Thursday, December 4, 2008

GMVW # 48: "Role Playing"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 48:  Role Playing
Song: Lawyers Guns and Money by Warren Zevon
(Songwriter: Warren Zevon)
December 4, 2008

Last week’s Gem was about anger in music.  It’s one of many serious topics in songwriting that give great musicians a reputation.  However, if songwriters were constantly focused on serious topics, they might go stark raving mad!  Every so often, it’s good to let off some steam with a song that is humorous, laid back, fictitious, bizarre, or just plain fun.  If it’s a great song, than it works for everyone.  Several that come to mind include: ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’ (Dylan); ‘Happy Jack’ (The Who); ‘Old King’ (Neil Young); ‘Paranoia’ (The Kinks); ‘Martha My Dear’ (The Beatles); ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ (The Band); ‘Ice Cream for Crow’ (Captain Beefheart) and ‘Feeling Groovy’ (Simon and Garfunkel). 

REM may have taken things a bit too far with ‘Shiny Happy People’.

Only one serious musician I know of pulled this off with an entire album. The musician was Warren Zevon and the album was ‘Excitable Boy’.  Warren Zevon (who died of cancer in 2003) was a musician’s musician, which can be a nice way of saying he appealed more to his peers than he did the general public.  However, his music was diverse and deep, and most anyone who had a chance to see him at a nightclub came away impressed.  Several of his best contributions to rock music include the albums ‘Warren Zevon’ (1976) and ‘Sentimental Hygiene’ (1987), and songs ‘Poor Poor Pitiful Me’ and ‘The Envoy’, but the album ‘Excitable Boy’ was his one real commercial success.  It includes such classics as ‘Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner’, ‘Werewolves of London’, ‘Johnny Strikes up the Band’, ‘Excitable Boy’, and this week’s Gem ‘Lawyers Guns and Money’.

‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’ is a great song about the perils of being on the wrong side of the law in a foreign land.  The line ‘the shit has hit the fan’ may be one of the best one-liners in rock history, in this case succinctly summing up the gravity of the character’s situation.  The song is clearly fictional and over-the-top, which gives it a great story-tellers context.  However, the undertones resonate with desperation, allowing anyone who has been in a seemingly improbable situation to connect with the song/story. 

It’s pretty evident that when you are in another country, you try to take that extra step to avoid controversy.  When Bob and I traveled Europe in 1986, our trip came on the heels of several bombings overseas, most notably a Libyan affiliated bombing at a disco tech in Berlin.  The resort areas in Europe that year were devoid of Americans.  Most backpackers wore the flags of their countries (particularly Canadians) to signify they were not from the USA (which I resented).  On a sleeping train heading to Morocco thru Spain, we had a frightful midnight encounter with a Libyan who took offense with my nationality and refused to let us stay in the only cabin with sleeping space remaining on the train.  A red light went off in my head when the situation got heated (I would have had to take a bunk right above the guy and visions of the ‘Friday the 13th’ bunk bed scene danced in my head) so we headed to the end of the train and rolled our sleeping bags out in the hallway.  Another time, we were in the La Grand-Place in Brussels when the Belgians won a World Cup semifinal soccer match, advancing to the final four for the first time in many years.  Belgian hooligans hit the streets and I found myself next to a tipped over car with revelers on top.  Again, the red light went off and I shuffled away. 

Several years later, Nancy and I were entering pre-partitioned Yugoslavia through Trieste Italy, where heavily armed guards were checking passports at the border.  We were unaware that things were already heating up between ethnic groups there, which would soon break the country up into Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Skopje.  These guys were intense when they asked for our passports, but when they saw that we were from Boston one of them smiled and said ‘Larry Bird’.  In this hoop centric part of the world, basketball beat out high anxiety, and they nodded us on our way (the same thing happened at a tunnel thru a mountain pass later in the trip). 

OK, not quite Jean Roche’s escapades in Sub-Saharan Africa or Bob’s likely experiences everywhere in the world (I believe Bob’s been to every country but Outer Mongolia), but intriguing nonetheless (these also pale in comparison to my own experiences in Mobile Alabama, but that’s a story for another time).

The Gem video is an acoustic version of ‘Lawyers Guns and Money’ performed by Warren Zevon.  Below that is a still shot video put together by a fan with the original studio recording of the song.  Below that link are the lyrics to the ‘Lawyers Guns and Money’.

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Lawyers, Guns and Money

Well, I went home with the waitress
The way I always do
How was I to know
She was with the Russians, too

I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this

I'm the innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck
Between the rock and the hard place
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck

Now I'm hiding in Honduras
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

Send lawyers, guns and money...


About the Video: Warren Zevon on ‘Words and Music’ BBC 1994

Video Rating: 2


Best Feed back: Dad


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