Ben Cantrick (mackys) wrote,
Ben Cantrick

Godspeed, Warren. You will be sorely missed.

Warren Zevon, who wrote and sang the rock hit "Werewolves of London" and was among the wittiest and most original of a broad circle of singer-songwriters to emerge from Los Angeles in the 1970s, has died. He was 56.

A lifelong smoker until quitting several years ago, Zevon announced in September 2002 that he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and had only months to live. He spent much of that time visiting with his two grown children and working on a final album.

Zevon died in his sleep Sunday at his home, publicist Carise Yatter said.

He faced death with the same dark sense of humor found in much of his music, including songs like "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," "Life'll Kill Ya" and "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead."

Zevon said he "chose a certain path and lived like Jim Morrison and lived 30 more years. You make choices and you have to live with the consequences."

He released his first album, "Wanted — Dead or Alive," to little notice in 1969, but gained attention in the '70s by writing a string of popular songs for Linda Ronstadt, including "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," "Carmelita" and "Hasten Down the Wind."

His next two albums, 1976's "Warren Zevon" and 1978's "Excitable Boy," followed those songs with darkly humorous tales of prom-date rapists; headless, gun-toting soldiers of fortune; and werewolves who drank pina coladas at singles bars and were particular about their hair.

They cemented Zevon's reputation as one of rock music's most politically incorrect lyricists, giving him a lifelong cult following that included gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and "Late Show" host David Letterman, who provided backing vocals on "Hit Somebody," Zevon's 2001 elegy to a professional hockey goon who longs to be a goal-scoring hero.

"I always like to have violent lyrics and violent music," Zevon told The Associated Press in 1990. "The knowledge of death and fear of death informs my existence. It's a safe, kind of cheerful way of dealing with that issue."

Other admirers included Bob Dylan, whom Zevon cited as one of his principal songwriting influences and who performed on his 1987 album "Sentimental Hygiene." Still another was Bruce Springsteen, who co-wrote "Jeannie Needs a Shooter," Zevon's tale of a lover shot to death by a woman's jealous father.

Not that all of his music was dark and violent. His body of work contained some straight-out comedy as well, including "Mr. Bad Example," "The Hula Hula Boys" and "Gorilla You're a Desperado." The latter told the tale of a Los Angeles Zoo ape who escapes by locking a yuppie in his place and going off to live in the man's apartment, only to end up depressed and divorced.

His compositional style reflected a number of genres, from hard-driving rock to folk, as well as classical, polka and other influences. In his final months, he summoned the energy to complete a last album, "The Wind," released in August. It includes the poignant "Keep Me in Your Heart," a cranky "Disorder in the House" and a remake of Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."

Zevon, born in Chicago to Russian immigrant parents, moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s, making a living writing jingles for television commercials. He also composed the song "She Quit Me Man" for the movie "Midnight Cowboy." He was just out of his teens when he went to work for the Everly Brothers, first as a pianist and later as their band leader.

In his last months, he told various interviewers he had no regrets, expressing particular gratitude that he had quit drinking in time to watch daughter Ariel and son Jordan grow up.

"I got to be the most (expletive deleted) rock star on the block, at least on my block," he once said. "And then I got to be a sober dad for 18 years. I've had two very full lives."

His family had noted that he lived far longer than was expected at the time of his diagnosis, long enough to enjoy twin grandsons born to Ariel.

Warren Zevon is a bit of a personal hero to me. As he said, he lived a hell of a life and had no regrets about doing so. He had scathing wit and wry humor. He was an intelligent songwriter through eras of big hair and mindless angst.

But he was not all party. Indeed, as recently as a couple years ago he attended a Free Lisl rally in Denver, as seen in the picture above. (Those of you who don't know who Lisl Auman is should click here.)

It's hard for me to say what my favorite Warren Zevon song is. "Excitable boy", "Werewolves of London" and "Roland the headless Thompson gunner" are all great. It is in "Werewolves of London" that we find the singles-bar werewolf who is particular about his hair:

He's the hairy-handed gent who ran amuck in Kent.
Lately he's been overheard in Mayfair.
Better stay away from him...
He'll rip your lungs out, Jim!
Heh, I'd like to meet his tailor.
I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's...
His hair was perfect!

Also among my favorite Zevon songs of all time is "Play It All Night Long", a heart-wrenching critique of life in the deep south.

Grandpa pissed his pants again
He don't give a damn
Brother Billy has both guns drawn
He ain't been right since Vietnam

"Sweet home Alabama"
Play that dead band's song
Turn those speakers up full blast
Play it all night long

Daddy's doing Sister Sally
Grandma's dying of cancer now
The cattle all have brucellosis
We'll get through somehow

"Sweet home Alabama"
Play that dead band's song
Turn those speakers up full blast
Play it all night long

And I rather like "I'll sleep when I'm dead" too...

I've got a .38 Special up on the shelf.
I'll sleep when I'm dead!
If I start acting stupid,
then I'll shoot myself.
And then I'll sleep when I'm dead!

And lastly, let's not forget "Ain't that pretty at all."

Well, I've seen all there is to see!
And I've heard all they have to say!
I've done everything I wanted to do.
I've done that too!
And it ain't that pretty at all!
Ain't that pretty at all...
So I'm going to hurl myself against the wall!
Cause I'd rather feel bad... than not feel anything at all.

Zevon's style and wit, as well as his utterly down to earth temperment, is shown nowhere better than in the quote he gave about a year ago, when he announced that his doctor had told him he had inoperable, terminal cancer:

"I’m okay with it," he said, "but it’ll be a drag if I don’t make it till the next James Bond movie comes out."

Hehe. I like to think that Warren managed to catch Die Another Day at least two or three times before the reaper took him. :]

Godspeed, Warren. You will be sorely missed.
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