So my son Jonah discovered the Warren Zevon tunes on my iPod and I’m kvelling to no end as he turns into a big fan. (I’m a lifelong Zevon-devotee; his 1981 concert in LA in 1981 remains for me an indelible musical memory). Jonah’s discovery has inspired me to go back and listen to the songs of the late, great WZ. In particular I’ve been appreciating his later stuff: the lesser known post “Werewolves of London” tunes that are at turns hilarious, morbid, touching and always so keenly intelligent.
I’m also listening more closely to his final album, “The Wind” – the project he worked on while he was dying from terminal lung cancer. When it first came out in 2003, just two weeks before he died, it was just to raw and painful for me to listen to at length. But returning to it now, I’m realizing what an amazing work it is – a kind of “musical living will” that touches on all of themes of his life’s work without ever being maudlin or over-sentimental. This is a artist who didn’t flinch from exploring his demons while he was alive and he was a true role model for how to make the most of one’s life down to the very end.
Check out the clip above, an excerpt from his astonishing appearance on the Letterman show several months before his death. Letterman (his longtime friend who featured Zevon countless times over the years) devoted the entire show to him and they talked at length. Even if you’re not a fan, I encourage you to watch. It’s truly an incredible TV moment: a dying musician speaking openly and honestly about his terminal illness on a late night talk show before performing some of his greatest songs in public for the final time. He couldn’t hit all the high notes, but it was still a muscial performance for the ages.