"The French Inhaler" as written by and Warren Zevon....
How're you going to make your way in the world
When you weren't cut out for working
When your fingers are slender and frail
How're you going to get around
In this sleazy bedroom town
If you don't put yourself up for sale

Where will you go with your scarves and your miracles
Who's gonna know who you are
Drugs and wine and flattering light
You must try it again till you get it right
Maybe you'll end up with someone different every night

All these people with no home to go home to
They'd all like to spend the night with you
Maybe I would, too

But tell me
How're you going to make your way in the world, woman
When you weren't cut out for working
And you just can't concentrate
And you always show up late

You said you were an actress
Yes, I believe you are
I thought you'd be a star
So I drank up all the money,
Yes, I drank up all the money,
With these phonies in this Hollywood bar,
These friends of mine in this Hollywood bar

Loneliness and frustration
We both came down with an acute case
And when the lights came up at two
I caught a glimpse of you
And your face looked like something
Death brought with him in his suitcase

Your pretty face
It looked so wasted
Another pretty face
The French Inhaler
He stamped and mailed her
"So long, Norman"
She said, "So long, Norman"

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"The French Inhaler" as written by Warren Zevon

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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The French Inhaler song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentNatgry is almost right. This song is about Norman Mailer and Marylin Monroe, but it is also "a kiss off" of his exwife, the mother of Jordan Zevon. After the breakup of Zevon and his first wife, he found out that she was sleeping with another musician, and in the liner notes of "Warren Zevon" (the new version) Jordan says that his mother confessed to him before she passed that the song was a "fuck you" to her for sleeping with this other musician.
    Thgord08on June 19, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI believe this song is about marilyn monroe...the norman is norman mailer, and I think the whole song is a poke at his biographical work on marilyn monroe.

    what I don't get is the "french inhaler" line. I love zevon, but I can't tell if this is just something put in to intone norman mailer, or if it has another meaning.

    I have no doubt that he read waugh before writing this song...zevon was hugely influenced by major writers, so I totally agree with scumbagstyle on that one.
    natgryon February 25, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is the way one would expect Warren the poet to comment on failed Hollywood dreams, and the love that can spark from 2 victims of this disease. I am sure Norman is refering to something, and because i do not know who it is, i am remiss to continue discussing it.

    I reccommend reading Evelyn Wagh's The Loved One to get a good idea of where he is coming from. i swear he must have read that prior to writing this song.
    scumbagstyleon February 07, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe song is told from the perspective of a lowlife pimp, Norman, attempting to convince a failed actress to put herself “up for sale”. He lies to her, tells her she’ll be famous. Later, he sombrely observes what she has become a broken drug addict, looking like “something death brought with him in his suitcase”. As another poster stated, it's a character study of Hollywood dreams gone awry. One of Zevon’s very best songs.
    imperial.bedroomon December 03, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love this song. As well as being a very poignant and true portrait of Hollywood, I believe it echoes the way most young women and teenagers feel about their lives and prospects ... viewed as little more than sex objects and plagued by self doubt and feeling used and worthless.
    newforestfairyon February 24, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe narrator of the song is the guy who likes the flaky chick. He's had the chick before, but not that night at the end of the song. Norman is just some random dude she goes home with at the end, probably the dude who inhales his cigarettes in the French style. Either the narrator is saying "So Long" and being pissed off, or we are hearing other people saying "So Long", and the narrator is reporting it. Outstanding song.
    Brixton66on June 14, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGreat analysis imperial.bedroom
    TheThornBirdson March 19, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think that some folks are reading too much into this. He was in a bar chatting up a girl who said that she was an actress, and she was going to be a star some day. Yes, the song is about unfulfilled dreams. He's lonely, and drunk, and he's talking to this woman that he thinks is attractive, and he thinks that he might be going home with her. He drinks up all of his money. Then, at the end of the night, the bar is closing, the lights come on, and he realizes that she's going home with someone else. And, on top of that, she didn't even get his name right. He told her that his name was "Warren", and she thought that he said "Norman". Also, in the harsh light, he sees that she's just another person with faded dreams, she doesn't know him at all, and she isn't attractive anymore. The "French Inhaler" is a metaphor for the cruelness of fate, which shows you the promise of something good, and then takes it back. If you've ever seen someone French inhale a cigarette, what they're doing is expelling the smoke through their mouth, and then sucking it back in through their nose. When the smoke finally re-emerges, there's truly nothing left-just like his dreams/opportunities. The "French inhaler" stamped and mailed her-in other words fate sent her elsewhere and he had no chance at love or happiness.
    gwernetton December 13, 2013   Link

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