Tom Dunne's Music & Me: It doesn't hurt to be nice

Tom Dunne's Music & Me: It doesn't hurt to be nice
Warren Zevon: 'a complicated man'.

The Covid-19 lockdown has required a lot of artists to get creative online with live performance. Some of it will probably be best dealt with via a war crimes tribunal: Gal Gadot and her friends knows who I’m talking about there. But some of it has been great, intimate, life affirming and oddly voyeuristic. I’m sorry, but other people’s gaffs are just interesting.

One such luminary to light the darkness recently has been Christy Moore. It might sound incongruous but he has been broadcasting weekly sessions on Facebook for a few weeks now. I interviewed him once in his car in a carpark because we both agreed we didn’t want to see each other's houses! But here we are now, peeking into his front room!

He started this session by holding up a plaque given to him by two fans who had waited patiently to meet him after a gig in Sydney, Australia, in 1992. It stated that Christy was now an honorary member of the Kildare Association of New South Wales. He described it as one of his proudest possessions and name checked and thanked Caroline Lane and Eugene Cavanagh for giving it to him.

I was flabbergasted! Flabbergasted because once, a few years back I had seen another artist being gifted a plaque by an adoring fan. But that has ended very differently indeed.

The artist was Warren Zevon, and in 1995 my band Something Happens had been touring America with him as both his opening act and backing band. With two gigs a night over three months, we’d gotten to know him well. He was a big star and an old-school one at that. He’d come through the LA music scene of the early Seventies, the scene of Neil Young, The Eagles and the Whiskey a Go Go, of great talent and even greater excess.

He was straight now, remembered mostly for the song ‘Werewolves of London', a regular on Letterman and name checked by Dylan as the ‘songwriter’s songwriter'. He was also a complicated man. He could be devastatingly witty and had a withering verbal capacity but there was a dark side. He referred to his own fans as ‘fourth-generation turd handlers'. It’s the fourth-generation part of that which is so cruel. You would imagine that in a profession so unpleasant that the second generation would have escaped it, but no.

We very often got on. Sharing a coffee with him once in a book shop I could not help but wonder a little about the old days. That period, as defined by David Crosby, as ‘just after birth control but before Aids'. Warren raised one eyebrow, as if to intone ‘you don’t want to know', and said simply, “Many civilian casualties, Tom, many civilian casualties!”

There was time for one more civilian casualty before the tour ended. It was the final day and we had driven the bus to a New Jersey park to clear it out. We noticed we’d been followed here by a man in a tiny little car. He observed for a while and then made his way over to Warren.

He had a plaque for Warren he'd made specially to commemorate the tour. It said simply, ‘Warren Zevon Mutineer Tour 1995'. He gave it to his hero. Warren took one look at it and suddenly consumed with anger threw it into the Hudson river. The fan, shocked, but polite to a fault, just nodded his head and walked away.

What a sour end to the tour on. I’ve thought about it often since. Would it have killed him to be nice? Would it have killed him to treat fans the way Christy, or perhaps Rory Gallagher, would have?

Last week was the 25th anniversary of Rory’s passing. He famously made time for all his fans and once hung back after a show to talk to a young aspiring guitar player. That guitarist was so impressed that he resolved should he ever become famous he would be like Rory: approachable, friendly, grounded.

I got to interview that guitarist years later. He was now as famous as I was inexperienced. I made a school-boy error while recording the interview and, mortified, had to stop. He just laughed and helped me fix the recorder.

“You can ask me about the Smiths as well you know? It doesn’t have to be all my solo work.” “Wow!” I replied to Johnny Marr, “That would be great!”

There is a light.

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