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Dust in the Wind

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Warren Zevon: The Wind

Artemis, 2003

Rating: 4.3

 

 

Posted: September 07, 2003

By Christopher Roberts

In a time when the words "musical genius" are thrown around with reckless abandon, Warren Zevon is now and will be remembered as an artist who carved out his own path and did his own thing unaffected by what was "hot" and what was "not" at any given time. What can you say about a man whose songs titles include "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," "Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School," "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," and "Mr. Bad Example?" Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given only a short time to live, Zevon immediately began work on what presumably will be his last album, The Wind. On it, he gets some all-star help from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yokam, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and many others who come to pay their respects to a one-of-a-kind songwriter. The end result is a first-class effort that will not disappoint die-hard Zevon fans. But it's not just for the faithful: First-time listeners will certainly pick up The Wind out of curiosity, and there's no doubt that they will discover what they have long been missing.

It's impossible to listen to The Wind with total objectivity, to be unaffected by Zevon's story. But it's not merely sympathy that makes the album effective. It's a heartfelt and melodic masterpiece in its own right, conveying a myriad of moods and emotions. Zevon has always written and sung about the looming specter of death and the absurdity of life, which is why The Wind works as both a natural progression and as an affecting goodbye, without seeming self-righteous or indulgent. The narrator of "She's Too Good for Me" sets aside his own desires so that the object of his affection might be "Everything she couldn't be with me." On "Dirty Life And Times," he asks, "Who'll lay me out and ease my worried mind / while I'm winding down my dirty life and times?"

"Disorder in the House" is an upbeat examination of the material world falling down around us and the illusory notion of order. Chaos, Zevon suggests, is the natural state of things, as symbolized by a wonderful image of "Zombies on the lawn staggering around." And his visitation of Bob Dylan's weary classic "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" compels the listener to pause and reflect on the appropriateness of the metaphor but also on the irony: Unlike Dylan's narrator, Zevon isn't regretfully sliding into that good night; he's making his cold, final peace with life before he goes.

One can't listen to The Wind without hearing a man who has learned some lessons, been proud of some of the things he's done, and learned a lot from his mistakes. And it is Zevon's ability to package these universal themes into gritty, guitar-driven songs that make them connect with the listener. There's something here that rings true with just about everyone, from the encroachment of chaos to lost love, to considering one's own all-too-brief time on Earth. The Wind's closing number, "Keep Me in Your Heart," is without doubt the most personal of Zevon's offerings. It is his goodbye, the way he wants to be remembered. Quite honestly, as previously mentioned, objectivity is damn near impossible when a man facing the certainty of his own death sings about a time when he will be dead and gone. Leave it to Warren Zevon though, to do it as perhaps no one else could: "Shadows are falling, and I'm running out of breath / Keep me in you heart for awhile / If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less / Keep me in your heart for awhile. Engine driver's headed north to Pleasant Stream / Keep me in your heart for awhile / These wheels keep turning but they're running out of steam / Keep me in your heart for awhile."

If The Wind is to be Zevon's legacy, it's a carefully conceived, well-crafted and moving one, sure to be appreciated by all who can see more than what's in front of them, and can hear just as well with their heart as with their ears.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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