I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in.”— Warren Zevon (1947-2003), “Mr. Bad Example,” from the CD Mr. Bad Example (1991)
When he passed away from lung cancer at age 56, singer-songwriter Warren Zevon—born 70 years ago today in Chicago —had already lived well past what many thought would be his expiration date. He lived a life on the edge, including a thirst for alcohol that can only be described as ferocious.
He also wrote and played songs like nobody else on the rock scene at his zenith in the Seventies and Eighties, peopled with characters like himself, and filled with dark, biting humor, hooks you couldn’t get out of your mind, and lyrics impossible to forget. His songs, sung by himself or interpreters like Linda Ronstadt, formed a distinct niche in the classic rock pantheon of my teens and early twenties: “Werewolves of London,” “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Mohammed’s Radio.”
In middle age, when his substance abuse and falling album sales pushed him to the sidelines of a new generation’s musical consciousness, David Letterman had this great talent and troubled soul appear often on his talk show. It was in one of those late-night appearances, as the only guest for the hour, when he disclosed to fans his inoperable cancer, and offered homely but important advice that was helping him through his ordeal: “Enjoy every sandwich.”