Monday, September 22, 2003

In other music news: I was never a big follower of Warren Zevon. To me it was "Werewolves of London," "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," then....nothing. A few years ago a friend sung the praises of Zevon and I was very impressed. I had the same feeling as when I first was introduced to John Hiatt. Both are a songwriter's songwriter and a musician's musician, respected by everyone who knows them, but known by a relative few outside the circle. And both had limited success on their own, but their songs get covered all the time with more commercial appeal. Think Hiatt's "Thing Called Love" by Bonnie Raitt and Zevon's 'Poor Poor Pitiful Me" by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

That said, I got around to buying Zevon's final release, The Wind, this weekend. It had been praised by many already, even by (proving the "blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes" theory) VH1 who did a special on it just a few weeks before Zevon died. It's as good as everyone has said, even, at times, better.

It opens with the best song on the album, "Dirty Life And Times," which best shows off Zevon's greatest gift, his turn of a phrase that only he could think of (Elvis Costello does the same thing). With Billy Bob Thornton and Dwight Yoakam on backing vocals, he sings:

And if she won't love me then her sister will

She's from Say-one-thing-and-mean-another's-ville

And she can't seem to make up her mind

When she hears about my dirty life and times

It's Warren looking back on a full, if not sainted, life and forward to his last days.

Getting the most attention is his cover of Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." Perhaps, like Phil Spector, producer Jorge Calderon couldn't resist dressing this one up a little too much. Everybody comes in on background vocals and Zevon's voice is lost behind them and the combined guitars of Tommy Shaw (12 string), Randy Mitchell (slide), and Brad Davis. Less would have been more, particularly since the whole album looks death in the eye and, in turn, laughs, cries, and flips the bird. Just as "Numb As A Statue" gives a peek inside the heart of a man who's just heard he's not long for this world, "The Rest Of The Night" tells us that, though he may be dying, Zevon isn't gonna let the party die.

You wanna go home? Why? Honey, When?

We may never get this chance again!

Let's party for the rest of the night!

If death and dying is the theme of the album, love is the underlying current that carries us to our final reward. Both "She's Too Good For Me" and "El Amor De Mi Vida" are love songs of the highest order, one mourning a love that couldn't ever be, the other wishing he cold hold onto the love he found at the end. And Calderon redeems himself on the latter by tastefully producing a delicate song and beautifully singing the simple chorus in Spanish.

Zevon seems to have received more attention in his death than he ever received in his prime (or at least since "Werewolves..." slipped off the charts). At least he left a final album that appeals to both longtime listeners and new ones. It's fitting.

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