After the war in Paraguay, back in 1999
What’s that, you say? You say there was no war in Paraguay in 1999? Well, you’re wrong about that — according to Warren Zevon’s “The Long Arm of the Law” (the third track off his dystopian Transverse City), there was. Or would be, rather, given that Transverse City was released in 1989.
Like the very best sci-fi, Transverse City throws out casual references to world-shaking fictional events as though the listener should be familiar with them. The Paraguayan war Warren envisions ten years into his own future is one of them. (Of course, in the real world, there was no such war, but between Iraq, Bosnia, Sudan, and others, the near-future of 1989 was replete with plenty of military action — Zevon got the country wrong, but the vibe right.) By placing the war “back” in 1999 on an album released to the world of 1989, Warren immediately performs the dual feat of knocking the listener off-kilter and — simultaneously — grounding us in the new reality of the album.
Like the song before it, this one picks up immediately from the previous track, as the whirring helicopter blades of “Run Straight Down” give us a sense of doomed pursuit, married to these opening lyrics:
When I was young, times were hard
When I got older it was worse
First words I ever heard:
“Nobody move, nobody get hurt”
If this song makes you start picturing Blade Runner in your head, I think you’re forgiven.
Here’s “The Long Arm of the Law.” Next week, Warren wows us with a protest song…sung by a Soviet soldier.