The Infinite Jukebox: Warren Zevon’s ‘Reconsider Me’

It’s an odd feeling to purchase an album because of one overwhelming factor, and then to find that the outstanding track is one that doesn’t have that factor at all. This is the story of the first time that happened to me.
I knew of Warren Zevon through ‘Werewolves of London’ (you could not go through the whole of the Seventies without being familiar with ‘Werewolves of London’), but his music, which had a distinct California tinge to it for me, wasn’t what I was really into then. I paid very little attention to his career, and less to the early Eighties spell he spent in rehab for heroin addiction. Zevon was on the wrong side of the divide between punk/new wave and everything else as far as I was concerned.
Just goes to show that musical ignorance was not something I left behind in 1970.
I got into R.E.M. in 1984, and a couple of years later, I was told about the Hindu Love Gods single, a pick-up band consisting of Warren Zevon and the three R.E.M. instrumentalists, Bill Berry, Peter Buck and Mike Mills. I made it my business to get hold of it as soon as I could.
Because of the lengthy treatment for his addiction, Zevon hadn’t recorded any music since the rather thin 1984 album, The Envoy, but in 1987, with me now working in Altrincham, I heard that he’d recorded a new album with music supplied by Berry, Buck and Mills. I was enough of an R.E.M. enthusiast to decide to buy it. That’s the impulse factor right there: this is an album made by three-fourths of R.E.M. and that is why I’m buying it.
Sentimental Hygiene is a great album. Zevon is sharp and aggressive, open about his recent issues in the song ‘Detox Mansion’ which drops names certain famous people may not have wanted being dropped in that context. The band are tight, their sound a bit less jangly than the complete R.E.M. sound up to that point but they bring their own power and passion to the album, and they even co-write one of the songs with Zevon, a cynical dig at the music industry, ‘Even a dog can shake hands’.
But here’s the thing. Berry, Buck, Mills appear on eight of the ten tracks on this album. ‘Reconsider Me’, the single, a song which I loved on first hearing and remains my favourite of all the songs Warren Zevon wrote and sang in his life, is not one of them.
From what I know now of Warren Zevon’s life, and his relationship with Crystal, the mother of his daughter, I believe ‘Reconsider Me’ to be a very personal song, reflective of that time in his life. It’s a beautiful, soft ballad that, as the title suggests, is about asking for another chance. And if the words are truly reflective of where things stood, then it’s about asking for another chance where none is deserved.
It begins with a delicate electric guitar, picking out clear, individual notes in an even rhythm, as an acoustic guitar comes in on the beat to underline Zevon’s voice. If you’re all alone, he offers, and you need someone, call me up and I’ll come running.
The picture is simple. She has no-one, or so he hopes, he doesn’t entirely know, and he is offering his hand, to help, to aid, to support, to comfort and, beneath it all, the knowledge that she means something to him and he wants to be part of her life, where he just isn’t right now.
Reconsider Me, he appeals, repeating the words.
There is history between this pair, and he is honest enough to acknowledge it, openly. If it’s still the past that makes you doubt, he says. Oh it is, we know it is. And what has he to offer her as a surety against any repetition of whatever behaviour that has caused this rift between them, this need to feel his way back into any relationship she’s prepared to consider?
That’s the problem. It’s the age old words, that the offending man uses every time, the promise unsupported by the past. Darling, that was then, and this is now. Reconsider me, reconsider me.
And then the music breaks, and he expands on his promise of better, telling her he’ll never make her sad again cos he swears he’s changed since then, and he’s sorry that he ever made her cry. Let’s let bygones be, well, forgotten, reconsider me.
And the question is what it always is, do you believe him? After a gentle solo, Zevon comes back with more words, but they’re almost the same words, just a promise that he’ll never make her sorry if she tries. But throughout the song it’s a plea for not just forgiveness for what he’s done to her, but for her to forget it, to clear her mind of it, to give him the clean sheet he desires, upon which he will write… what?
Reconsider me, reconsider me.
The problem is twofold. I am a man, not a woman, I have never been put in the position where I have had to consider the sort of things Zevon did do, the sort of things he doesn’t name but which are part and parcel of his plea here. I don’t have the instincts of the woman who remains eternally aware that she is physically weaker and more vulnerable.
And I was 31 in 1987, when I heard and fell in love with the gorgeous melody of Zevon’s request for forgiveness, that sweeping insistence that he will never make her sad again. It takes my heart with it. Damn it, he sounds so genuine! He really means it!
But I’m not the person who can make that decision. Thirty years later, and more aware of the world about me, I listen and he still sounds sincere, and penitential, but I cannot make a case for his receiving what he wants. I can only make a case for the sincerity of the music, the musicians who shape this sound, who craft the hollow shell that holds his hopes. They’re not Bill Berry, Peter Buck and Mike Mills, but they couldn’t do a better job if they were.
My own ear sympathises. This is a beautiful song, and it is no less beautiful for the knowledge that he means every word he says, and this time it might be different, but they always mean it when they say it, and the test comes later, many many times over. The melody, the delicacy of the instrumentation and, in the end, the voice all tell me that Zevon is in love with the person to whom he sings. And indeed Crystal Zevon confirmed that they never stopped being in love. If I had to try and expend all my hope on a woman that I loved, and who I hoped would take me back, I would play her this song. Reconsider Me. I am still here, I will never let you down again, please let me prove it.
To call on Elvis Costello, the song’s aim, the singer’s aim, is true. Could I insist she pays attention? No sir, never. We can only hope, desperately.

2 thoughts on “The Infinite Jukebox: Warren Zevon’s ‘Reconsider Me’

  1. Loved Hindu Love Gods cover of Raspberry Beret. I think I’ve got a Zevon album somewhere, but it’s not this one. Will have to dig it out and give it another listen. It’s good but I haven’t heard it in years. Will check this one out too.

    1. It was my first Warren Zevon album and still my favourite (though Mr Bad Example runs it close). The Hindu Love Gods set was recorded during the Sentimental Hygiene sessions, all-night, pissed out of their head jams. And yes, Raspberry Beret was brilliant.

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