"We're having a party, we're burning it down,
We're building an idol; he's sad but he don't frown.
He's the cream of the crop
So we're making him God.
Start writing this down
When I give you the nod."
David Letterman once introduced Warren Zevon on his TV show by describing him as the only man who'd put the word "brucellosis" into a song. This song contains about 4 more words that you'd be very hard pressed to find in any popular-music context, and that factoid partly explains why I like this song so much.
"Them Coptic monks knew how to keep it real:
That Zoroastrian thing,
That Rosicrucian deal.
Well they might be wrong
But they don't give a damn;
Long as they don't run out
Of sacrificial lambs."
The fact that Zevon threw these concepts casually together suggests at least he knew what he was talking about. And it fires up the academic in me. I want to know what he was thinking when he wrote this. Was he having a pop at mystics and shamans, wise men and women? Anyway, the mystery puts it at the top of my list of songs in which the music, the tune, the rhythm, plays only a secondary role. That's not to say the music is bad, but just that this time, *this* time, it's not what drew me in.
"Madame Blavansky and her friends
Changed lead into gold, and back again.
`I'll set you free';
Write out a check
And make it out to me."
This song is like a treasure hunt through Wikipedia. Was he having a snark at TV evangelists? And why does he call her Blavansky? Is he referring to Helena Blavatsky? I've lost count of the hours I've spent researching every reference in this song.
"Smokey and the Bandit and Saddam Hussein
Were staying up late and acting insane.
Along with Russell Crowe
And Hafez Assad;
Start taking this down
When I give you the nod."
At this point I just throw my hands up in the air. What do these guys have in common? Some of them are real people, but how do they fit this narrative? This seems to have no meaning at all, either within the song or even outside. But I don't *trust* Zevon not to have made a connection.
The last verse goes:
"The boys are all ready, they've laid out the plans.
They're setting the stage for the man-made man.
We've worked out the kinks
In your DNA;
Have a nice day."
I don't think this song is even *about* taking a pop at mysticism. Instead, it's probably poking fun at `spiritual' beliefs that push a scientific route to understanding and growth; the idea that humans can better themselves, lift themselves up, through the appliance of reason. Better Living Through Science? He doesn't think so.
And given that the album this comes from was called "My Ride's Here", and it was issued just before Zevon was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, it just makes you wonder.....
I understand and agree that lyricists like Dylan and Neil Young should be regarded as being the Gold Standard in popular music, but Zevon was certainly standing on the shoulders of giants for much of his career. It's a rare moment when you have to actually do some research to understand a song. Not something that I'd care to have to do a lot of, but it's a pleasure *because* it's so rare.