Jimmy Ibbotson: Warren Zevon: Howling away to the very end | AspenTimes.com

Jimmy Ibbotson: Warren Zevon: Howling away to the very end

It’s the last day of the tour and we are in our first of two hotel rooms. I wish that I were able to see Warren Zevon’s farewell concert on TV tonight. I just sat in the lobby and read what The New York Times had to say about the grace with which he is greeting his end. We are all meeting our ends.

Steve Goodman, who wrote “The City of New Orleans” and “A Colorado Christmas,” “knew” that he was dying of leukemia in six months. He held on and wrote great songs for 14 more years. I wish that I could have gotten to know Mr. Zevon. A lot of the guys in the neighborhood are pretty close to him. The sheriff brought him up to Jam Grass on Ajax three summers ago. They walked up from town to the perch where they put us tie-dyed hillbillies. It got your attention, walking up there. I drove.

But I remember being the pain in the ass that MCs always are when celebrities show up at concerts that they are hosting. “Come on, man! We’ll get Chris Thiele to play mandolin and Jerry Douglas to play Dobro! I’ll play bass and drums. Let’s do a kick-ass version of `Werewolves of London.'”

Maybe I was just too high on the scene to be cool. Sheriff Braudis made some excuse like “He has to do a show at the Paradise tonight. He doesn’t want to overextend himself.” I took it to mean, “If the rest of these guys are as red-eyed as you, we’re going off somewhere where he won’t be hounded into working with idiots.”

Every poet deals with love and death. But, Zevon wrote songs you could party to, with clear references to the world that his audience was sharing. Doc Thompson did it when he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle. Kerouac, too, had you hitting your own backbeats as you read his words.

But I guess Zevon has made a bit of a public prayer in the form of a final CD. The guy who was writing for the Times said that he did it with power and grace. Someone will have taped the show and I’ll get to learn a little about how one of the best is dealing with his imminent fate. I’m not doing as well.

I have a little rock ‘n’ roll band out on the road this summer, playing a lot of bluegrass. Nothing is current. One of the other singers and I wrote a new tune called “Safe Back Home, Praying for Me.” But he doesn’t want to play it, because he doesn’t want to be accused of cashing in on the war. If one of us were dying, which we probably are, he wouldn’t want to do a song about that, either. I wish that we were singing about what is happening to our country these days.

I don’t hate it on the road as much as I sometimes do. This is really my only shot these days. Three of us have been together since 1966. I got in during ’69. Our first gigs were at the Troubadour in Hollywood, Henley’s “Sad Cafe.” One of the Monkees ran the open mike on Mondays. Linda Ronstadt or the new bands that the guys from the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield were forming played there in a rotation that included our Dirt Band.

It was a good bar. Zevon has been there a lot. That is where politics were set to music. It was before punk and after folk rock. It was country rock, and guys like the Eagles and the Flying Burrito Brothers were waxing on the feathers of the Byrds and flying dangerously high in public. Zevon’s great album came out of the end of this era. It was like a school of music.

Jackson Browne was the editor of the school paper and Mike Nesmith ran the student store. Linda Ronstadt was the captain of the cheerleaders. Springsteen was the quarterback of the rival high school’s football team.

I was drum major in the marching band. I sat on the sidelines during the game and kept the crowd excited. They gave me a snare drum and a girlfriend. Zevon was the guy you saw in the smoking area who wrote great criticism of Jack London and Jack Kerouac, even though the spinster English teacher assigned Hawthorne and Beowolf. Zevon had been suspended and didn’t give a shit.

Now, maybe I’ll go sooner than my sister because I passed the pipe around. Mr. Zevon is dying sooner because he sacrificed his body to keep his mind supple and creative. We thought we would lose Steve long before he wrote “A Colorado Christmas.” Maybe Zevon will surprise us all and be around for years. Maybe falling on his knees in the shadow of the gallows has brought him a reprieve. His work will live, anyway. And kids can say “Maybe I want to live longer than he did. I don’t want to look back on a phase of my life when I smoked or drank too much and kicked my own ass.”

Our desperate lives were brightened singing “Ah-Oooh!” with him. We can sing, “Ah-Oooh!” as long as we can draw breath. There is a photo of Z in the Times this morning. I am going to throw it out.

I remember him clearly in Aspen. He looks good. He is pissed at me for being obnoxious. He is walking in Braudis’ shadow. He may have already known that he was sick. I may be sick. You may be sick. Hallelujah! Wasn’t I lucky to have been at the Troubadour in ’69 and the Aspen Inn Club in ’71? Aren’t we lucky to be here now?

Have mercy on our souls.

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