Warren Zevon: The Wind

David Pyndus

The Wind is the most unusual of gifts, in this case a final album from a very twisted songwriter, a collection recorded after receiving the most dreadful news, that his life could be over in a few months.

Warren Zevon

The Wind

Label: Artemis
US Release Date: 2003-08-26
UK Release Date: Available as import
I don't want your pity
or your fifty-dollar words;
I don't share your need to discuss the absurd
-- "Rub Me Raw"

No one could fault Warren Zevon if, in his fierce resolve to record one last album, he sang nothing but overwrought tunes bemoaning the hand of fate. But one year after learning of his inoperable cancer, The Wind arrives to blow away the dog days of summer with life-affirming songs that are more thoughtful than sad, more philosophical than resigned, and more uplifting than one would think possible.

Not surprisingly, Zevon sings the blues with the urgency of a man standing at the gallows but his humor is so intact, and biting as ever, that it's hard not to celebrate The Wind for what it is: a song autobiography inspiring as much laughter as tears despite an unflinchingly bleak situation. As determined as any of the mercenary outlaws he's championed, Zevon has bravely crafted a rock 'n' roll testament to living -- and dying with dignity -- with his twelfth studio album (this is the man who called his low-key 2001 comeback Life'll Kill Ya).

Zevon is joined by longtime collaborator/bassist Jorge Calderón (co-author of past epics "Jungle Work" and "Mr. Bad Example"), who helped write many of the new songs, and the album is buoyed by a revolving door of admirers from rock and country who joined the sessions as much to work with a great musician as to say goodbye. Like the rest of his oeuvre, Zevon balances the rockers with the ballads, but his down and dirty blues -- only hinted at when he recorded with the Hindu Love Gods more than a decade ago -- have never sounded nastier or more immediate. Listening to "Rub Me Raw", a gonzo blues propelled by Joe Walsh's searing "Rocky Mountain Way"-like guitar, is akin to watching a man fight death with so much grim determination that Zevon's terminal illness seems a bad joke.

Zevon does sound serious on the dark and brooding "Prison Grove", which initially comes off as a standard chain gang lament, until one pauses to realize it's being sung by a dying man acutely aware of his situation. Philosophically it recalls his early classic tale of L.A. ennui "Desperados under the Eaves", where he notes, "Except in dreams / You're never really free".

But there is casual beauty here too, most fully realized in his love songs, especially the Spanish ballad "El Amor de mi Vida", a piano-backed poem to a lost lover who's found happiness with another. In the album's most strident rocker, "Disorder in the House", prominently featuring Bruce Springsteen on guitar and vocals, Zevon seems to intone "ending it in style" (the playing is so raucous it's hard to tell what is spoken) as the song winds down with screeching, careening electric playing that outdoes the more stately leads Springsteen usually records.

Mercifully Zevon's macabre punch line comes early on, with his off-the-cuff introduction to "Numb as a Statue": "Let's do another bad one, 'cause I like it when the blood drains from Dave's face". He refers to another longtime partner, guitarist David Lindley, whose anthemic work highlights the soul-baring song, which has Zevon singing a line like "I'm pale as a ghost" without a trace of irony.

Ry Cooder's sinuous slide begins the lone cover on the album, a wry take on "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" that encapsulates Zevon's fascination with Western imagery, his admiration of Dylan, and a highly personal statement in one tender swoop. A backing gospel chorus including Jackson Browne, Billy Bob Thornton, Calderón, and others harmonizes to lift the song skyward, but Zevon can't help but play the smartass, verily demanding that The Door open up -- "for me".

So The Wind is the most unusual of gifts, in this case a final album from a very twisted songwriter, a collection recorded after receiving the most dreadful news, that his life could be over in a few months. That the three-month sentence turned out to be quite inaccurate enabled this personal bookend to a storied career and allows Zevon to take that ride he's been singing about for so long with uncommon grace.






Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.


Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.


Titan to Tachyons' Experimental Heaviness on Full Display via "Earth, And Squidless" (premiere)

Featuring current members of Imperial Triumphant, Titan to Tachyons break incredible new ground in the realm of heavy music.


Jerry Leger Teams with Moby Grape's Don Stevenson for "Halfway 'Til Gone" (premiere)

Reminiscent of Lee Hazlewood and the Everly Brothers, Jerry Leger's "Halfway 'Til Gone" is available on all streaming platforms on 6 August.


The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.