Death hasn’t visited much since taking the three dogs on his last sojourn. He's been busy out of state, Ferguson and sharing Ebola seems to be his current infatuations. I was worried a few years ago when my aunt got sick, but all he did was send a postcard. I was fearful when my Dad fell off the roof, but thankfully his appearance was again delayed. I’ve simply been blessed; I’ve attended more weddings than funerals, more christenings than wakes, and shared more joy than sorrow. Some people have to bury their best friends and both parents by the age of 23, a devastating circumstance. Reading about Nathan’s experience of losing his father-in-law, I know he felt emotions I can’t yet fathom. Not because I’m without a wife, but because that’s so close to home, the kind of passing that will leave hearts crumbled and a void that can’t be filled. I was hesitant to write about Death, but the moment I heard the topic, I got the itch to scribble about a song that affects me emotionally with every listen.
I knew he was dying from mesothelioma when the song was recorded, a terminal form of lung cancer. This was around 2002-2003, it's possible modern medicine has advanced, but back then, Warren Zevon was only given three months to live after his diagnosis. He was the eccentric rock-star type; he would visit his dentist instead of a doctor if he felt sick. Twenty years without a checkup, you’re bound to be dying from something. Instead of doing chemo, Warren decided to record one final album with the time he had left. Now imagine if Walter White decided to record a rap album instead of selling meth? Imagine the voice of a dying man without hope? Usually, music about death is told from the grieving perspective, the creative abstract, but what happens when you’re knocking on heaven’s door singing into a microphone?
It was a late night when I made the decision to give his finale album, The Wind, a listen. I was under the impression the saddest song would be "Keep Me in Your Heart," since I heard it before no tissue or Kleenex was pre-prepared. I later paid for this misjudgment. After the first two songs, I skipped down to "Please Stay," track number nine on the album, and I never left. It starts with these piano keys full of sorrow, and then comes his voice; a weak, frail, dying voice. His struggle to hit notes leaves me cringing. The lyrics are honest and vulnerable, but not specific. I think the general request makes it that much more daunting, which makes you question on your death bed, who will you be asking to stay until the end? A blaring saxophone enters at the bridge; it blows pure, bone-chilling melancholy. The powerful horn pushes the emotional rollercoaster off the track, it feels like Death just walked through the door, pipe in his mouth, saying, “Honey I’m home.”
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I cried for myself, my friends, my family, and every person who walks this earth with the same final destination. No matter race, religion, wealth or skin color, we’re all born with the same common curse, mortality. It touched my young and naïve self, the self that still believes I have all the time in the world. Hearing how Warren faced his end, I don’t know where he found the strength. To have an estimate on how much sand is left in the hour-glass and decide to be in the studio giving the world your dirty life and times. I can still hear Gil Bernal playing the saxophone, it played until the very end, after Warren’s voice fades, getting lower and lower until a tuneless final note. It reminds me of an EKG beeping until the flat line. I’ll hear that horn for the rest of my life; as I experience the death of love ones, strangers, and my children’s goldfish. It’s the Grim Reaper's ringtone, Death’s theme song, and the haunting horn of home calling, wherever that place might be.
“I better die quick so they’ll give me a Grammy nomination. It’s a damned hard way to make a living, having to die to get’em to know you’re alive.” – Warren Zevon.
(By @Yoh31, aka Malach HaMavet)