Saturday, April 09, 2016

Thank You, Lucy

OK, so this gets a little OCD-ish: I just had to know which Warren Zevon song mentioned porte-cochère. Well, maybe "had to know" is too strong a phrase. Nothing was hanging in the balance based on me obtaining this information. No peace deal in the Middle East. No job offer from a Silicon Valley startup. No Republican delegates. But to say I was more than just idly curious would be accurate: it was bugging me bigtime.

If you aren't familiar with his work, Zevon was an enigmatic singer-songwriter who died more than a dozen years ago. Well known for songs he penned for others, most notably Linda Ronstadt, he also had some hits of his own, including "Excitable Boy" and "Werewolves of London." His often dark and ironic lyrics attracted fans from Bruce Springsteen to Jackson Browne to Don Henley, all of whom appeared as guests on the last record he made before he succumbed to lung cancer.

As a lyricist, he seemed to delight in sneaking in words and phrases that challenged casual listeners. In "Mr. Bad Example" he narrates a life of infamy, at one point singing "Then on to Monte Carlo to play chemin de fer." Blackjack would have been a more popular reference, as opposed to this variation of baccarat. Or in "Life'll Kill Ya" he sings "Requiescat in pace/That's all she wrote" when "rest in peace" would have been more easily understood. Nothing wrong with "Yeah Yeah Yeah." But if you were a connoisseur of words and phrasing, he was a master to savor.

But back to the phrase in question. I was relating the details of a particular hotel to an associate, and I told them about the porte-cochère at the rear. When they wondered what that was, I was able to explain it only because I thought I recalled it from one of his songs. At the time I first heard the term, it was unfamiliar to me as well. So I looked it up to find it was a basically a carport, or more correctly, a covered entrance large enough for a vehicle to pass through where people could enter and exit under cover. My associate was curious as to where I had heard the expression, and I credited Zevon with that little corner of my education.

But it made me curious as to which song indeed had included it. A quick search online produced no results, other than a tantalizing clue on a 2010 Facebook page setup to promote the singer's inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There, a Joan Crockett wrote "I don't know of anyone else who could crowbar ‘porte cochere' into a song! Love this man!" But no search of his lyrics turned up a direct reference. Seemed both Joan and I had heard something the rest of the world hadn't.

So I posted my query on a Warren Zevon fan board to see if there might be a devotee all these years later who might be able to help. And sure enough, not five minutes after I hit send, Lucy wrote me back. She said she couldn't find the reference, nor could recall any. But she noted in the song "Disorder In The House" Zevon did write "I'll live with the losses/And watch the sundown/Through the portiere." Portiere. Porte-cochère. While the first is a curtain placed over a door, and the second a pass-through for vehicles, it sounded close enough to be the source of my confusion.

The most egregious example of this kind of misunderstood lyric is probably Creedence Clearwater Revival's "There's a bad moon on the rise" being heard by many as "There's a bathroom on the right." While my mix-up hardly rises to that level of transgression, it is still the same idea. But the real thing that's mind boggling isn't the fact that I remembered this obscure phrase, or that Zevon worked something close to it into a song, it's that I was able to track down the answer to something so obscure so quickly. Comedian Pete Holmes said it best: "There was a simpler time that if you didn't know where Tom Petty was from, YOU JUST DIDN'T KNOW." No more. Today we can Google ourselves silly, finding out just about anything about everything. Or we can just ask someone we don't even know to help us out.

Thank you Lucy, whoever you are.


Marc Wollin of Bedford still likes listening to Warren Zevon. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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