Accidentally Like a Martyr – Reviews

Praise for Accidentally Like a Martyr thus far:

“I’m going to say this, Accidentally Like a Martyr– The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon is a definitive biography, drawing on interviews with Warren’s friends and family; James Campion has written a book that is so ingenious both in terms of the quality of the writing, which is lovely, but also the device he used to tell Warren Zevon’s story. Rather than a conventional biography he takes ten songs and three seminal albums and extrapolates from them a portrayal of the man, the career, the work and the legacy – each depicting a different side of his character, his artistry, his personality, his soul, his life, and from there each song is a seed in which he springs forth all of these narratives. The book is so beautiful for the fan of Warren Zevon’s humanity as well as people who like Warren Zevon but want to know why he is so revered by some of the most charismatic artists we have. It is a pleasure to read a rock biography by a talented writer whose passion for the source material as well as his passion for the English language just comes through on every page. It is a book that has the same integrity and fearlessness in studying its subject as Zevon did with his songs studying his own beautiful, fucked up, imperfect life.”

– John Fugelang, Host of SiriusXM’s “Tell Me Everything”, click here to listen to the entire interview

My wife, being an avid reader, of course, bought the book as soon as it came out and then we had about a solid week and a 1/2 of laffs and tears and lots of z’s music playing in the house.
I felt very justly represented in the book and I thank you for that. I think you did an outstanding job, James…really…. well fucken done mate!!!

– Waddy Wachtel

Accidentally Like a Martyr is a wonderfully written and researched “text book” on my
friend. Warren would have loved your scholarly work and literary writing…for sure. Congratulations. When we were talking, I had no idea what your book was going to be. I never expected such an intelligent, serious examination for a man and his work. I congratulate you and, of course, now I can think of what stories I could have told and all the things what I didn’t think of at the time!

– Jimmy Wachtel

Official Reviews

In his gushing, heart-on-his-sleeve prose, heavy on first-person pronouns, Campion is trying to transform the standard critical take on Zevon: that the tremendous promise of his early work was left unfulfilled by his struggles with drugs, alcohol and self-aggrandizement. Campion doesn’t evade those struggles, but he argues that Zevon was able to use those challenges as the raw materials for some of his best work on his final records. Campion has some famous musicians willing to testify on his behalf. In 2004, the posthumous tribute album ‘Enjoy Every Sandwich’—The Songs of Warren Zevon featured contributions from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder, often performing songs from later in the songwriter’s career. The author calls on many of them and their peers in the book to bolster his case.
– PASTE Magazine, click here to read the rest of the review

Campion gives the audience something deeper and richer than a standard biographical narrative or a thematically organized string of interpretive readings, even as both of those elements do play a role here. Instead, Campion tells the story of his experience with Zevon, bolstered by a sharp critical eye and an obvious expertise of Zevon’s music. Accidentally Like a Martyr epitomizes that wonderful feeling of being a Zevon fan.
– Pop Matters, click here to read the rest of the review

Campion’s adoring book will speak mostly to Zevon s fans, and will encourage them to listen to his music anew
– Publishers Weekly, click here to read the rest of the review

Here, music journo Campion uses 10 individual songs and three albums as the subjects of elongated essays on Zevon s music, but that s something of a misnomer. Through original interviews, archival quotes, and his own analysis, the book covers far more of Zevon s catalog and life story than just passing mentions
– Houston Press, click here to read the rest of the review

“Part love letter to an icon, part scholarly attempt to learn what makes an icon tick, Accidentally Like a Martyr is a tribute quite unlike anything I’ve seen before.”
– Manhattan Book Review, click here to read the rest of the review

“Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, Accidentally Like a Martyr offers an extraordinary and analytical study of a man and his music that is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary American Biography and Contemporary American Music collections in general, and Warren Zevon supplemental studies lists in particular.”
– Wisconsin Book Watch – Midwest Book Review, click here to read the rest of the review

“Accidentally Like a Martyr is one of the best recent rock biographies for its profound insights.
– Shepherd Express, click here to read the rest of the review

“Zevon’s life and career are more than worthy of analysis and author James Campion has written a stunning new book, Accidentally Like a Martyr – The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon. The author interviewed those closest to Zevon, including a wide array of songwriters, producers and family members, in order to examine his life through the songs he wrote. In so doing, Campion broke down Zevon’s life into 13 insightful essays that not only recall the artist’s life story but also shed valuable new light on the songs, which ultimately are his greatest legacy.”
– Brooklyn Reporter, click here to read the rest of the review

“Campion descends through the layers of Zevon’s music gently, starting with the most literal interpretation of lyrics, then tying in the personal and contextual stories of Zevon’s life and relationships, and finally reaching for the intellectual threads that bind each album together and tie one to the next, a string of small buoys bobbing rather forlornly in a nearly forty year deep sea of rock music. It’s worth venturing out to explore them all.”
– Snowman on Fire, click here to read the rest of the review

“Examining these songs and albums allows Campion to discuss aspects of Zevon’s life (including his alcoholism), themes (his obsession with death, his fondness for handguns), his influences (Raymond Chandler, Martin Amis), and the influence he had on other musicians (especially the Eagles, but also Bruce Springsteen).”
– Booklist Online, click here for the rest of the review

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Warren Zevon, neither was I, until I read this book, and now I listen to the guy on a loop. James, it’s another home run. It’s an excellent book and it should be read. Thank you for writing it.
– Professor Joseph Burns, Southern Louisiana University and Co-Host of the Rock School Radio show and Podcast.

James Campion is the true Excitable Boy, the real Mr. Bad Example. Reading this book has been a joyous and mind opening experience. A deep dive into the world that Warren lived and created in. There is nothing out there on Warren as well thought out, well written and well researched than this book. I recommend it to any music fan and especially any Zevon fan. Love it.
– Connor Reid, director of upcoming Warren Zevon documentary.

Zevon songs, and his life, were like a boundless cacophony of sound and fury, chock full of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. As such, it takes a writer with the earnestness, honesty and grasp of James Campion to make sense of it.
– Sound Waves Magazine, click here to read the rest of the review

Campion has written a book that only a Warren Zevon fan could write. Who but a fan would devote fourteen pages to “Studebaker,” a song that was never recorded to Zevon’s own satisfaction and therefore doesn’t appear on any of his official albums? Campion’s challenge is to make such minutiae compelling enough that readers unfamiliar with Zevon and his unique and impressive musical canon want to come along for the ride.
– Kevin Avery, 11/18/2018, click here to read the rest of the review

Reader Reviews

To appreciate the depth and dare I say — scholarly quality — of Campion’s dissection of Warren Zevon’s catalog requires putting this book on the third vertex of the musical triangle formed by “Deep Tank Jersey” (his summer-of-swagger tour with Dog Voices) and “Shout It Out Loud” (pulling back the curtain on KISS’s Destroyer album). “Martyr” resonates with exceptionally well-chosen adjectives and phrasing; each sentence feels like it has the same painstaking effort conveyed by Campion to describe Zevon’s songwriting and ethos. While most of us growing up in central New Jersey in the mid-70s would look to Springsteen for the working man, difficult family dynamic association, Campion takes a seminal teenage moment – his first listen to “Excitable Boy” – and stretches it, through forty years of reflection — into his best piece of writing about an under-appreciated and under-listened artist. It’s not a book that you’ll breeze through sitting on the Asbury Park beach, but one that merits your attention, your pauses to reflect on your own moments when musical lyrics took you to another place, and you’ll savor the journey.
– Hal Stern, Amazon

I wasn’t a fan of or very familiar with Warren Zevon but after hearing the author read an excerpt from the book, I was curious. It turned out to be a new favorite book and I’m recommending it highly. It’s formatted in essays which I enjoyed, making natural breaks for reading and absorbing information (new to me) both biographical and musical. The title may not be upbeat, but to the contrary in reading the book, I learned, laughed, marvelled and grew to cherish the artist and person that Warren Zevon was. It’s admirably crafted with depths of insight by James Campion who shares personal bits in the telling which creates an even more enlivening read.
– Liz O’Connor, Good Reads

I read several books about Warren Zevon and enjoyed them all. This is no exception. It artfully tied the information from the other books together for me. It is obvious that Mr. Campion did a ton of research for this book. He shares that research, blending it with his personal reflections. It was an amazing and emotional read. Job well done!

– Connie Evan-Marquart, Amazon

This book enhances the experience of listening to Warren Zevon as much as a decanter enhances the experience of drinking a fine wine. Zevon is my favorite songwriter (in 2009 at a live music venue in New York City I hosted a “Zevon-athon” show). Author James Campion made me realize things about Zevon songs that I had never before grasped. Such as the influence of his gangster father on the brilliant lost track “Studebaker;” the recurring theme of loving to be punished that stretches from “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” through “Finishing Touches” up to “Hostage-O;” and the influence of the Rodney King riots on “The Indifference of Heaven.” Campion backs up his insights with a trove of fresh reporting including interviews with Zevon’s son and daughter, Jordan and Ariel, as well as with his musical collaborators including Waddy Watchtel, Jorge Calderon and Paul Muldoon. Their anecdotes alone make this book worth reading: Watchtel on the Rolling Stones’ reaction to Zevon in 1978, Muldoon on Zevon writing the last verse of “My Ride’s Here,” and Calderon on the drama of recording “The Wind.” This book left me feeling as gutted as a baked fish and as euphoric as a cherub — the same feelings I get from listening to the canon of Warren Zevon.

– Nate Schwerber, Amazon

“What a beautiful & fitting tribute to one of the greatest songwriters of our lifetime. From the very opening chapter (dedicated to Desperados Under The Eaves) I was transfixed by it. Using specific songs from throughout Warren’s career as a starting point, the book is more than just a looking glass at the man but also a magnifying glass to the man’s words.

The closing chapter, from the David Letterman story onward pretty much left me bawling my eyes out like a baby with a bad diaper rash.

Great job and thank you to James Campion for sharing this with us.”
– Raymond Rusinak, Good Reads

“It is fantastic!! I got teary in so many places…..especially “Keep me in your Heart,” which made me go watch the video, which made it worse. Easily, the music book of the year!!”
– Mark Gould, Facebook

“The essays are insightful, giving historical and artistic context to each song discussed. If you’re a fan, it’s an emotional journey culminating in Zevon’s death.”
– Malcolm, Good Reads

“A wonderful book, I enjoy reading anything about Warren Zevon. It’s clear the author put a whole lot of time and thought into the essays in here and his true love of the material shines through. Well worth reading for anyone who is a fan of Warren Zevon. It was great to hear the excitable boy howl one more time.”
– Robert Collette, Good Reads

“What a beautifully written book! From the introduction, to the acknowledgements, James Campion has created a piece that has the reader truly invested. While reading “Accidentally Like A Martyr”, I found myself stopping and listening along the way to the songs Mr. Campion mentions in his essays and having an even deeper respect for Warren Zevons works. I highly recommend this book, it is an absolutely worthy read!”
– Lisa Geller, Amazon.

“If you haven’t read it yet, the James Campion book is a fabulous read. It’s very well written and full of interesting insights. It is a must read for those in ‘Zevon’s Corner’.”
– Tara Bergeron, Facebook

If you are a Warren Zevon fan, you won’t want to miss this book. It will bring back fond memories of every period of Zevon’s career and provide deep insights into his life and work that you may not already know. If you are not a Zevon fan, you will be by the time you finish Campion’s book. Not strictly a biography, Accidentally Like a Martyr is more of a cultural history of Zevon’s “dirty life and times. Campion devotes each chapter to one of Zevon’s songs and uses that song as a lens to focus on Zevon’s artistic process, events in his life, and the state of the world at the time. Highlights are the chapters “Mohammed’s Radio,” an homage to Zevon’s strength as a live performer and “The Wind” which examines the making of Zevon’s final album, much publicized since it was written and produced as Zevon was dying. This book is not dry reporting, but rather a meticulously researched, lovingly written tribute by a fan of one of the great, overlooked songwriters of the rock and roll era.
– R.G. Evans, Amazon

While, thankfully, a few books have already appeared about the deeply-missed Warren Zevon, this new volume fills an essential gap by grappling with Zevon’s work on a thoughtful and firmly-researched literary and musical plane. A previous biography is in print, which is interesting and informative, but is more in the form of a subjective memoir than a formal analysis (although it does provide an entertaining Who’s-Who of some of Zevon’s professional and personal world through interviews with a range of people).

Campion’s book also provides much biographical detail, and is also based on interviews with key figures in Zevon’s life and work, but his aim is to try to understand Zevon as an artist — how an enigmatic, brilliant, mercurial man struggled to produce his literate, resonant, funny and complex songs. The book hits its mark. Although Campion only covers selections of Zevon’s catalogue (largely earlier work), he draws the reader in for a close, informed listen that proves both satisfying and provoking. I was left wishing for a Volume 2. Strong recommend.
– Publius, Amazon

Excellent.
– Nic Donarski, Amazon

Freaking best Zevon ever. Real stuff.
Great style of music writing.

– Shannon M. Carlson


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