Warren Zevon: A Genius and Disaster

There aren’t actually all that many lines in pop music that tell you, simply by their construction, who their writer was. And a man named Warren Zevon had a surprising number of them. You hear something like, I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand / Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain, as he sang in his 1978 “Werewolves of London.” And you know it has to be him. Only him. The genius and the disaster that was Warren Zevon.

Our Unsexy Future

There is an underappreciated principle of any new technology as it starts to sail in from the horizon—and that principle runs: The flagship is not the fleet. To some extent, this is simply the general law of unintended consequences, as applied specifically to technology. Every large-scale social action necessarily produces effects that its planners probably did not foresee and certainly did not desire. If the law holds true in the social realm, then why wouldn’t it hold true in the social effects that follow from a technological change?

A Legend of the Frontier

In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner proposed his famous Frontier Thesis—the notion that the American character had been fundamentally formed by the experience of a frontier, an ever-moving line that divided civilization from the wilderness. And here we are, well over a hundred years later, still watching Westerns. Still arguing over the effects of westward expansion. Still reading books like Tom Clavin’s latest effort, Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter.

No Thanks

The negative reviews of Bret Easton Ellis’s new book are almost enough to make one want to defend it. Perversity may be underrated as a motive for human behavior: Nothing makes me want to cut my lawn less than a prissy neighbor’s complaint that the grass is growing long; nothing makes me want to defend a book more than a chorus of the self-righteous decrying it.

Off Beat

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the author of some of the best-named books in the history of American poetry. You’d have to search a long time to find titles as good as the one he gave his reportedly million-seller, A Coney Island of the Mind, in 1958 (or even A Far Rockaway of the Heart in 1998). Early in his career, Ferlinghetti moved to California, founding the City Lights bookstore and publishing house in San Francisco. It’s there on the West Coast that he practiced his left-leaning social activism while writing more than 30 slim volumes of poetry and prose, and he reached his 100th birthday on March 24 this year. What’s more, he . . . um . . . well, what did Lawrence Ferlinghetti actually do, to claim a place for himself in American letters?

The Boys of Summer

With the flutter of the year’s first robin redbreast, with the promise of the first warm breeze of spring—the patter of an early April rain, the almost phosphorescent green of young grass, a scent of new life in the morning air—the season turns at last from winter to provide us what we are always given, this time of year: the cloying metaphors of baseball columns. The sentimental globules of Opening Day reflections. The sickly sweet reviews of new baseball books, like the genteel retching of a consumptive maiden.

A Spy for Stalin

In May 1941, Stalin was warned that the Germans were about to invade the Soviet Union. As it happens, the warning came from a man who was—how to put this fairly?—a liar and a drunkard, a philanderer and a smell-smock, a gambler and, in truth, a world-class crackpot. He was also possibly the greatest spy who ever lived, and Stalin’s refusal to believe him lasted only about a month. On June 22, the Nazis poured 14 panzer divisions across the Russian border.