Rock ’n’ Roll: Rittenhouse Square’s Excitable Boy
In her forthcoming memoir, former WYSP deejay Anita Gevinson, the self-described “sex kitten of the airways,” remembers the high times and blurry Philly nights she shared in the early 1980s with the late rocker Warren Zevon
I started going out on the road with Warren, taking long weekends and vacation time from WYSP and meeting up with him at concert dates around the country. At first we lived pretty large in four-star hotels, and it was all fun, fun, fun. I had gotten into radio for the season pass to the front row, with all-access backstage privileges. Radio had served its purpose, and now not only did I have the front-row seat and the backstage pass, but I was fucking the star of the show. Me, a nice Jewish girl from Levittown, with velvet-rope dreams.
What it took me a while to realize was that Warren had been in a slow, steady free fall for years. On tour, he’d keep himself zonked on downers and sleeping pills, because the only time he could be sure he wouldn’t drink was when he was asleep. He would time things out so that he would sleep up until showtime, giving himself a window of relative sobriety to perform in. And like all addicts, he’d become adept at hiding his disease from anyone who might care. But that act had been wearing thin with his closest buddies out in L.A. — Jackson Browne and others — and people were starting to give up on him.
Like a lot of these guys, Warren just stayed on the road when things were dicey at home — You’re a moving target, they can’t hit ya, he’d say, with a conspiratorial wink.
Kim had had enough of his bullshit. Frankly, I would have preferred that she stay in the picture. My attitude was: Let her be the mommy, we’ll play house on the side. It’s always better to be the girlfriend than the wife, especially in Warren World. Don’t even kid yourself that when you become the wife, somebody isn’t going to replace you as the girlfriend. When my guard is down, I can still talk myself into the rationalization that if somebody’s lying to somebody they love just to see me, then it’s gotta be special.
So believe me, having him move in with me never crossed my mind before he brought it up. I had a life, I had a career, and I wasn’t looking to become anyone’s mother. I knew what it was like to live with him; I had seen firsthand how he treated his former wife, Crystal, seen him drunk and in his bathrobe, waving a pistol around like a turkey leg. So I didn’t even see it coming when one day he turned up on my doorstep at Le Chateau, my apartment on Rittenhouse Square, and said he wanted to move in. That was only partly true. I realize now that for him, Philadelphia was a place he could go where none of his friends could watch him the way they did back in L.A. They had staged interventions, there was shouting and shoving, people got pushed up against the wall. Increasingly it was becoming sadly apparent that he was no longer a functional alcoholic. He was just an alcoholic.
I admit I was a bad influence. My life with Warren started out as Bonnie and Clyde, and by the end it turned into Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? But I was only Liz on weekends. He was shitfaced Dick with the lampshade on his head every night of the week. And I covered for him because I loved him. I never told anyone how bad it got.
So instead of saying No, I think you moving in would be a bad idea, I said, We’ll need a bigger place. He set up the back bedroom with his instruments and recording gear and made it into his tree fort. I never went in there. He had his own bathroom, and he would keep his vodka in the cabinet under the sink. By now, he was guzzling it right out of the bottle, in secret. He’d call me at work, and I would put him on hold while I told tens of thousands of Philadelphians that we had just heard “Jukebox Hero” by Foreigner, and then I would have to explain to Mr. Excitable Boy how the toaster worked. The conversation from my end would sound like this: “No, honey, you push it down and it will pop up when it’s done. … I DON’T KNOW WHY IT’S BURNING — I’M AT WORK!”
And just like always, when things would get dicey at home, he went out on the road. I would tag along sometimes, and it was like all of our problems had been left on the side of the interstate. There were good times: hanging in the “girlfriend box” at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip with Bruce Springsteen; drinks with Marty in the Village while watching Warren perform. (I swore that night I would never forget the conversation we had, but all these years later, all I can remember is sitting there with Martin frickin’ Scorsese and thinking I would never forget that night.) And then there was the night in Philly when we came out publicly as a couple, and I introduced him to the crowd at the Brandywine, and before I could get offstage he ran out from the wings with his guitar and slid across the stage on his knees, trapping me between him and the microphone. Warren kicked into Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” The crowd went ballistic. I just stood there smiling, not knowing where to look. At him? At the audience? Do I put my hands on my hips? Or at my sides? Finally it was over and Warren escorted me off the stage, and I collapsed in a heap on a chair. Then he walked up to the mike and said, “There’s a certain Philadelphia girl that I’ve been in love with, and tonight’s my night to show it,” and then he started playing Alan Toussaint’s “A Certain Girl.” I was putty in his hands after that.
Which is the only explanation I have for why I wound up agreeing to walk down the aisle with Warren. We were making love one night after a concert in Denver when he proposed — how do I put this delicately? — in mid-stroke. “Will you marry me?” he asked, and then thrust his pelvis for emphasis. I don’t know why — I guess because deep down, I really was in love with the guy — but I responded with a breathless “Yes.” So we got done having sex, and Warren went to the bathroom. I was lying naked in bed and already starting to have second thoughts. There was a knock at the door. Warren put on some pants and went to answer it. The way the hotel room was laid out, the bed was around the corner from the door, so I couldn’t see who was there, but I heard girls’ voices. And then they got louder — Warren had let them in. “Honey, these girls came up here to tell me how great the show was,” he said, followed by two young girls who seemed shocked to see a naked woman in the bed.
I glared at Warren. “What the fuck are you doing?”
Warren gave me one of his see-no-evil shrugs: “I don’t know how they found me.”
By this point, the girls looked really uncomfortable and started edging for the door.
“Well, how did they find the room?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, let’s ask them! Oh, I’m sorry, Warren, I must have scared them off!”
“It’s the job, it’s what I do,” he said. “You should be glad they find me so attractive.”
“What fucking ever, Warren.”