Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” Live In 1977 Takes Us Way Back

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orn in Chicago, Illinois in 1947, Warren Zevon was the son of parents who immigrated from Russia and England. By 13, Warren was already a common guest in Igor Stravinsky’s home, where he studied modern classical music. At 16, as a result of his parent’s divorce, Warren moved from Los Angeles to New York, so he could pursue a career in folk music. While working as a session musician, he wrote songs for the Turtles.

Warren’s debut album, Wanted Dead or Alive (1969), didn’t chart but he continued to ram on with songwriting. In the early 1970s he toured with the Everly Brothers as their pianist, band leader, and coordinator. Unsatisfied with where his career was heading, Warren moved to Spain in the summer of 1975.  His life there wasn’t what he expected either, and he returned to Los Angeles by the fall.

Before having gone to Spain, Warren had written “Carmelita.” The song was originally released in 1972 and recorded by Canadian singer Murray McLauchlan. Songwriter, Warren, didn’t record it until 4 years later in 1976. Many bands and artists went on to cover the song- including Linda Ronstadt, GG Allin, Willy DeVille and the Counting Crowes (to name a few).

Well, I’m sittin’ here playing solitaire
With my pearl-handled deck 
The county won’t give me no more methadone 
And they cut off your welfare check

The song has a convoluted meaning but popular opinion is that “Carmelita” is about a Mexican girlfriend and an addiction to black-tar heroin. Some feel that the song is about the rock and roll lifestyle of Los Angeles in the 1970s. Really, it all makes sense. If you pay close attention to the context, the song eludes to being in two-places at once. The narrator is in Echo Park (LA) but in his mind he’s in Ensenada, Mexico with Carmelita. Other theorists believe that Carmelita is the actual heroin and that’s all the song is about. At the time there was a type of heroin dubbed “Carmelita.”


n 1978, Warren gained success with Excitable Boy. The entire album was filled with deadpan humor, geopolitical subtexts, and explicit narratives. This is what rock needed. He struck gold with “Werewolves of London.” Other notable success from the same album were “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money.”

After  years of trying to match the reception of Excitable Boy and recovering from alcoholism, Warren turned to writing. The venture seemed like a natural fit given that the songwriter was known for having detailed and hard-boiled narrative themed songs. He joined Rock Bottom Remainders, which was a collection of writers who performed rock music at writing events. The group included Stephen King, Dave Berry, Matt Groening, and Amy Tan.

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Warren continued to write and play music until his death on September 7, 2003 from Cancer. His music lives on forever in our hearts and the songs he so graciously left in the hand’s of the music world. He won 4 post humous Grammy Awards for his compositions on his album, The Wind.

Watch his gritty performance of “Carmelita” in 1977 below.