Friday, October 13, 2006

How Warren Zevon cost me $10,000

On a Friday afternoon in the spring of 1988, I came home from school in time to catch a radio contest on what used to be Chicago's classic rock station, WCKG.

It seemed designed especially for people with exactly the sort of freaky memory that I have. The premise was: they played a block of songs (12-15) and if you were the right caller and could name the song and artist for everything they had played, they'd give you $10,000. That was right up my alley. In seventh grade, a classmate had said something about sitting down on the corner of his desk, and I sang a bit of "Willie and the Poor Boys" by CCR. He looked at me disgustedly and said "Jeez, do you know every song?" So I knew I could do this.

I was excited. I grabbed a pen and dutifully began writing down everything they played at the top of the hour. I can't remember them all now, but I'm pretty sure that there was some Boston, Rolling Stones, maybe a Grand Funk Railroad song. The one that was probably supposed to stump you was by Steeler's Wheel. The very last song they played was "Werewolves of London."

I was excited. Even though I had no idea who did "Werewolves of London," I figured I could make an educated guess if I was even the right caller.

I was the right caller. They put me on the radio. I still remember how nervous I was. After the deejay called me "ma'am" (I guess my voice hadn't finished changing yet) and I corrected him, I proceeded to go down the list of songs from the last set.

I got them all. All the songs, anyway. I don't recall my guess for who did "Werewolves," but it sure wasn't Mr. Zevon. Not by a mile.

I was crestfallen that I hadn't won the money, but when the deejay said who had done the song, I was actually a little relieved. Who the hell had ever heard of Warren Zevon? What kind of name was that, anyway? I wasn't dumb for not knowing the artist: it was a trick question. Some dude plucked from obscurity based on a novelty song. It was the equivalent (to me at that time) of popping Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" in the set.

I consoled myself with what I assumed to be his one-hit status (and the fact that you probably had to be 18 to win) and went about my evening.

That very night, watching David Letterman (he used to follow a man named Johnny Carson on NBC, for my younger readers) he announced his guests for the evening. Included in the lineup was Warren Zevon. I was astonished. Letterman spoke glowingly of his songwriting, and when he came out, he didn't play "Werewolves of London." Surely this was some kind of mistake, a weird global joke.

Since then, I have of course learned who he was. I got over my anger about the money and got to like quite a bit of his music. When he died a few years ago, I was very sad.

But my first thought when his name comes up is still "He cost me $10,000." Like they gave it to him instead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Hey!

Great story.

I was going to ask about it...

The documentary about the making of Mr. Zevon's last album was quite touching. It is indeed a sad loss.