Warren Zevon – The Wind

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

Whatever you might think of Zevon (and let’s be clear – he was not a great father and he physically abused his wife, and I am pretty sure he was a Republican), he ended his career much as he began it: beloved and well-respected. His final album – recorded under a death sentence – was as star-studded as his self-titled sophomore album (his debut effectively having been written out of history). For his last hurrah, he corralled Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, Dwight Yoakam, Mike Campbell (the Heartbreakers), and two Eagles, as well as frequent sideman David Lindley. He spent his career chronicling the lives, warts and all, of imaginary characters and actual people, while likewise honestly detailing his own flaws and failures, not for the purposes of judgment, but simply to acknowledge the messy difficulty of living. Here, he mostly focuses on himself, but maintains the same approach. This is a thoughtful, proud album from a thoughtful, difficult man, and I am forever impressed that he created this final work of art. Zevon died of mesothelioma at the age of 56, in 2003.

What I Think of This Album

Is it possible to consider this album using a framework that doesn’t acknowledge that Zevon recorded it knowing he was dying? Yes, of course – that’s a stupid question. But does that knowledge diminish the album – turning it into a cheap ploy – or does it enhance it? I don’t really see how it doesn’t make what is already a strong album all the more powerful. Maybe I am a sentimentalist (there is no “maybe” about it), but every track on here was the product of a deliberate choice to have it be one of the last eleven songs under his name. And almost every one of those songs is imbued with regret and framed by resignation, if not acceptance. Gone is the absurd bravado that characterized much of his earlier work, which always came across as satirical or self-mocking, anyway.

“The Rest of the Night” reads like a call to turn up the volume and tip the bottle, but it’s not very convincing (I think I can hear Zevon cough early on); I don’t think it was intended to be a dark joke, but any sincerity is undercut by how frail Zevon sounds – and this is the only track that even pretends to celebrate life. Instead, “Dirty Life and Times” more accurately sets the tone with the opening lyric “Sometimes I feel like my shadow’s casting me,” and speaks plainly about Zevon’s loneliness at the end. The rollicking “Disorder In the House” surveys the wreckage and hilariously observes “even the Lhasa Apsa seems to be ashamed;” Springsteen plays an impressively gnarly guitar on this track.

The cover of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is powerful and moving; this song has never taken on greater weight. Zevon sounds defeated and weary (or maybe just, you know, sick), and when he ad libs “open up, open up, open up,” it’s goddamn haunting. There is some distorted lap steel on “Numb as a Statue,” which comes across as a sideways expression of gratitude by Zevon for his friends. The two love songs – “She’s Too Good for Me” and “El Amor de Mi Vida” cut deeper than usual, though the first one works better. “Prison Grove” is a harrowing dirge that I can’t say I care for much. The title of “Please Stay” tells you all you need to know (though you should also know that Emmylou Harris’s harmonies are lovely), and “Rub Me Raw” is another acknowledgment of imminent death. Final song – final song – “Keep Me In Your Heart” is a stunning, frank, and tender request to his loved ones, friends, and yes, fans, to remember him well. It will bring tears to your eyes.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Keep Me In Your Heart” (and bring me a fucking tissue, please).

Release Date

August, 2003

The Cover Art

You know what? He can do what he fucking wants for his last album.

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