September 5th, 2003
Q. What's more depressing than Johnny Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around?
A. Warren Zevon's The Wind.
This is a very tough listen. It's sweet and sad and funereal and joyous and inevitable. It's the last gasp of a dying man, recorded in front of VH-1 cameras and burnt to CD for the ages. It hurts to listen to. It'll hurt even more in the future.
When I first heard of Warren's diagnosis last year, I thought that "My Shit's Fucked Up" -- which he recorded in 1999, before he was diagnosed with the terminal lung cancer -- was eerily prophetic:
I went to the doctor, I said "I'm feelin kinda rough"And I pretty much thought well, that's it. His shit's fucked up. Good god, how terrible.
"Let me break it to you, son -- your shit's fucked up."
I said, "My shit's fucked up? Well, I don't see how"
He said "The shit that used to work, well, it won't work now."
I had a dream
Aw shucks, oh well
Now it's all fucked up
It's shot to hell
But now, after hearing The Wind, I can only think of another song he did on the same album (Life'll Kill Ya)-- an amazing slow, sorrowful, mournful acoustic cover of Steve Winwood's "Back in the High Life Again". He brought a frail kind of bravado to the song and got more emotion out of it than I think Steve ever intended to put into it in the first place. And while it is rather appropriate to say that Warren has (in the words of more than one music critic these past few weeks) "written his own epitaph with The Wind", I think this pretty much sums up the last 12 months of his existence, what with his rallying together to make one final album against the increasingly dire medical predictions:
It used to seem to me that my life ran way too fastI really don't have a way to end this piece. I can't say "Rest in peace, Mr. Bad Example" nor would I want to. That's tacky shit right there. I just know this: All too often when a dear celebrity dies, like a Bob Hope or a Katharine Hepburn, they leave us after a lifetime of work, followed by a lengthy retirement. We mourn them more for their legacy, not for their wasted potential (neither Hope nor Hepburn had been in anything recently; Hepburn's final film was in 1994 and Hope's last IMDB entry is dated 1986.) We mourn their absence, but at the same time we know, at least in the public eye, they'd been missing for a while now. The Wind shows that Warren Zevon had many good years and many good songs still left in him, and it's all the more tragic that we're gonna lose it all very very soon.
And I had to take it slowly just to make the good parts last
But when you're born to run, it's so hard to just slow down
So don't be surprised to see me back in that brighter part of town
I'll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again
I'll be back in the high life again
All the eyes that watched me once will smile and take me in
And I'll drink and dance with one hand free, let the world back into me
And oh, I'll be a sight to see -- back in the high life
You know, I bought The Wind the day it was released, came home and unwrapped it and read the lyrics, and haven't been in the right frame of mind to listen to it yet. I did watch the VH-1 special, which I thought was very nicely done -- emotionally honest and made me cry a couple of times without being manipulative about it. Though I have to admit the fact that he's the same age my father was when he died (55), and the gauntness in his face which reminded me so much of how my dad looked in the months before he died, had a lot to do with my intense reaction to it.
The bit where he's sitting with his very pregnant daughter and she tells him one of the twins is going to be named after him (middle name) -- the look on his face just ripped my heart out.
As sad as it is to be losing such a talent -- in a way I'm happy for him that he's been able to have enough time to come to terms with things on some level, to create a last work that he can be proud of, to say the things he needs to say. That's a tremendous blessing that a lot of people don't get. It's so much better than keeling over of an aneurysm or a plane crash or something. It just sucks to high holy hell that he didn't get all that at, say, age 85.
I just keep thinking how great it would be if he could have some miraculous recovery and all the critics who wrote all those articles about his impending death and stuff would be left eating their words. That would rock so much and would be so appropriate for him.
It's clearly not going to happen and that's just the little wishful-thinking corner of my brain, the little "this is how I'd write it if this were my novel" corner of my brain.
Anyway. Maybe I'll finally listen to the thing this weekend. Between the VH-1 special and the interview with his son on NPR last weekend (should be in the archives if you didn't catch it), I've heard a large chunk of the music already. I just need to be in the right frame of mind to hear it all, I think. We'll see.
I want to buy it. I really do. Soon.
|Date:||September 6th, 2003 01:53 am (UTC)|| |
I've been trying to buy it. Everyone around here is out. Perpetually.