Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

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.

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4 Responses to “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money – Warren Zevon”

  1. Why Honduras? Perhaps because it was a notorious CIA client state and staging ground for all the nefarious Contra operations in the ’80s; it sort of served like Miami and southern Florida did for the Bay of Pigs and subsequent anti-Castro machinations in the early 60s. (You’ll have to fill me in about O. Henry). There’s definitely a Cold War theme running through here; we have Russia, Cuba (presumably under Batista, before Castro, when the island was, as described by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a scandalous gringo gambling den and whorehouse) and then Honduras. But then, now as I think about it, the song had to be written well before the Sandinistas and Contras. Oh well, so much for the theory that the “excitable boy” narrator who never learns could in fact serve as a stand-in
    for us — that is, the good old US of A — as I believe you already strongly imply. I think it could still be seen that way, but my attempts to make a tidier parallel are apparently misguided. Anyway, Yankees in 5, and you can bank on it, as surely as you can count on us to practice an immature, blundering, and blustering foreign policy. Was it not Mark Twain who suggested in the 1890s that the Stars and Stripes be replaced by the Jolly Roger? And now, shortly, we’ll get to read what he really thought, as his unexpurgated autobiography at last, 100 years after his death, as was his wish, is finally published. I was hoping that if I typed long enough, the name of the ex-CIA agent who owned a ranch in Honduras that encompassed something like one-eighth of the country’s territory, and put it at the beck and call of Langley, would come to me, but it hasn’t, so I guess I have to stop stalling. When you’re up to doing another Zevon song, the ones I’ve been fascinated with recently are Splendid Isolation and, especially, The Vast Indifference of Heaven (the title alone earns him vast credit on my ledger). They’re on the list of 60 to 80 songs I made up to write about for this project. O, lassitude! If you haven’t yet, check out the discussion on tonight’s Expecting Rain about Dylan’s new opening for his shows and whatnot. Although, as you know, I’m not much of a football admirer, but, having recently read Pat Kirwan’s book, I now understand something of the importance of the center to the offensive line, which is by way of saying congratulations to you and Jamie for his evidently excellent recent play. Witmark Demos on next Tuesday. Spent the entirety of yesterday (Wednesday) reading the new Mickey Mantle biography to completion. What a strange and terrible saga (as Hunter Thompson, who for some reason I always think of when I hear Lawyers, Guns and Money, as it sounds to me like one of his lines, might have put it); infinitely sad. Along with Felix the Cat, he was my first idol (Mickey Mantle, that is). Which reminds me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask you for two years now: Did we or did we not get picked up hitchhiking by Hunter Thompson after that event in Boston? The last time i saw John O’Connor, about two years ago, I was telling him about how i had told a new friend about that incident, and how I could not get this person to believe me. John became instantly incensed and belligerent and began to berate me then and there, demanding to know how I could tell such a ridiculous story, as he was there that night and nothing of the sort happened. He was so vehement and insistent that ever since, I’ve wondered, quite seriously, if this ever actually happened. Obviously, I couldn’t ask Kreinsen about it, and I can’t believe anything Abes says, so I’ve been meaning to come to you about it, and now I finally remembered to do so. Can you please clear up this and any other outstanding points for me? Thanks. Oh, and there’s one more thing I need to know. I’ve been scouring the obituaries and related articles on this issue, but no answers have I found: How much did Solomon Burke weigh at his untimely demise? And one last final thing: I know you’ve heard Solomon Burke sing Dylan, but have you ever heard Dylan sing Solomon Burke’s song “Sidewalks, Fences and Walls?’ It’s from some mid-80s session Dylan did, and it’s fascinating. I had it downloaded at one point but lost it when my hard drive crashed. Vaya con Dios — Sean — P.S. I knew if I typed long enough, the name would come to me: the operative with the ranch in Honduras was named John Hull, I think. I don’t know if he ever met O. Henry. Somehow I think Hull’s world was stranger and more coincidental than O. Henry could have fathomed. Or maybe not –what do we really know about William Sydney Porter anyway? Probably only as much as we know about Henry Porter, which is that his name wasn’t really Henry Porter. The real Henry Porter was the first man executed in Texas once that great state began killing people again in the wake of Gary Gilmore and all that hullaballoo. William Sydney Porter could have been with the Russians, also; after all he was a roustabout and a convicted felon. And the name of his self-published newspaper/journal? The Rolling Stone. One great big circle of coincidence? I think not, or my name is not Seamus Cavan. And now. mi compadre, to mix languages as egregiously as my metaphors, I bid you adieu, adieu, until next time. One final question, which has been bugging me now for almost 21 years: What the hell was Richard Nixon doing at Billy Martin’s funeral?

    • Funny, but back when I wrote letters I understood the truth of your comment, that if we keep writing the connections unmade and unseen suddenly become possible and real as if the electricity the brain jumps the circuits and we understand that yes, Warren Zevon had the CIA in mind throughout Excitable Boy, all the Cold War machinations fitting perfectly without his sometimes rampant paranoia and wry humor, maybe even “Splendid Isolation” when he’s putting tinfoil in the windows and hoping to get the eyes to close and the voices to stop and the line could well have come from Hunter Thompson or Johnny Depp aping Hunter Thompson or so many frat boys or wanna be frat boys aping Hunter Thompson and wouldn’t Mark Twain liked to share shots of Wild Turkey out of a gifted chalice (or what it stolen and does it matter?) as we actually did in the bowels of some BU theater in late 1979 or early 1980. We had travelled there to hear Thompson speak and he stood on stage like some seal balancing a ball on its nose the whole time telling us how vapid we all were for wanting to see him balance that ball on his nose and somehow Abes managed to get on stage and vanish with the guest of honor so we went search through steam-pipe underground corridors until we found them sitting round a table with said chalice – HST telling some tale about Africa and a bishop, another Zevon connection perhaps given Warren’s third world fascinations – and we drank with Hunter and his friend (Jimmy, or so he claimed his name to be but what was real anyway).

      Only remember two fragments of the conversation…asking Hunter about Doonesbury and Uncle Duke. The bald headed one peered out from behind his shades and said, “How would you feel if you had to wake up every morning and find yourself reduced to a cartoon character?” Then he became the cartoon character threatening to sue Gary Trudeau and “have him trimming bushes in my backyard the rest of his natural life.” The other concerned Zimmy and questions about losing his way in light of Slow Train and the born again turn, Thompson scoffing, “Man, after what he did already, he never has to do anything else or answer any other questions the rest of his life. Except of course, the questions he asks himself.” We were there for hours or maybe minutes before someone got the idea to hit the road, an entourage seeking mischief and the fun that can be had outside the law when Thompson’s handlers shuffled him off to safety and we headed to the Dugout with Jimmy who claimed to have spent a life with Thompson but may have originated in Deer Park and knew the Spatz boys. If I’m not mistaken – far from a sure bet – that was the same night that Abes grew angry at some girl and pumped hours worth of quarters into the jukebox for endless playing of “Positively Fourth Street,” or maybe that was another night spent in that establishment.

      Straying afar from the topic of Warren Zevon and the Cold War and Richard Nixon showing up at Billy Martin’s funeral because he always wanted to be one of the boys thus he talked football with Hunter Thompson and offered plays to George Allen for Tricky Dick was not one of those snobbish Ivy League characters, if only he could have ditched the wing-tips and the black hose socks, donned some Bermuda shorts and drank warm beers in the bleachers maybe he could have connected, but Tricky liked the idea of the common man more than he liked the actual commoners which links to Warren who knew enough about baseball to write his paean for Bill Lee, no predictable hero worship for him. As for other songs to show up in this blog, who knows. I sit myself down and pick up a song and write, not much advance thought, more a spur of the moment thing, and that’s part of the idea, to make sure I open the mind and work with some words (actually, I write two blogs, this one and one for Carol (NY Law Thoughts)though yesterday I started writing about “Splendid Isolation” until driven off track. Having already opined on “Boom Boom Mancini,” I would not be surprised to find Detox Mansion, Mutineer or Mohammed’s Radio inspiring words in future writings. As usual, I’d welcome your contributions if you feel so moved.
      And it’s time to get the things done that need doing. Hope you had a good weekend with Brian (by the way, where does he go to school?). Another weekday morning for me, up at six with John Lee, domesticated as hell, making lunch, making breakfast, and after he’s on the way, then onto prodding James and cooking something up to him as he heads off for what I keep wishing is the best senior year ever. Some days I walk, some days I exercise, but most days I plop into the folding chair at my make shift des and sling some words together. Be well.

  2. Damn, you have a good memory. I don’t remember this Jimmy guy at all, or Abes with positively 4th Street. I remember Hunter’s comments. So where am I getting this bit about getting picked up by Hunter himself and his handler, presumably Jimmy? It wasn’t all of us, it was some bifurcation of our group. It was some kind of hatchback, packed to the gills with crap; we only stayed with him long enough to demand that they pull over and let us out. I remember they were on their way to Brandeis, where he was doing his act the next night, and wanted us to come with him. Am I imagining this whole thing?

    • I seem to recall hearing tell of a car picking you and someone else up. Perhaps Jocco? Perhaps Tuohey? Jimmy was not a handler ad he joined us at the Dugout and was one of the ones they were keeping Thompson away form. His handlers seemed to have been hired to keep Thompson on schedule and away from groupies, assassins, loons and assorted mischief makers. (What were we? Anthropologists?). Not being McShane, I’m only god at telling the tales I witnessed or made up, but somewhere in the lost memories there’s a shadow of a story about walking down Commonwealth or such Boston drive and you getting picked up by Thompson. Anyway, what’s the Kerouac line, “I drink to remember, then I drink to forget.”

      I left whenever and remember coming back to Holy Cross around time a grey morning lounged across the sky, heading to the dining hall for breakfast and seeing it in a light I’d not witnessed for years. Had breakfast with two semi friends – Margaret and Teresa – up early for basketball practice, I think, or maybe they lived a cleaner life and I regaled them with tales of Hunter. They told me, in a most friendly way, that I really did not belong there, that I came from some other place and other time, a feeling I had often then and seemed to have circled back to now. Thank God for the obligations and my boys that keep me moving forward.


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