Masters of Sarcasm: Dry Witted Music at its Best

Warren Zevon was a master of dark humor. During his last appearance on The David Letterman Show, Letterman asked Zevon about his recent diagnosis of mesothelioma – a terminal cancer of the lungs. Letterman commented on how Zevon’s life had changed over the course of the last few months and Zevon – with expert dry wit replied – “Oh, so you heard about the flu?” Check for the master of sarcasm.

Later in the interview, Letterman asked Zevon how his life had changed since the diagnosis. Zevon remarked, “You learn to appreciate every sandwich.”

Very few people would have this type of sense of humor after discovering they only have a few months to live. Hell, I’ve questioned the existence of God because the way the 2016 Presidential Election turned out.

For listeners of Zevon, myself included, sarcasm is just part of the experience. Songs such as “Werewolves of London,” “Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song) and “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” feature Zevon in fine stand-up comedian form.

Zevon, however, is not the only artist who could’ve had a side career as a stand-up comic. Listed below are five of my favorite songs and the wit and sarcasm that accompany them.

Wilco “Passenger Side” (A.M., 1995)

Poor Jeff Tweedy – stuck having to rely on somebody to drive him around. While his predicament sucks, he doesn’t have to be so rude as to sing “You’re going to make me spill my beer/if you don’t learn how to steer.” Come on, Jeff, really? Have some appreciation. Either way, Tweedy letting his hard drinking, country outlaw side out always makes for good fun.

Jens Lekman “Kansar Ar Jag Kar I Dig” (Night Falls Over Kortedala, 2007)

Swedish indie songwriter turns a conversation on a nervous first date into songwriting gold. He opens the song conversing with a girl he’s crushing on. At one point, Lekman sings, “I saw on TV about this little kid/who had a pig for a pet/him mom had once been attacked by a dog/so a pig was the closest thing he could get.” This song is a perfect description of the type of verbal exchanges that occur on first dates. Lekman’s wit and self-depreciation have never shined brighter.

John Watford “Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana” (Nobody Knows What You Do, 1976)

America’s unsung troubadour requests a little 420 time with his grandma, asking her “now you get the milk and I’ll get the cookies and/we’ll get high and do the boogie.” While I’m sure many pot smokers have gotten high in their grandmother’s basements, I’m sure none have actually gotten stoned with their granny. Maybe Hartford was just trying to shake off the guilt he had from taking the $50 check his granny gave him for his birthday and using it to buy a half-ounce of the sticky-icky.

Loudon Wainwright III “I Am the Way (New York Town) (Attempted Moustache, 1973)

After singing “I can walk on water and I can raise the dead/it’s easy, I’m the way,” the song breaks down into an instrumental, featuring the sound of a whip being cracked by a percussionist, symbolizing Wainwright being struck down by lightening for his borderline sac-religious lyrics.

Father John Misty “Bored in the USA” (I Love You Honeybear, 2015)

Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman’s – who performs under the moniker Father John Misty – prankster soulfulness is on full display in this song. His lyric, “Save me President Jesus,” shows the American public’s dependency on those we elect and our inability to see through their bullshit.

Later in the song, Tillman sings, “They gave me a useless education/and a subprime loan on a Craftsman home,” all while a laugh track plays in the background after each punchline. Tillman’s words are brilliant because they satirize the problems of “The First World.” After all, who could laugh at such shallow, middle class problems while people in Syria are being massacred. Tillman’s cynicism is so on display throughout the whole album, one could almost see Bill Hicks passing his comedic torch onto Tillman.





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