Monday, May 29, 2023

This Year: 1991

"This Year" is a series of weekly posts, each about one song from one year of my life. See the introduction for more.

I'm a words person, so I especially love songs with a lot of words - ones that tell stories, ones that have flights of language, ones that throw complications on top of complications. And singers who can perform those tongue-twisters are among my favorites.

I'm the guy who memorized "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" in the late '80s for no good reason, for example. (And still could probably get through most of it, if my breath held out.)

So obviously I'd have to have a Warren Zevon song somewhere on this list. (Though you might have thought I'd forgotten him by now, since I'm already up to 1991.) I don't know if this is my favorite Zevon song - favorites shift over time, and can vary by day [1] - but it's the one I chant along with whenever I hear it, and one I don't think will ever get old.

For 1991, my song is Mr. Bad Example.

It is a litany of bad behavior, the life story of a uniquely horrible man, one who chased every opportunity to steal and cheat and lie, who always has more options to do so and an endless facility for bullshit to keep him going. [2] And, as a listener, we love him for it: the carefree attitude, the lack of fucks given, the compulsive relentless forward motion of his career of evil-doing.

Zevon rolls this all out at speed, with something like a march-beat behind him. You've got to make good time if you want to do a lot of bad things, right? It's not quite monotonous - Zevon keeps it from getting to that point - but it's a lot and it's fast and it's funny.

I'm Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt

I like to have a good time and I don't care who gets hurt

We've all known people like that. Some of us may have been people like that. They're horrible people, but strangely compelling, in their sunny monomania. In fiction, they're exciting and the fun kind of wicked. We can all love fiction.

And Zevon knows all that. The brilliant thing about Zevon was that he always knew the downside, and built it in from the beginning. What's the song called, again? Mr. Bad Example. Not "My Brilliant Life" or "How to Fleece the Rubes" or "I Enjoyed Every Last Minute of It."

With Zevon, there's always a judgement: it might be delayed so far you never think it will come, but it is looming. He's not Mr. Gets Away With It. He's Mr. Bad Example.

[1] I can't find it now, but I said something like "As you get older, your life is a lot less Werewolves of London and a lot more Desperadoes Under the Eaves than you're comfortable with" on Twitter not long ago.

[2] The song is fictional. Maybe I should emphasize that. I am not describing a specific, real person who was formerly President. Not at all.

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