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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2003/09/08
by Mike Gruenberg

Warren Zevon

[Editor’s note: Warren Zevon passed away this past Sunday, September 7, at age 56.]
Some people live their life in an anonymous fashion. They really don’t contribute much to the society nor do they leave much of an impression on others. That is not to say that we all have to be famous celebrities to make our mark on the world, but it does mean that while we are on this earth, we should do something to distinguish ourselves before our time is up. There is thin line between living life to the maximum and crossing into the abyss of overindulgence. While I am not advocating a life of excess, it is important to understand one’s limitation while still getting the most out of every day while we are on this earth. After all, we do need to leave something of ourselves behind for other to remember us by.
The thought of leaving a legacy came to mind with all the recent losses of some giants in the field of music. Among those who are no longer among us are Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll who gave us Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison to name just a few. We lost Barry White; the velvet voiced singer who gave us the Love Unlimited Orchestra. In the R&B world, singer/songwriter, Hank Ballard, who wrote such tunes as "The Twist" and "Finger Poppin’ Time" has passed on. We have also lost record producer, Mickie Most, who produced Donovan, The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck and many of the rockers we came to know during the 60’s British Invasion. We were all saddened to hear that we lost June Carter Cash, the beloved wife of Johnny Cash. She regularly performed with her husband and was a co-writer of the hit, "Ring of Fire" which helped make Johnny the great star he is today. And most recently, cancer has claimed the life of Warren Zevon.
Zevon was free spirited musician who burst upon the music scene in 1969 with the album, "Wanted-Dead or Alive." Since the album garnered poor reviews, he went to work as a writer of commercial jingles finding notoriety in his work for Gallo Wines and the Chevrolet Camaro. Since he was not really cut out to work in the advertising business, he became the pianist for the Everly Brothers. Unfortunately, their act broke and Warren would up working individually for each brother on their solo albums.
Warrens’ big break came in 1976 when Linda Ronstadt covered his tune, "Hasten Down the Wind." She went on to record "Carmelita" and "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" in 1978. At the time, he was living in Spain. His friend, Jackson Browne got him a record deal and persuaded Warren to come back to the U.S. Upon Warren’s arrival back in the States, Browne produced the next Zevon album to critical acclaim.
In 1978, Warren released "Werewolves in London" which became a huge hit for him. At the same time, Warren fully embraced the life style of a successful song writer and rock star. Plunging into a life of alcoholism and substance abuse, Warren would be absent from the world of rock for two years while he battled his demons. He returned in 1980 fully clean and sober. Warren Zevon was one of those guys whose lyrics always made you think. He always reminded me of an intellectual person who could clearly relate his thoughts to all types of people. He was witty and yet not overbearing. He was not a great singer or musician, but his whole package was very appealing. Outside of "Werewolves" he never sold millions of albums. And yet, other musicians regularly recorded his songs and his cadre of loyal fans would show up to his concerts and have a great time. He was able to connect with his audience.
I am always amused when young people speak of the heroes of their lives. They inevitably pick famous athletes or rock stars as their role models. To me, I think we are missing the true essence of what is a hero. Because you can write a song, play a guitar or hit a ball should not be the determining factor for being a hero. Up until now, I always felt that a true hero should be someone that you know or would like to know. For example, a neighborhood dad who is working two jobs to put meals on the table and roof over the heads of his family to me is a hero. A single mom raising her family is hero. A person who freely donates time to help the less fortunate is a hero. A person who overcomes great odds to achieve success qualifies for hero status.
As cancer ravaged Warren Zevon’s body, he continued to write and perform. He was told that the cancer would take his life and that his time on earth was limited. Although he was scared, he continued to be a great dad to his kids. He continued to write music and he never lost his sense of humor. People like Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Ry Cooder came out and played on Warren’s last album. They came to honor the man and pay their respects to him in songs, music and friendship. . Through the pain and uncertainty, he displayed heroics, guts and humor. In spite of his impending death, he lived each day to the fullest.
As a kid growing up in Queens, my heroes were the baseball players of the day. In my adult years, the ball players and rock stars that were my heroes were moved down a notch because my heroes became my parents and all the people who endured the holocaust. Although my parents are still my heroes, I think I will have to add Warren in there somewhere. After all, he was the guy who wrote, "Werewolves in London" achieved inner peace in spite of his impending death and who also said the profound phrase "enjoy every sandwich" in reference to living each day to the fullest.

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