Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Classic Rock Piano Lesson On One Of The Best Songs I've Ever Heard!

Great Info From One Of My Customers On "The French Inhaler" Performed Live by Warren Zevon

Great job, Shawn.  Thank you SO much.  I was on a brief vacation when I saw it come through, and I'm just getting to it today.  It was an immense amount of work and you did a great job, particularly for not knowing the song.  

I thought I'd give you a little more background on Zevon and the song, since you seemed to enjoy it.

It was on Warren Zevon's first album, self-titled.  The Learning to Flinch version that you transcribed was a beautiful piano solo of it - Zevon himself was a classically trained pianist.  For a brief time in his teenage years, he studied classical music alongside Robert Craft from Igor Stravinsky himself (Zevon's dad was a Russian gambler, which explains the relationship).  His best known song, Werewolves of London, was not terribly representative of his body of work, but was easily his biggest hit.  

Zevon was a storyteller who had very few peers - his stories often involved life and death and life beneath the radar.  He was known as the Poet of Gower Avenue (in Los Angeles) and got his first record deal because of Jackson Browne, who insisted to David Geffen that Zevon be signed to a record contract and that Browne would produce his first album.  He helped define the Los Angeles musical scene in the early 70s along with his friends Browne, Glen Frey, Don Henley, Linda Rondstadt (who covered Zevon's Poor Poor Pitiful Me and other songs), and many others.  

He also drank and drugged far, far too much and many of his songs reflect this side of his life as well.  If you were an early fan of David Letterman back in his NBC days, you might easily have seen Zevon any number of times - he filled in for Paul Shaffer when Shaffer was on vacation.  Letterman was an enormous fan, and the first time Letterman ever dedicated an entire show to one person was on his CBS show, when Zevon made his final television appearance before he died.  Zevon called Dave the best friend his music ever had.  If you are at all a Letterman fan, you can find the only song Letterman ever performed on -- on Zevon's album "My Ride's Here."  A song about hockey called "Hit Someone!"     

Zevon died in 2003 from mesothelioma, so we aren't getting music from him anymore.  His last album, The Wind, was written and recorded after his terminal diagnosis and was done with many of his friends -- Springsteen, Petty, Yoakum, Browne, Henley, Billy Bob Thornton, and others.

The original of the song was not a piano solo, but is equally beautiful with soaring harmonies from Frey and Henley equal to anything they did with The Eagles.  The song's meaning itself has been open to interpretation over the years, but seems to have cleared up after Zevon's death, ironically.  Many believe it to be Zevon's own personal interaction with a struggling stripper whom he first met at a Los Angeles strip club, a place Zevon certainly might have found himself over the years.  It certainly works on that level (or, for that matter, any person's unrequited affection for another).  But we subsequently learned from Zevon's son Jordan that the song was more of a "kiss off" to Zevon's wife, Zule.  

You sort of hit on the song's most interesting line - it's last.  

Your pretty face
It looked so wasted.
Another pretty face
Devastated.
The French Inhaler, 
He stamped and mailed her,
"So long, Norman."
She said, "So long, Norman."

In the first interpretation, "Norman" is what the stripper believes "Warren's" name to be -- clearly saying goodbye to him without ever knowing his correct name.  In the apparently accurate version, it was a very obscure put-down of Norman Mailer's treatment of Marilyn Monroe in his 1973 biography of her - a reference that perhaps only his ex-wife would have understood.  The tip off is the "mailed her" line, since the obvious rhyme would have been "so long, Norman Mailer."  During his life, Zevon hotly denied it -- he told others he was afraid of Mailer.  But it was confirmed by Zevon's son after Warren's death.  I prefer the first interpretation, despite the fact it is not the "correct" one. Both are marvelous stories.  

Anyway - there is so much great music that Zevon made - when I finally discovered him, it was like uncovering a hidden treasure buried in your back yard.  If you are a fan of the song, you might find yourself a fan, depending on what sort of music you enjoy.

I'm definitely going to hire you again next time around.  You do an incredible job.  Maybe next time Zevon again, or maybe Ben Folds or Springsteen (my true hero).  And I want to throw in some extra funds next time to account for the massive amount of work you performed here.  It is incredibly appreciated.  You are a very talented guy.

With deep appreciation -
Dave King