It’s no surprise a number of books have been published devoted to Warren Zevon, the indubitably eccentric singer/ songwriter who passed ever so tragically in 2003. Likewise, it’s hardly a coincidence that, in keeping with the man’s mercurial persona, the publications have taken many forms. from the touching but candid likes of wife Crystal’s memoirs I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life & Times of…” to the laser-focused cerebral approach of Accidentally Like a Martyr: The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon by James Campion to the supremely-detailed and penetrating work of C.M. Kushins with Nothing’s Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon. George Gruel’s Lawyers Guns & Photos may be the most insightful of the lot, however, precisely because it offers a first hand account of living life as its subject lived it from a man who shared that rarefied air.
Photographs and Tales Of My Adventures with Warren Zevon was first published in 2012 and has now been reissued in expanded print form as well as in digital format including sound-clips of music (much of live from the soundboard) and conversation. The interactive nature of this updated compendium of content may most accurately correspond to the multi-faceted personality of the man who wrote “Excitable Boy,” among many others. But the reality is, the design and layout also manifest a simplicity and accessibility that parallels Zevon tunes such as “Tenderness on the Block” or “Bill Lee;” it will accommodate all manner of perusal including page by page, all the audio in succession, or a select range of photos including but not limited to the main subject of the book. In fact, it’s an experience in itself just to jump from image to image of its author.
To much the same extent Warren’s songs depict his various personae, so do the multiplicity of George Gruel’s photographs of the man—and uncannily so. All benefit from the author’s captioning, but none more than those depicting Warren’s boyish charm in some of the early photos; that characteristic is as obvious as the rakish wit contained in the audio clips, links to which appear on virtually every page, occasionally in hidden form. The shortest of the latter may occasionally seem superfluous, like the one in which WZ slurs out an introduction to the author, but those instances are amply offset by the more apropos touches: an excerpt of a performance of “Mohammed’s Radio” referencing ‘Linda,’ is linked below a shot of Zevon and Ronstadt in the studio.
As much as some of this content may be familiar to fans of the man, the photos, words, and music appear in a decidedly different light here. For instance, the snapshot of Zevon in the studio, in the midst of the orchestral corps set to play a classical piece of his, renders the scenario tangible in a way prose could not.
Taken as a whole Lawyers, Guns and Photos is akin to looking at a photo of any well-known subject, for the first time in a while, and then experiencing an epiphany that reveals the essential character of the subject. Revelations large and small arrive during the course of ‘reading’ this electronic tome, to a great degree because in this configuration, it’s such a versatile publication; in keeping with the author’s disclaimer, the density of content can cause pages to load more slowly at some times than others, but for those sufficiently patient, such intervals can allow some extra time to ruminate on what’s just been under observation.
In a reflection of Zevon’s own contrarian streak, the lags may also foster closer inspection of some material than otherwise might occur, to a positive end. For instance, the shot of recording engineer Jim Nipar takes some time to arrive, but it’s worth knowing his name and the significance of his role in this story, more so because his name isn’t all that prominent in the aforementioned tales of Zevon. On the other hand, the assignation of the audio at times seems confounding: instead of “Frank and Jesse James,” “Tenderness on the Block” might be a better choice to launch from a page containing a photo of Zevon with Jackson Browne, who’s referenced as Warren’s daughter Ariel’s godfather. Wholly on the plus side, the zoom function is indispensable, while captions comprised more often than not of excerpts from song lyrics, appear with more or less logic next to the page count.
That said, the curiosity factor arising from the audio becomes nigh-on irresistible less than half-way thru this collection (and rightfully so when Warren plays and sings a short snippet of Keith Richards’ “Before They Make Me Run”). For both the die-hard fans and the novice admirers of Warren Zevon, George Gruel’s Lawyers, Guns and Photos will undoubtedly elicit broad smiles from snapshots of uproarious road crew camaraderie, outright laughs at the sound and vision of a dog ‘Ahooo’-ing along to “Werewolves Of London,” and more than a few traces of tears–and perhaps even a lump or two in the throat–seeing the now-deceased father with his two children.
Yet the real beauty in what George Gruel has assembled here may lie in how his design and presentation of the content renders it all of a piece. That’s more than a little of a pleasant surprise, at least given the diversity of material upon first glance, but this continuity is ultimately logical and in keeping with the somewhat contradictory aspects of Zevon’s personality. Such a realization may not arrive in one fell swoop, but, as is the case in becoming conversant with Warren’s work, it will come slowly and, with little doubt, leave that deep and permanent impression great art and artists invariably deliver.