Remembering the ‘Excitable Boy,’ Warren Zevon

Yesterday would have been the 67th birthday of  singer/songwriter Warren Zevon, one of my favorite musicians. He passed away on Sept. 7, 2003, at the age of 56, a victim of cancer of the abdominal lining. You hear it said a lot that certain people “died too young”; well, Zevon was one of those people.

In this terrific clip from Sept. 8, 2003, David Letterman and Paul Schaefer announced the passing of their good friend Zevon, who had appeared on Letterman’s various shows for over 20 years. This clip includes Zevon performing an absolutely heartbreaking rendition of “The Mutineer” on the Oct. 30, 2002, LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, which was devoted entirely to Zevon.



Letterman and Zevon got to be actual buddies; their friendship wasn’t Hollywood bullshit, as you can tell from the real pain in Dave’s voice. Zevon appeared regularly on the show and Zevon called Dave the best friend his music ever had.

Zevon was incredibly gifted when it came to writing catchy tunes with lively hooks, but to me it was his particularly vivid lyrics that really sold the songs. I liked that he used his talents to write songs about unusual topics — think: “Werewolves of London” or “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” — that were actually great tunes, not mere novelty numbers. His songs were packed with wry humor, black comedy and bizarre points of vide — but he even managed to sneak in some social conscience if you weren’t paying attention. “Detox Mansion,” “Mr. Bad Example” and “Excitable Boy” demonstrated his range of darkly comic tunes, making fun of celebrity rehab, con men and… er, a psychopathic killer. His “Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead” was pinched for a movie title.

Zevon was an amazing talent, admired by and a friend to so many others, like Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Brown, Don Henley, Emmylou Harris and Tom Petty (to name just a few).

During that final LATE SHOW appearance, Zevon discussed his illness, and when asked if he had any special insight into life now that he was standing at death’s door, with typical dark wit Zevon replied: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

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