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  • Warren Zevon, The Wind

    The Music Box's #7 album for 2003

    T.J. Simon's #14 album for 2003

    First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10 '

    Written by John Metzger, Tue September 9, 2003, 12:00 AM CST

    A little more than a year ago, Warren Zevon was diagnosed with an untreatable form of lung cancer and was told that he had three months left to live. As friends, family, and fans gathered around him, Zevon mustered the strength to make an emotional appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman as well as begin work on what was his final album. He survived long enough to see both the birth of his grandchildren as well the release his epitaph The Wind — a final hurrah that ranks among the singer's finest recordings — before succumbing to his disease on Sunday, September 7 at the age of 56.

    Throughout his career, Zevon has written frequently about death with a mixture of candor and wit, and his songs always have been sprinkled with more than just a touch of personal reflection. However, with the 2000 release Life'll Kill Ya and the subsequent My Ride's Here, his lyrics began to take on an entirely new dimension, one that now seems hauntingly prescient given his dire circumstances. As one might expect, The Wind continues Zevon's introspective journey, offering a final chapter in the trilogy that his last outings seem to form. It's a fitting conclusion to a masterful body of work as well as a highly emotional affair that binds uncertainty, fear, defiance, and acceptance with warm humor and loving grace.

    With a little help from an all-star cast that includes Bruce Springsteen, Joe Walsh, and David Lindley, Zevon kicks up quite a ruckus, grinding his way through the raucous reverberations of Disorder in the House, Numb as a Statue, and Rub Me Raw. However, it's the quieter moments on The Wind that hit the hardest. On Prison Grove, Zevon hauntingly captures a final walk down death row, using it as a metaphor for his own march into the unknown. His vocals on Please Stay are full of naked vulnerability, lifted up by the inimitable Emmylou Harris' melancholic murmurings only to float off into the ether with gentle fragility. As for a cover of Bob Dylan's Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Zevon turns it into something personal — a raw, soul-stirring epic on which he captures the stinging realization that his life is about to come to an end. "Open up, open up, open up, open up, open up for me," he pleads while Randy Mitchell's biting slide guitar intensely underscores the brave face Zevon wears in his final moments.

    Indeed, The Wind is an astounding effort, one that never strays from the artistic vision to which Zevon has clung since his blockbuster, major-label debut in 1976. Like his previous outings, it has its share of dark humor, but this time Zevon bears so much more of himself that the feelings can be overwhelming and all-consuming. As his sings to his girlfriend on Keep Me in Your Heart, Zevon says goodbye, offering a touch of sorrow as well as a gentle caress. As the song concludes, one is left sitting in the empty silence that follows, reflecting upon the life and career of a gifted songwriter and storyteller. Even if he had not penned such extraordinary tunes as Desperados under the Eaves, Accidentally Like a Martyr, and Mohammed's Radio, Zevon would be remembered for The Wind. It's unquestionably a classic, one that never wallows in self-pity. Instead, it stares directly at the fate of all human existence and finds the courage to meet it head-on. 4 stars.