ENJOY EVERY SANDWICH

You’ve lived the rock and roll lifestyle and it’s taken a toll. 

Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given three months to live, you decide to make an album, to soundtrack your own wake. 

A last musical hurrah.

Comrades heed the call.

The last call. 

August 2002

For Warren Zevon it is The Wind.

Jorge Calderón co-writes a number of songs. They are good solid songs in the Zevon tradition of wit, pith and spit. Yet even though the spirit still burns there’s not a lot of fire in the grate.

Backing vocals are important on this one. 

Filling out the sound. Strengthening the connection.

Friends gather ‘round the microphone.

Jackson Browne

Billy Bob Thornton

Emmylou Harris

Don Henley

Timothy B Schmitt

Dwight Yoakam

Jim Keltner provides rock solid drumming, whether a rave up or a loss-fuelled ballad.

Six string assistance comes from some of the best in the business: Joe Walsh, Ry Cooder, David Lindley.

With every passing week, Zevon looks more tired, more haggard. He clings to a fine line in gallows humour and to his music.

Although it costs a lot in energy and precious time, he says ‘Yes’ to David Letterman’s invitation to appear on the famous late night television program.

Letterman is a fan. He devotes most of the program to Zevon, who observes, with gratitude and wonder, “David has been the best friend my music has had.”

They talk, sensitively but openly about the illness and its inevitable outcome. The audience—normally noisey and involved—sit quietly, holding their collective breath. They are witnessing something intimate, rare. And despite the humour, raw.

Letterman: Do you know something about life and death that I don’t know?

Zevon: Enjoy every sandwich.

Zevon’s songs are veined with mortality; like he and death were acquaintances long before the final invitation arrived.

There was the album Life’ll Kill Ya.

Songs like “Sleep When I’m Dead” and “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”.

Lyrics spiked with violence and despair.

“Well I laid my head on the railway tracks, waiting on the Double E” (Poor, Poor Pitiful Me)

“You better stay away from him; He’ll rip your lungs out, Jim” (Werewolves of London)

Listening to The Wind, it almost seems Zevon’s wild and reckless life was all preparation for this final salvo.

Webster was much possessed by death. And saw the skull beneath the skin [T.S. Eliot]

Opening with a straight mid-tempo country-rock song gives a slightly skewed perspective on the album as a whole. Unless, of course, you listen to the words of “Dirty Life And Times”.

Some days I feel like my shadow’s casting me

Some days the sun don’t shine.

Did that read ‘straight’? Huh. Not in Warren Zevon’s world. You can hear these songs as simply songs, or you can tune in to the awareness of corruptible flesh that permeates every line.

Gets a little lonely, folks, you know what I mean

I’m looking for a woman with low self-esteem

To lay me out and ease my worried mind

While I’m winding down my dirty life and times.

For those a little slow on the uptake, there’s a cover of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” that somehow manages to be both ironic and scared. “Numb As A Statue” and “She’s Too Good For Me” contrast raging against the dying of the light with a rare moment of self-pity. Yet if you are on this journey with Warren, you’re more likely to feel moved than judgemental.

“Prison Grove” is one of the big numbers. A spare, swampy groove delivers a lyric that could be about a felon, or a body imprisoned by disease. The male chorus, sombre and spiritual, sing a unison lament. Ry Cooder quietly wails.

Every song on The Wind deserves a response. Sometimes there is not enough time. 

But here is one more story.

As time passed, it literally became a race against death to complete the album. The artist had long passed his predicted use-by date. 

A gaunt Zevon sits with Jorge Calderón in the booth. The collaborator hands the singer a page. Have a go at singing the lyrics. “What?” says Zevon, aghast. “All of them?”. He’s not joking. After trying, and failing, Calderón suggests they postpone another attempt until tomorrow. You’ll be fresh. 

“Jorge,” says Warren, “I’m dying. I have no fresh. Fresh is not in my vocabulary.”

Then this diary entry (from the VH1 doco):

The ‘he’ is old friend Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen brings a jolt of positive energy. They tackle “Disorder In The House” again. It is ragged, triumphant, chaotic, inspiring. It is hilarious and heart-breaking. 

Springsteen’s plugs directly into the desk for his solo. Zevon is sitting next to him. Listened to in isolation, you might say it’s disjointed and frayed. In the context of this song, this album, this farewell, it is absolutely fucking kick-arse brilliant. A crazy twenty-one gun salute to a friend, honouring him not for his grace and courage and humour, but for his wayward lawlessness and his passion.

The final song on the album, “Keep Me In Your Heart”, is a touching epilogue. But for this rocket-propelled grenade of a musician, dial back to “Disorder In The House” and remember him this way.

The documentary VH1 (INSIDE)OUT: WARREN ZEVON is highly recommended, as is the David Letterman Show.

The use of stills from these programs to enhance the album review is gratefully acknowledged.

 

28 comments

  1. Good review! Warren Zevon had the same vintage as Elton John and might have been just as good, but remained an insider tip.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you reckon Zevon craved the mainstream, HF? I get the impression he was pretty happy with his ‘outsider’ status. Still, a great talent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, I don’t think so! But shortly after his death, Warren Zevon was heaped with praise by the music critics, as if they had plagued the guilty conscience that they had largely ignored this great artist for decades.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I suspect you are on target with that comment, HF. He is certainly one of those artists who rewards greater attention (which he rarely received in the wider music community). However the roster of guests on The Wind attests to the respect he was held in by musicians.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Really loved this, Bruce – The Wind, and Prison Grove especially (on the Uncut cover mount CD at the time) was my introduction to Zevon. I wasn’t aware of the documentary or Zevon heavy Letterman show, so I’ll need to look out for them.

    He was a helluva songwriter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you liked it, J. Reckon you’d enjoy both shows. The doco is particularly well done.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The one time I saw Zevon, he was much like the Boss. He jumped all over the stage, climbed the amp and even threw himself against them. In my mind, his greatest moment is a cover of Prince’s Raspberry Beret he performed. I think I might have dreamed the whole thing. I went looking for it for my Prince-Tribute spin class when Prince died and I could find it. Am I making this up?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, love a mystery. Though I can’t help with things Princely, I’m afraid.
      As for Zevon, I’d always heard he put on a great show.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Nice post Bruce – I’ll have to see that Letterman video especially.
    A friend of mine has the Zevon line you shared above, “Enjoy every sandwich,” as his email sign-off, it’s good advice!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Geoff. It is good advice, I agree. Although we might also say, ‘Enjoy every CD’!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t think it’s sentimentality, to appreciate the gravitas some artists gain at the end of their lives. I haven’t seen/heard all their catalog, but wouldn’t really claim to be a total fan of either John Wayne, or Johnny Cash – – but “The Shootist” and “Rusty Cage” are outstanding and memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A dignified end to a great life, if you ignore his many fuck ups (which he acknowledged). Can I add a song for consideration? My Shit’s Fucked Up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fl0ahDKR0QU

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. Thanks for the link Paul. It’s a ripper.
      – Bruce

      Like

  7. I’ve heard this one a little – most of my Zevon listening time is usually on the self titled and Excitable Boy. Didn’t realise the degree of star power on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Impressive, isn’t it? Not that the contributions are ever more than subtle (other than Springsteen’s wonderful turn and perhaps Joe Walsh’s guitar).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You put the ‘ol lump in my throat on this one, Bruce. I watched that Letterman episode the same night it aired. Letterman loved Zevon, and it was a very special evening. What a great record…. Keep me in your heart indeed. Thanks for writing this; great memories. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Marty. I can well imagine that watching that Letterman ‘live’ would have been powerful. The grainy youtube version was moving enough! I really got drawn into this one and am very pleased it connected with your good self (and a few others too).
      – Bruce

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great review, “The Wind” is a beautiful but heartbreaking record to be sure. “Enjoy every sandwich” to be sure but as a reminder: See a doctor once a year and don’t let major health problems sneak up on you if possible.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. …especially if you are a middle aged bloke. Thank you for the reminder Doc Ouellette! And very glad you enjoyed the piece too.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I think his version of Heaven’s Door here is a total killer.

    Great post Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Midnight Toker · · Reply

    The covers/tribute album ‘Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon’, from 2004, gets a regular listening here. Starts with Don Henley’s lovely version of ‘Searching For A Heart’ and includes Springsteen live, shortly after Warren died, doing ‘My Ride’s Here’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha. Fascinating. Presumably the tribute producer knew the Letterman interview (which isn’t a long stretch, really!).
      There’s a lovely comment by Warren in the VH1 doco regarding the Boss. “Springsteen,” he says, “Is everything you hope he’ll be”. Not surprised to hear he performed a WZ song as tribute.

      Like

  12. You’ve had some real good posts Bruce but this is REAL GOOD! The look on Warren’s face when he was watching and listening to that other Bruce guy do some rock n roll on his guitar is everything you say it was. That other Bruce would make a good sideman if he ever needs a job. Good stuff fella.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks mate. As I worked on this I was drawn into the story (and the music). Concluded I’ve under-rated Warren Zevon (and perhaps BS!).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Warren has so much good material. It’s sneaky good. There is so much bs on BS that you have to wade through it to get to get to the core. It’s a wonder he’s hung onto himself. Good guy. Your writing on their encounter is some of the best stuff I’ve read on Bruce for years. You kind of caught his essence. Good work.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Appreciate it CB. 🙏

          Liked by 1 person

  13. I don’t know if this is what Jeff and you were on about with the”Beret” thing but it’s of an album ‘Hindu Love Gods’ that Zevon was a part of.

    Liked by 1 person

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