- 26 Aug 20
17 years ago today, legendary singer-songwriter Warren Zevon released his final album, The Wind. The project was recorded shortly after Zevon was diagnosed with an inoperable form of lung cancer, and he died just two weeks after its release. To mark the anniversary of the classic album, we're revisiting our original 2003 review.
Warren Zevon is dead, and The Wind is his last will and testament. Certain of us might’ve expected the old pugilist to weigh in with one last sardonic comment on life and how to live it out: something along the lines of Life’ll Kill Ya, the brilliant album from three years ago that chillingly predicted the body’s decay on songs like the title tune and ‘My Shit’s Fucked Up’.
But no, he’s opted for a simple image as old as the world. Is that Shelley’s west wind? Or the lonesome old wind invoked by everyone from Hank Williams to William Shakespeare? Or the death wind Ezra Pound evoked in Canto CXX as his own life hastened towards its end: “I have tried to write Paradise/Do not move/Let the wind speak/That is paradise.”
Either way, Warren gets right down to the knuckle in his opening statement of, “Some days I feel like my shadow’s casting me/Some days the sun don’t shine” (‘My Dirty Life And Times’). That’s the template for the rest of this blunt, ragged and unflinching record, a record in which his son Jordan and old friends like Jorge Calderon, Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, David Lindley, Ry Cooder, Jim Keltner, T-Bone Burnett, Tom Petty, plus non-musical consultants such as Carl Hiaasen and Hunter S., show up to pay respects and do some work around the place.
The conversation stopper is of course a choked up take on Bob’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, with Zevon crying out “Open up, open up, open up” against Randy Mitchell’s slide in a way that’d raise gooseflesh on a stone. But this being a Warren record, there’s also plenty of teeth-gnashing. “Let’s do another bad one then, ’cos I like it when the blood drains from Daaaaave’s faaace,” he drawls before the tin man deposition of ‘Numb As A Statue’.
Taken out of context, the eat-drink-tomorrow-we-die cast of tunes like ‘Rub Me Raw’ and ‘The Rest Of The Night’ would be an old rocker’s hot air; here they’re a chill draught up your back. Ultimately though, it’s the pleading vulnerability of the vocals on ‘El Amor de Mi Vida’, ‘Please Stay’ and ‘Keep Me In Your Heart’ that are hardest to stare in the face but even harder to turn away from.
If you’re a fan, and I am, there’s no impartial way to hear this record. Like Burroughs’ Last Words or Joseph Roth’s Legend Of The Holy Drinker, it’s the final say of a voice that is cracked and ironic and, against all its protestations, wise. The Wind speaks for him and for us all.