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I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Life and Times of Warren Zevon

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,147 Ratings  ·  258 Reviews
When Warren Zevon died in 2003, he left behind a rich catalog of dark, witty rock 'n' roll classics, including "Lawyers, Guns and Money," "Excitable Boy," and the immortal "Werewolves of London." He also left behind a fanatical cult following and veritable rock opera of drugs, women, celebrity, genius, and epic bad behavior. As Warren once said, "I got to be Jim Morrison a ...more
ebook, 480 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published April 1st 2007)
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Apr 18, 2010 karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfictions
maybe biography month was a bad idea.

it's just making me angry at people i used to like. not so much byron - but with him i'm in love with the mythology, and that's the whole point of byron - you know what you're getting into. but it turns out warren zevon was rather unpleasant,too, both in the obvious drunken blackout wife beating way, but also in the name dropping/writing down all the funny things he said that day in his journal like a self-involved teenager that makes me a little queasy/shy.

Nov 04, 2009 brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
zevon goes to the doctor b/c he's short of breath and is given two months to live. fear fear fear anger cynicism a return to alcoholism and drug addiction. shit smeared walls, floors littered with porn and empty bottles, and then he hits the studio and records a final album. and dies. jeez. as he wrote in 'life'll kill you':

'The doctor is in and he'll see you now
He don't care who you are.
Some get the awful, awful diseases,
Some get the knife, some get the gun,
Some get to die in their sleep,
At the
Diann Blakely
As deliciously exhaustive as this biography remains, even after a second and third reading, you wish Zevon’s process weren’t scanted, and that there were more pages devoted to the formation of his songwriting’s verbal genius and how it has sustained itself as a growing, if still largely underground, influence. “He raped and killed her / Then he took her home,” he wrote in a single line of “Excitable Boy,” satirizing the horror genre, conventional dating mores and male sexuality, including his ow ...more
Jul 13, 2007 Stiv_Matters rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I grew up listening to Warren Zevon, bought all his records when they came out, and saw him live several times throughout his career. He is one of my favorite performers. Personal information about Warren was always hard to come by. I knew he had a legendary drinking problem back in the 70's/early 80's and he spent a lot of time getting on the wagon and falling off again. Rarely were there any specifics. This book gets specific about nearly all phases of his life and kind of beats you over the h ...more
Dan Secor
I would have given this book four stars - I'm a big Warren Zevon fan, and it was well-written - but frankly this book depressed the living hell out of me. Zevon was a train wreck all his life. I remembered reading an interview with him in Rolling Stone years back about how he quit a bad drinking habit (two bottles of vodka, straight, every day), but this book shows his other excesses never really left him. He had tons of very close friends, but for some reason he sabotaged many of his friendship ...more
Feb 19, 2008 Linda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Let me save you the trouble of reading this little missive: Warren gets drunk. Warren does something incredibly stupid and hurts someone very close to him. Warren responds with a sh*t-eating grin and a shrug.

Repeat over and over until he dies. The end.

Nov 09, 2014 Jay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
I became a fan of Warren Zevon’s music when I was in high school and Werewolves of London came out. His “Excitable Boy” songs appealed to the teen boy in me, reading Soldier of Fortune magazine. And his earlier “Warren Zevon” album appealed to me through intelligent lyrics and pop sound. I became a big fan after reading the Rolling Stone cover story on his life and his alcoholism and intervention. I keep a copy of that 30+ year old story – it showed Zevon as intense and the act of an interventio ...more
May 14, 2013 Derek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The risk you run with biographies is that there's really only two ways to respond to them. Upon completion of the book, you either say, "Wow! What a life!" and your enjoyment of that artist's work is enhanced. SOCIETY'S CHILD by Janis Ian is a good example, as is JUST KIDS by Patti Smith. On the other hand, there's the book where you finish and you say, "Woah. What a jerk. What a broken person," and you find yourself struggling to separate the artist's work from the way they treated people and t ...more
Dec 24, 2014 Murray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The more I read this, the more it grew on me. I never really knew much about Warren Zevon, and this book was filled with one rock n Rollin' escapade after another. Although it hints at Zevon's creative process at times, I would have liked to have read more. The witnesses- and Zevon's diary entries- reveal vey honest depictions of a troubled man who knew how to write songs and live hedonistically. And, man, he sure had a lot of girlfriends.

I loved reading the book with Spotify nearby so I could l
Nov 20, 2011 Jeff rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am a die-hard Warren Zevon fan and have been for many, many years. Someday someone will write a biography of Zevon worth the time to read. I know I am probably even now being excommunicated from the legion of Hammerheads, WZ fans, but so be it. Before he died Zevon turned over his diaries to ex-wife Crystal and instructed her to tell his story warts and all. I wish Ms. Zevon would have decide to include the "all" part of that instruction. This focuses far too much on the dark side of Zevon's c ...more
Annetta Ribken
Jan 04, 2011 Annetta Ribken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm about halfway through this book, and wow. I have been a fan of Warren Zevon since the late '70s -- his music has had a profound influence on me. I saw an interview of Crystal Zevon in which she stated Brother Z wanted his story told unvarnished, and that's exactly what you're getting here. He was a musical genius, a total asshole and a unique personality. It's a fascinating story about a fascinating artist. I can't wait to see what the second half of the book holds.

I really like the format -
Nov 15, 2015 Ethan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love biographies that aren't afraid to show both the good and the bad of the people they portray. Although this book sometimes veers towards nostalgia (not surprising, given that many of the people interviewed were friends of Zevon and they are very forgiving of his faults) it still offers a fairly well-balanced view of a very complex person. Warren Zevon's story is fascinating, and it's kind of sad that his legacy in popular music consists of a single song, "Werewolves of London," while the b ...more
Jul 17, 2015 Kris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed some of Warren Zevon's music but I didn't realize just how much of it and how many artists that I love, that he was connected with. But that's not why this book received five stars.

The book is written in a series of anecdotal paragraphs from different people in Zevon's life. In some cases, one story will be told from the different perspectives of all the people involved in a story. This more personal form of story telling makes you feel the more immediate impact of what was happening.
Cormac Zoso
Apr 28, 2013 Cormac Zoso rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When you read rock-and-roll books as often as I do, you find one overbearing commonality for most of them: They are just not very good. That's the truth of the matter. Most are written on a 3rd grade level and most have glaring mistakes or omissions that even the middle-range fan can spot them and, at bottom, they lack any kind of professional composition or editing. In particular, this is applicable to the "tell-all" subset of this group. Think of "Hammer of the Gods" and you'll understand my p ...more
Todd Jenkins
Feb 13, 2008 Todd Jenkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Zevon and good songwriting in general
Recommended to Todd by: Michael Wolff
I checked this book out from the library after pianist Michael Wolff mentioned that he had been interviewed for it. I was a huge fan of Zevon's work in the 80s but kind of lost track after a while. After picking up "Mutineer" and "Life'll Kill Ya" on Wolff's suggestion, I kicked myself for not staying on the bandwagon.

That said, this book presents a most compelling picture of Zevon's life. Well, maybe "compelling" isn't quite the right word. It's like a car crash rendered in print; some of the d
P.C. Dettman
Jul 26, 2012 P.C. Dettman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been sitting on this book a while now. I started it the day it arrived, but decided to rest it after the first half. Often with rock memoirs there are drugs, there is drink, and there are warnings that it can be difficult material to read. Mostly these warnings are made by pussies, for pussies, and the gruesome parts are edited out. Not so here. In this particular case, I found the warnings appropriate. Some of the most famous and legendary party animals have contributed to this book, and W ...more
I love Warren Zevon. I think he's just the best. Even when he was alive, his voice sounded kind of like how a ghost might sing - all wiggly and sad and weird and funny. Though he undoubtedly would have been fun to have a drink or two with, I feel bad for the people who had to spend any significant amount of time with him, since, as this biography, not to mention his own lyrics, will often attest, the guy behaved like a drunken asshole most of the time. I simply do not care. He never did anything ...more
Oct 08, 2013 Byron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
The problem with reading books about artists, especially musicians, is that you never get to listen to their work without thinking of the story of the human that produced the music. This book, told from the viewpoints of the people who knew him, is an almost horrifyingly vivid tale of what it means to be human, especially a gifted one.

The scrutiny of eighty people exposes all the depravity, weakness, struggle and self-doubt as well as the bond, the uniqueness of the person who was Warren Zevon.
Rex McCulloch
Apr 29, 2009 Rex McCulloch rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Two in a row. Gotta stop reading these bios of asshole musicians. I'm usually pretty good at divorcing the artist from the person, but this book was about 85% loathsome human being and 15% sometime-genius. It might not have been so bad if so many of those closest to him hadn't tolerated Warren Zevon to such an extent because he was "clever," or "artistically brilliant," or just famous. The people who speak most highly of him tend to be fellow artists and celebrity friends who didn't have to put ...more
Jim Clinton Slusher
Four stars may be a bit much for this book, but three are definitely too few. You get a picture of Zevon through the eyes and words of his associates, friends and family - and no one holds back. He is not remotely portrayed as a saint There's some interesting narrative about the writing of certaIn songs and albums and those are the parts I liked best. I did also feel I got a vividly real picture of who Zevon was. I would like to have a better picture of his writing and his music, but it's a smal ...more
Jan 01, 2012 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Amazing, I must be the only one on this site who loved this book. It really could be my favorite biography. This captivated me from the start and reignited my early interest in Zevon's music, turning me into a current huge fan. Yes, it's not a flattering portrait, but it's a very real and human one. The book not only acknowledges the debauchery of his life (which is what makes these kinds of biographies best-sellers), but really pays attention to Zevon's musical craft and genius. You can really ...more
Dave Schwensen
Nov 27, 2015 Dave Schwensen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a difficult book to get into because Zevon does not always come off as a very likeable guy. But in the end I found it worth the effort and have a better understanding of why he is so respected and missed by many of his peers and fans.
Written by his ex-wife Crystal, it is not a nice story, but also not a 'revenge' piece or a way to kick him after he was gone. The two had stayed close until his death in 2003. After learning he was dying, Zevon asked her to write this book and not leave a
Book Club Mom
Oct 07, 2015 Book Club Mom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Warren Zevon once said, “my career is about as promising as a Civil War leg wound.” These morosely funny words are a great example of the unusual wit in Zevon's lyrics and music. His career took off in the 1970s, with two terrific consecutive albums which featured some of the best music of the time, including Excitable Boy, Tenderness on the Block and The French Inhaler. His genius mind exploded with ideas for songs and he lived the life of a rock star, filled with excesses of drug and alcohol a ...more
Jun 21, 2014 Glen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have loved Warren Zevon's music for well over 30 years, and I still cherish the memory of shaking his hand and chatting briefly with him after a solo recital at The Stone in San Francisco back in 1983 or 84. I will always be grateful to David Letterman for introducing his audience to Warren's muse and music. For me "Desperadoes Under The Eaves" will always be the definitive anthem about Los Angeles. Having said all that, by the time one finishes reading this brutally honest account of his life ...more
Feb 08, 2014 Dennisb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is not much new learned about him that wasn't already inferred from the songs he wrote. Indeed, many of the events described were all but flagged with epiphanies Warren has, signalling this was inspiration for his next song.

A particular theme throughout was his ongoing frustration that despite the songs he wrote, taking weeks, even years to compose with honesty and real expression, his main claim to fame was "Werewolves of London," a ditty he and a couple of collaborators threw together in
Sep 22, 2012 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a hard book to rate because I'm a fan of WZ's work, which is not the focus of this brutal bio. Reading this, it's easy to forget Zevon was a prodigy who spent time hanging out with Stravinsky when he was a kid. That he wrote circles around his L.A. peers. That his best songs were almost always self-lacerating confessions. "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" is half a portrait. The bad half.
I loved the Excitable Boy album, knew that Warren Zevon was involved with a Philadelphia DJ named Anita (because I live in the Philly listening area and she talked about him on her show) and that he died of lung cancer. That's it. This book, written by his ex-wife (and only wife) chronicles his life: his disturbed childhood; his rise to fame; his journey into drugs and booze (which makes the Jack Lemmon film "Days of Wine and Roses" look like a walk in the park); his recovery; his on-and-off car ...more
Krista Williams
Mar 24, 2015 Krista Williams rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Warren Zevon was, by all accounts, a terrible person - he abused women, drugs, and alcohol. He was also a supremely talented singer/songwriter, and responsible for crafting some of the finest rock music of all time. Written by Crystal Zevon, Warren's first wife, this biography takes an unflinching look at the rise and fall of one of America's greats.
How brave of Warren, in his final days, to authorize this warts-and-all account of his life. His attempts to reconnect with his family and stay sobe
May 11, 2014 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A different kind of biography this in that it is a very readable account of a not-very-nice person! Crystal Zevon, one-time wife of Warren, has collated interviews, quotes and diary excerpts from all periods of Warren's life and put them together to form a coherent narrative of many voices. This approach gives a very rounded view of the man and the musician and, because each voice only gets a few paragraphs or less at at time, the book zipped past for me. Having previously only known Warren's mu ...more
Apr 02, 2016 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this seemed to take a while to read, this is a very well written account of a great songwriter, and like all of us, flawed human being. After David Bowie's death, I read many people's thoughts about Bowie's lyrics and noted to myself how lame the lyrics are to "Shut Up and Dance with Me". Warren Zevon could take/make a turn of phrase and make it meaningful. While I consider much of his work to be too "men's club" for me (like Bukowski), reading this book has inspired me to search out more ...more
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