Halls of fame are designed to honor the greatest folks in a particular area of expertise. As a kid, I could name two-thirds of the players in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and explain why they did (or didn’t—I’m looking at you Joe Tinkers, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, you recipients of Franklin P. Adams doggerel) belong. Likewise, I could talk about the players active at the time who absolutely would belong (Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose—oops on that last one) and which ones would be hard-pressed to get in (Carleton Fisk, Jim Rice, Luis Tiant—right on one count, so far). The Baseball Hall of Fame was designed to honor those chosen, not dishonor the players who would still need to pay their way into the museum. There were a ton of problems with the selection process for the Hall of Fame, but a kid could look at the inductees and figure out an implicit standard that was being aimed for.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does have criteria:
Criteria include the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll
although these criteria are so vague as to be meaningless. Even so, Warren Zevon, by any explicit or implicit ground rules, deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now.
For those of you late to the Zevon train, or whose knowledge of Zevon consists of two novelty songs (“Werewolves of London” and “The Hockey Song (Hit Somebody)”), listen to some of the folks he influenced and played with over the years: Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne—all members of the Hall. Zevon was a regular musical guest director on David Letterman’s show (and Letterman urged his induction while welcoming Pearl Jam into the Hall). Zevon wrote songs that have become pop classics—“Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” “Hasten Down the Wind,” “Keep Me in Your Heart.” Most important, Zevon wrote and recorded at least two dozen songs that are as good as anything written in the past 50 years. Don’t believe me? Listen to these five songs, really listen, then come back and tell me why Deep Purple, Blondie and Cheap Trick are on the inside, while Warren Zevon’s ghost still has to buy a ticket.
“Genius”—Percolation with one of the greatest couplets in history (“I’ve got a bitter pot of je ne sais quoi. Guess what, I’m stirring it with a monkey’s paw.”
“The Vast Indifference of Heaven”—Existential dread with a dollop of hope, this song is nearly perfect.
“Don’t Let Us Get Sick”—The first time I heard this, I was going through a divorce, and wanted to stop the whole process. Then hotter heads prevailed. Still. . .
“Empty-Handed Heart”—If the descant by Linda Ronstadt doesn’t break your heart, please go outside, start your car and inhale at the exhaust pipe. You’re not really alive anyway.
“Mohammed’s Radio”—I discovered this on Stand in the Fire, a late-70s live album, but any version is nearly perfect.
Now that you’ve listened to these five songs, I’ve no doubt you’re on my side and ready to storm the gates in Cleveland! Or perhaps we need The Envoy.