in the third. While that was enough for my dad, and really should be enough for anyone, Zevon takes it a step further and ties it to first world news. “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” tells a story about a mercenary and counsels us about how we fit into it, yet without an ounce of preachiness.