November 08, 1982 12:00 PM

Low-key domesticity looks awkward on Warren Zevon, 36, formerly rock’s enfant most terrible. Club-soda dry for the last three years, he no longer starts the day with a screwdriver and packs in a bottle of vodka before show time. While he’s still “one of rock’s stranger manifestations,” as one critic put it, he’s no longer noted for his “intoxicated cloddishness,” as another pointed out. His glasses don’t skid off in performance. He doesn’t fall into the orchestra pit. He needn’t chuckle, as he used to, that he’s “the dangerous Dean Martin of my generation.”

One sign of a new Zevon is The Envoy, his latest album. As Rolling Stone noted, Zevon saw it as a test of “whether he can really pull off art, as well as life, straight.” He has. His lyrics have all of his trademark macho bluster and dark humor—about international terrorism, Wild West outlaws, B-movie monsters and what-all. But also as plain as the piano he pounds is what may be the real Warren Zevon: introspective, solemn, maybe even nervous. One affecting number, Let Nothing Come Between You, offers: “…advice for the young and old/If I may be so bold/When you find someone to have and hold/Don’t let nothing come between you.”

What Zevon has found, after two marriages, is actress Kim Lankford, 28, the virtuous Ginger Ward on CBS’ Knots Landing. Tanned and barefoot around Zevon’s house in the Hollywood Hills, she acts, he says, as his “salvation,” his reminder of “how nice life can be.” Same goes for Kim. She confides that she liked Warren “from the first night we met. For one thing, he didn’t try to get me into the sack right away. He was considerate.” They aim to wed, someday, on the Montana ranch of their novelist friend Tom McGuane, who often writes lyrics for Zevon. “Aside from being extremely talented and pretty,” says Warren, “Kim has a centeredness that’s the opposite of my scatteredness.”

Scatteredness has been a thread through his life. The only child of a Mormon mother and a Jewish immigrant from Russia who made his living playing cards and running some carpet stores, Zevon grew up in several Southern California towns. An interest in classical music (Stravinsky was a favorite) kept him “pretty much insulated from what was going on in the real world until I was about 13.” After his parents split, he haunted folk-rock joints, dropped out of high school, then took off for Manhattan’s Greenwich Village with his 12-string guitar to “be Bob Dylan.” He got studio gigs—”until they discovered I couldn’t play the thing.” He survived the ’60s by “writing songs like crazy,” some for TV ads.

As bandleader for the Everly Brothers in the early ’70s, Zevon “really wanted to be a wild and swinging guy. I just sort of fell into the bottle, though I had started drinking when I was a teenager.” He became a staff songwriter for Asylum Records. Then, when nothing he wrote got recorded, he and his wife, Crystal, went to Spain: “It seemed better than waiting for the world to beat a path to my door.”

Six months later, he was called back to L.A. by Jackson Browne, his mentor. Browne had got him signed up with Asylum as a recording artist. His first album, 1976’s Warren Zevon, brought him “what I’d always said I wanted—fame, not money.” Or stability, certainly. By the time he wrapped his smash 1978 album, Excitable Boy, Warren recalls, “my drinking took center stage. I lived with the fear of losing control of myself. That’s what all those stories about me brandishing .44 Magnums and carrying on like a maniac were all about.” His bizarre lyrics didn’t help, either. In Werewolves of London, he howled lines like: “You better stay away from him/He’ll rip your lungs out, Jim.” Zevon now says, “I always thought most of Excitable Boy was too violent for the average listener.”

The earlier Zevon, recalls his friend Fred Walecki, a Westwood music store owner, “was a cross between Baudelaire and Johnny Rotten. The sensitivity that made his music so good was what drove him to anesthetize himself. To know how much he has changed, you’d have to know how far he’d sunk.”

“I was a really black-out drunk,” Warren admits. In mid-1978 he went to New York for a Bruce Springsteen concert and fell into an epic vodka binge. “Bruce is one of my dearest friends, which makes it so much worse. I remember waking up in the hotel room feeling I was going to die. I couldn’t make it down the hallway. I knew I’d had it. I called Crystal in L.A. and told her I was ready to get help, but I wanted to see Bruce first. She said, ‘Warren, you’ve already seen him.’ The idea that I couldn’t remember seeing someone I felt that close to was the most frightening thing of all. It was an abuse of our friendship and of my self-respect.”

Back in California, Crystal drove him (“I kicked all the way”) to Santa Barbara’s Pinecrest alcohol treatment hospital. The doctors started him off with “intervention” therapy. Says Zevon: “They gather all your friends into one room—I mean, Jackson [Browne] had spent a lot of energy getting everyone I knew up there.” The friends, Zevon recalls, told him all the things he did when bombed that he couldn’t “and wouldn’t want to remember. It’s an indescribable shock. You realize that to go through something like that, these people must care for you very much. When an alcoholic discovers that people care for him, his whole way of thinking is threatened. Either you try to return that love by taking care of yourself, or you keep drinking and spend your life being insulated from the rest of the world.”

Drying out took six weeks in the hospital and almost five months as an outpatient. Twice Zevon tumbled off the wagon (“If those weren’t the d.t.’s, I’d hate to see the real thing”). But he persevered, even when his six-year marriage with Crystal collapsed. (They have a daughter, Ariel, now 6; he also has a 13-year-old son, Jordan, by his brief first marriage.)

Fred Walecki introduced Warren to Kim, figuring that “she’s so happy, so optimistic and secure, some of that had to rub off.” Also, he adds, “I think she made Warren look at himself.” The first time Zevon asked her out, she recalls, “I didn’t accept, but I did say I’d come over and make him dinner. He was so nervous he ate all the appetizers and couldn’t touch the swordfish.” Within three months, she knew it was “something serious.” Warren knew “a little sooner. It was a slow building for her, a lot of frustration for me.”

Kim’s parents were professional singers from Southern California, although “my father had to get a real job when they got married.” They’re now separated. Dad is an exec with Purex, the household-products company. Mom runs a packhorse station in the High Sierra in the summer and sings light opera during the season. Kim found it “hard to get through” high school in Placentia, Calif., but loved drama and modern dance classes. She took acting lessons from Mel Blanc, got an agent and signed up for guest shots on TV series. In 1979, after four minor movies and a starring role in NBC’s short-lived Waverly Wonders, she won her Knots Landing job. Pondering Landing’s success, Kim ventures, “It’s escape—seeing how the rich side of the world can make a mess of things as easily as the rest of us.”

Zevon knows all about that, which is precisely why he’s gone domestic and will shout out, as he does in another Envoy song, “Rest assured/It’s never too late for love.” “By rights,” he reflects, “I shouldn’t be here—I was on a straight Jim Morrison course. I know I owe a lot to God and even more to the friends He has blessed me with. So many people have been so supportive, and Kim has been most supportive of all.”

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