Excitable Book

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, which author Crystal Zevon will sign and read from tonight and tomorrow, is as unflinching as her late ex-husband's best compositions — and that's just the way he wanted it. "He asked me to tell the whole truth," she says from her Vermont home, where she's looking after her four-year-old twin grandsons, Max and Gus, born mere months before Warren died of cancer in September 2003. "He had a sense of the big picture that was better than anyone I know."

Rather than rely solely on her own memories to sketch Warren's portrait, Crystal creates a funny and frank oral history of the man to whom she was married from 1974 to 1981 (a period when he went from being a little-known cult figure to a full-blown rock star) and afterward regarded as her greatest friend. She draws upon over eighty interviews with family members, onetime lovers and celebrity admirers ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Stephen King. In addition, she includes scads of excerpts from the self-described Excitable Boy's journals, which chronicle his alcoholism and hard-won sobriety, his experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder and sexual addiction, and the bridges he built and burned.

"He wasn't easy to get along with," acknowledges Crystal, who Warren sometimes knocked around while in booze-induced fogs. "He had an acerbic wit that could cut you off at the knees. But at the same time, he was someone who always left you wanting to be around for what came next."

The Warren Zevon who emerges is complex figure: a hardboiled tunesmith with a tender core that's on display throughout The Wind, his Grammy-winning final album, which he recorded after receiving his terminal diagnosis. Still, his songs live on. "He always believed his music would become recognized after he died," Crystal notes. "And even though he had a fear of death, he also embraced it. He maintained a sense of humor and a focus on what he needed to do in the time he had left. He made an album and stuck around for the birth of these boys."

Crystal Zevon stops by the Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl Street, at 7:30 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, August 15) and at the Tattered Cover, 2526 East Colfax Avenue, at the same time tomorrow (Thursday, August 16). Both events are free. For more information about the first appearance, phone 303-447-2074 or visit www.boulderbookstore.com; to learn about the second, dial 303-322-7727 or click to www.tatteredcover.com.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts