A Word About Zevon: Mesothelioma

One of these days, not so very long from now, we’ll be reading of the death of Warren Zevon, who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma. When you see words like mesothelioma, you know it’s bad. What is mesothelioma? Cancer. From his lungs to his liver. Maybe he’ll kick it. Maybe.

I first saw Zevon perform in the early ’80s. In Rockford, Illinois. Home of Cheap Trick. It was at the 10,000-seat Metro Centre. You’ve got to watch it when places spell words like center as though they are, what?—Canadians? The Metro Centre was one of Rockford’s moves to revitalize the city center. The slab-sided structure hard on the banks of the Sinnissippi River is an aluminum siding salesman’s wet dream. The wonders of urban renewal. When Zevon took the stage, the place was damn near empty. Maybe the potential audience didn’t get the word about the renewal. “ROCKford! ROCKford! How can you miss with a name like ROCKford!?!” Zevon shouted. The man is nothing if not ironic. Which probably explains a lot of things. Like the empty seats.


Zevon is one of those people who is in the singer-songwriter category. Which pretty much means that he doesn’t sell many recordings. Perhaps the last one who did was Carole King. Carole would never write a lyric like “Roland was a warrior from the Land of the Midnight Sun/With a Thompson gun for hire, fighting to be done.” You’ve got a friend—for a price. Zevon is one of those people who is in the category of songwriter’s songwriter. Which means that he is respected by people who tend to sell a hell of a lot more recordings than he ever will. Among those he has worked with include, in no particular order, Lindsey Buckingham, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, David Lindley, Phil Everly, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Jackson Brown, J.D. Souther, Linda Ronstadt, Jeff Porcaro, Graham Nash, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Bill Berry, Neil Young. [Plus, he’s a good friend of Hunter S. Thompson! – Ed.] Eclectic, to say the least.

Although he sings of mercenaries, lawyers, guns, money, detox, boxers; although he has penned particular songs of love “Well, I met a girl at the Rainbow bar/She asked me if I’d beat her… Poor, poor pitiful me”, “She’s so many women/He can’t find the one who was his friend/So he’s hanging on to half her heart… So he tells her to hasten down the wind,” he is, unfortunately, I think, best known for his “Werewolves of London,” which is his one-and-only bona fide “hit.” If I was in a less charitable mood, I’d describe it as being nothing more than a Ray Stevens novelty song that Zevon’s been carrying around in his bag since 1978. But to put a moderately better spin on it, I’ll say it is analogous to what has happened to Ray Davies with “Lola,” a throwaway that became a hit that he must play. Of course, “Werewolves” probably helped pay for his kids’ college educations. I wonder how many copies of the Excitable Boy album are out there with virgin surfaces with the exception of that single track—OK, maybe the other songs were played. Once.

When he dies, there will undoubtedly be reference to his titles including “Life’ll Kill Ya” and “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” But I think the last word, from one of his many cautionary tales, should come from his song “Genius”: “There’s a face in every window of the Songwriter’s Neighborhood/Everybody’s your best friend when you’re doing well—I mean good/The poet who lived next door when you were young and poor/Grew up to be a backstabbing entrepreneur.”

15 thoughts on “A Word About Zevon: Mesothelioma”

  1. And then there’s “Life’ll Kill Ya,” with the lead single “I Was In The House When The House Burned Down.” Zevon’s always been a jester in the court of Older Brother Rock, but they’ll definitely retire his jersey when he finally goes.

    JTL

  2. Warren Zevon is an amazing artist, and it’s a cryin’ shame that fate dealt him this ironic set of cards. “Desperados Under The Eaves” and “Accidentally Like A Martyr” still slay me with their beauty whenever I hear them, and “Finishing Touches” still keeps me in stitches. Even “Gorilla, You’re A Desperado” beats the odds; with a title like that, you’d expect it to not live up to the promise. Well, this one is both witty and perceptive in its concept. I have to disagree with Mr. Macaulay in regards to the uncharitable review for Werewolves Of London. True, it’s not one of Mr. Z’s better tracks, but a) it still tears the head off of “Monster Mash”, and b) it serves as a cool gateway tune for those of us who want to discover more of Warren’s oeuvre. And that can’t be all bad, now can it?

    What a drag that we have been placed in the awkward position of eulogizing this under-appreciated artist-with-a-capital-A.

    SHAMELESS PLEA TO ALL GLONO READERS:

    If anyone taped the October 30th David Letterman show that WZ was on, I will gladly trade for any of my ROIOs or other unique and obscure recordings I have.

  3. Hmmmmmmmm, I need a proofreader.

    That one line should have read:

    What a drag that we have been placed in the awkward position of eulogizing this under-appreciated artist-with-a-capital-A while he is still among us living, breathing, walking this terra firma, and, from what I hear, still creating before the deadline (pardon the morbid pun).

  4. Not that it matters much, but the live recording of “Werewolves” on Stand In The Fire is excellent and breathes some real life into the song, complete with an added verse. “Mohammed’s Radio” from the same release is beautiful “The Ayatollah’s got his problems too/Even Jimmy Carter’s got the highway blues.”

    Lest we forget “The Vast Indifference of Heaven”

    Zevon is criminally overlooked. Long live old leather nose.

  5. What track is this from: “Well, I met a girl at the Rainbow bar/She asked me if I’d beat her… Poor, poor pitiful me”, “She’s so many women/He can’t find the one who was his friend/So he’s hanging on to half her heart… So he tells her to hasten down the wind,” ?

  6. for a good taste of warren in a live, intimate environment pick up “Learning To Flinch”. it sheds light onto just how deep/crafty a musician he really is. i started with this and have been a fan ever since.

  7. I wan’t to know If Warren Zevon is Actually passed. My friends and I have Been to a lot of his concerts and , A lot of people talk like he is dead , but no one verifies like with a dat . If anyone can shed some light please enlighten us.

  8. I wan’t to know If Warren Zevon is Actually passed. My friends and I have Been to a lot of his concerts and , A lot of people talk like he is dead , but no one verifies like with a dat . If anyone can shed some light please enlighten us.

  9. Just on a side note I have been reading a bit too much about Warren’s type of cancer, mesothelioma. I shouldn’t have read it but my training as a medical assistant got the best of me. What I discovered was this…a) It’s cause is 99.9% of the time asbestos inhalation related with time of onset from exposure to symptoms in the 30 year range. b) It has almost no connection to smoking. c) Cure rate is zilch even if caught at the early stage and even with aggressive treatment. d) It is one of the, if not THE most painful cancers to endure at the end with pain killers being of little use at that stage. How he can spend his remaining days in a recording studio in light of the above is a testament to not only his brilliance but to his bravery. I hope I can meet my end with even half his dignity.

  10. I have always been a fan of Warron Zevon. I was stunned when I learned that he had been diagnosed with mesothelioma. I work as a paralegal in the product liabilities industry ( basically I am an asbestos paralegal assisting the victims). I have seen numerous people pass away from this awful disease. Mesothelioma is an asbestos-related disease which causes a tumor to grow in the lining of the lung. It is extremely painful and unfortunately there is no cure and not really any type of treatment. I’ve seen first hand the amount of suffering victims of mesothelioma go through and I would never wish it on anyone. My prayers are with him and his family.

  11. It’s a sad thing to bear but the great and talented Warron Zevon has passed away. Play your favorite song in memory and keep the music alive.

  12. 44 years old and Iam just getting to know of his music , and really dig it . Now he is gone and Im listening to the last track on The Wind.

Leave a Reply