My Ride’s Here: Warren Zevon Dies at 56

Warren ZevonWarren Zevon, the fabulously cynical singer, songwriter, and all-around nice guy, died in his sleep yesterday at home in Los Angeles. After being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer (mesothelioma) in September 2002, Zevon accepted the news with his typical bent of black humor. For his final album, The Wind (Artemis), Zevon recorded a version of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

When longtime fan and pal David Letterman booked him as the only guest on the “Late Show,” Zevon talked frankly about his life and fate with an easygoing sarcasm that was as pointed as it was poignant. He liked to say that he lived the first half of his life like Jim Morrison, and the second as a loving husband and father. The dynamic between those two lives – the rough-and-tumble vs. conventional contentment – defined also his music, which often skewered American values while wishing for personal love and happiness.

If he came to be known best for “Werewolves of London,” the classic rock favorite only showed off the hackles on the surface of Zevon’s music. His best work – songs like “Sentimental Hygiene”; “Lawyers, Guns & Money”; and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” – all traveled a strip of darkly humorous highway between erudition and brazen cultural subtraction. He was like Hunter S. Thompson in the form of Jackson Browne, or a political lobbyist with no agenda beyond getting fucked up, but he was also a Midwestern kid lost in the hard-lit landscape of Los Angeles, where honest love is hard to find and ‘traditional values’ is just the name of a treatment.

Even if his music sometimes tread too far into light rock FM, or leaned on stilted, Older Brother Rock arrangements, Zevon’s lyrical venom, zest for performance, and “I can’t believe he just said that!” pop culture prescience made his songs startlingly unique. While his decision to deal with death in the public eye might seem psycho to some, it was appropriate for a guy who named his 2000 album Life’ll Kill Ya and wrote the song “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” Appropriately, the most resonant moment of his final release is in “Please Stay,” when he asks “Will you stay with me ’til the end?” Once the last to leave the bar, Zevon became a family man at last, only to have Death catch up to him like a character in a song. It’s a sad, sad finale, but it couldn’t have been written any other way.


Read more about Zevon’s life and work here. Check out Glorious Noise’s post-diagnosis Zevon article from November, 2002. You can download an mp3 of “Dirty Life & Times” via the Artemis website.

8 thoughts on “My Ride’s Here: Warren Zevon Dies at 56”

  1. Getting to know Warren Zevon’s music was one of the smarter decisions I’ve made in my life. Being able to witness his sheer determination to give us one last batch of songs before he strolled through the gates of Rock ‘N Roll Heaven is one of those events that humbles me, and impresses me to live my own life to its capacity for giving back to the world. Thank you, Mr. Zevon, for enriching me in ways you probably never intended upon when you started out as a singer. May you always have the last laugh.

    …and say hi to Wesley Willis for me when you get up there.

  2. I had just listened to “Desperados Under the Eaves” on Saturday. And, on Sunday, I watched a tape of the VH1 special at a friends house.

    I think I’ll go home tonight and “listen to my air

    conditioner hum” in honor of Warren.

  3. As Warren himself said during his televised wake last October on the Late Show…

    “Enjoy every sandwich.”

    Thanks, WZ.

    (Excellent tribute, Loftus.)

  4. Just you know, Shamus, unlike other types of lung cancer, cigarette smoking is not considered to be a factor in the development of malignant mesothelioma. Who knew!

  5. This morning, I played my Best of WZ tape in the car on the way to work. When “Desperadoes Under The Eaves” came on (at top volume, no less), I had myself a good cry. I don’t know if it was the beauty of the song that did it or Warren’s untimely departure, but I wept as I sang along. Imagine how bad it would have been had the song been “Accidentally Like A Martyr”; I can only imagine what my commute home is gonna do to me (i.e., the rest of the tape). God bless you, Warren; thanks for the wonderful music.

    Oh, and Shamus is the worst kind of insensitive, ignorant cunt. This isn’t Yul Brynner here, an admitted lifelong smoker who died of cancer and then had his heirs release a PSA a year later saying “I croaked of cancer”. We don’t need judgmental fucks like you salting wounds with holier-than-thou advice that doesn’t even apply to the situation at hand. Mesothelioma, as someone else said, isn’t caused by smoking; it’s more often caused by asbestos inhalation. Take your judgmental bullshit and see if there isn’t room for you at the board; GloNo’ers typically don’t tolerate assholes like you with fecal matter for brains. Show some sensitivity, dammit!!

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