Send Lawyers, Guns and Money – Warren Zevon
Written and performed by Warren Zevon. You can listen to a live version from the BBC here and a version from the Letterman show (compete with other bits) here. You can buy the studio version from iTunes here. It originally appeared on the album Excitable Boy, which you can buy here.
Zevon spikes this song with deadly fun and twisted mischief. It’s a fantastic tale full of fury and signifying what? The plight of a rich kid on a bender calling home for money. A primer on American foreign policy. A boozy tale told by a sometimes mercenary hold up playing piano in a tropical bar.
Zevon’s told multiple versions of the song’s creation:
- He took a vacation in Hawaii and “I wrote this song late one night on wet cocktail napkins after a long day of improbable and grotesque mischief. Obviously, I survived all that, but I learned something from the experience: I never take vacations.”
- He travelled to Cuba with his manager. They grabbed a cab and along the way, the cab pulled up in front of a house, the driver explaining that he needed a minute. In he went and out he came leading his daughter by the hand and followed by gun-toting and shooting kidnappers. The driver hops back in the car, his daughter ducking into the seat next to him, and off they go with Zevon and his manager in the backseat. Zevon turns to his manager and says, “Call my Dad and tell him to send some lawyers.” The manager nods and adds, “and some guns and money too.”
- Warrens’ working at a piano bar in some tropical hellhole, tinkling the ivies for tips and such, listening to the tales of various mercenaries, which he hones into the verses of this song.
- Warren was partying in Mexico when someone called out, “the shit has hit the fan.” They took to the road calling out for what they needed: lawyers, no send guns, no send money.
Creation myths prove interesting cocktail talk and may provide fodder for the academics, but the song stands independent of its origin. And what a tale we hear:
I went home with the waitress
The way I always do
How was I to know
She was with the Russians, too
Graham Greene in four short lines: the naïve and presumptuous American chasing a woman without thinking of the consequences. Maybe an American diplomat bumbling about, not knowing what he’s doing spun round in circles by the sophisticates of the land he’s invaded. Or just a lark and a tale to tell buddies in the bar when you return with nothing to show for walking home the waitress. Warren’s not saying for sure, just chortling as he powers through the verses.
Next, we’re in Cuba, which Zevon imbues with intrigue and isolation:
I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this, ha
More trouble for the frat boy. Or is it the American diplomat who took some crazy chances and now needs good old American dollars and firepower to clean up a mess. Or maybe just another bender when you wake up with a hurting head and one phone call home to cal the lawyer and get me out of here. Warren offers a please and an excuse:
I’m the innocent bystander
But somehow I got stuck
Between a rock and a hard place
And I’m down on my luck
Yes, I’m down on my luck
Well, I’m down on my luck
You know the type, never done anything wrong, never his fault. Can we stop talking and just get me out of here.
Now I’m hiding in Honduras
I’m a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan
Why Honduras? Good drinks, good cigars, plenty of chaos. It’s where fugitives from Mexico and Panama disappear and even O. Henry made the trip. With enough money, guns and lawyers, you can get out of anything.
Zevon caught the long black Cadillac out of here, though when making the rounds in these parts, he always attracted talent to his recordings. The original recording of this song features the soaring guitar of Waddy Wachtel, Warren plays piano, Kenny Edwards (of the Stone Poneys) plays bass Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (of Fleetwood Mac) provide the rhythm section and Linda Ronstadt provides backing vocals.