My Heroes Have Always Been Barstool Cowboys
Even those of you familiar with Werewolves or Lawyers, may not be familiar with this Zevon masterpiece: Desperados Under the Eaves.
The latter bookend to the self-titled Warren Zevon opener, Frank and Jesse James, it borrows both chordal and thematic elements. A story of modern-day bar stool cowboys in LA, facing all the same familiar cowboy pitfalls: loneliness, self-destruction, debt.
The first verse opens in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel bar, with the hungover first-person protagonist “staring in [his] empty coffee cup.” How do we know he’s hungover? Because “the gypsy wasn’t lying/all the salty margaritas in Los Angeles, [he’s] gonna drink em up.” He’s a man who’s made mistakes … recent ones.
Then comes the first pre-chorus, a long-inspiring (for the songwriter in me) stanza that has it all:
And if California slides into the oceanL
ike the mystics and statistics say it will.
I predict this motel will be standing
Until I pay my bill.
No wasted words. Just the right amount of alliteration and inner rhyme. All without forcing a syllable. Then there’s the content. You know you’re in trouble when the mystics and statistics agree. Just as sure as you know that your debt won’t be forgiven. Like the outlaw on the run, you’re done. It’s just a matter of time.
At which point the first chorus pummels home the point. The fun and envigorating California sun of Jan and Dean and the early Beach Boys (note: Carl Wilson, hardly coincidentally, arranged the harmonies) is now “angry.” The gods have turned. And those palm trees. They’re now “crucified thieves.” And our protagonist is not to be spared the wrath.
The bridge takes a step back from the metaphor and drags you back into the protagonist’s reality. He’s “still waking up in the mirror with shaking hands/trying to find a girl who understands [him].” And that angry sun is still there, with its gaze set firmly upon him.
Just one more verse before the outro. We’re transported back to the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel. But now, all that can be heard is the hum of the air conditioner, a great metaphor for the isolation of the modern day drifter, living a life of hotel rooms and cheesy bars.
The outro doesn’t really add a lot lyrically, but I love it. Maybe because it’s a desperado sing-a-along with Carl Wilson and Jackson Browne, among others. Maybe because, as a kid, I lived one block over from Gower Street. Maybe it’s because I’ve felt that kind of loniless and isolation in the one place where there are no excuses for being unhappy.
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/z0J3ossUzhU