Why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs Warren Zevon
In life, there is a difference between fame and impact. At least, there should be. One does not always need to be insanely famous to make a mark, and often impacts on lives are made well behind the scenes or without the attendant ballyhoo of great fame.
Impact, in many ways, becomes inspiration. Inspiration thus becomes a marker that lasts generations, instead of how fame sometimes lasts little more than fleeting instants.
With all the talk about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2021, it sparked some paying attention on my part to the music mixes I listen to every morning when walking the fuzzy kids. For me, those are the moments of calm and, sure, even inspiration.
Certain songs keep coming up in the various mixes, and this one has been running thru my head ever since this morning’s foray.
Warren Zevon knew he was dying when he recorded “The Wind”, his final studio album. In light of what he knew the road before him would bring, the first few words of this song are incredibly moving, powerful and meaningful.
“Shadows are falling, and I’m running out of breath.”
“Keep me in your heart for awhile”.
It was released two weeks before his death in 2003.
It is unfathomable to someone of my age and love of music that this genius has been gone for almost 18 years. I recall the fun of “Werewolves of London”, the quirky lyrics of “Excitable Boy”, the pounding madness behind “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and so many more.
I mean, is there any other great rocker who could write such an excellent line as “Buddy’s real talent was beating people up” in a brilliant homage to hockey? “Hit Somebody” remains one of the single finest tunes ever written about any sport. While it doesn’t have the habit forming toe-tapping of “Centerfield” from John Fogerty, anyone who can put the words “biscuit in the basket” into song is a Hall of Famer for me.
Certainly there are those with their own agendas and opinions regarding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, most of which have at least some merit. However, Zevon deserves much better than someone who “only” (say the critics), had one breakout album and one Top 40 single.
It’s that need for “white hot light” fame that leads many away from what is truly important in words and, in this case, music.
The desire to inspire.
Halls of Fame are there to sell tickets and start arguments, really little more. Far too often notable moments in the lives of those who either came and went too fast, or those who never surrendered the passion to write and perform, are lost because they never had great commercial success or didn’t chart in record numbers.
Zevon’s fame is already well documented in the fact his music has lived and aged exceptionally well. I could say that about one other performer, Jim Croce, but that’s a tale for another day.
His hard drinking and drugging took a mighty toll and led to the imbalance of his work, to be certain. There remains, though, on every single album, those moments of brilliance that set him apart from everyone else. Of course, those same stuffy critics would be the last to acknowledge that the Hall of Fame and other places of worship are filled to the brim with artists who had the same 1 or 2 singles that were “popular” from a litany of albums, with the remainder of the effort filled with throwaways. The shame is Zevon didn’t really care much about the popularity. He poured his troubled soul and damaged life into his music.
I often have these debates with friends over sports, about Halls of Fame and what truly qualifies someone to have their place in history. Certainly, there are those who didn’t need anyone else to judge their greatness. However, in most cases, there are those who demand a closer look to go beyond the superficial.
Did Warren Zevon change the course of mighty musical rivers? Perhaps. He most certainly did, and to this day continues, to inspire songwriters and musicians. As in the case of so many deserving greats, echos of his music can be heard in plenty of current artists.
It’s in the music listener, the casual individual who rambles thru an ITunes library, who seeks out certain cuts on the myriad of musical platforms, that is the true gauge of the inspiration which transcends mere fame.
There are plenty of greats out there who when I hear their overplayed “hits”, I will hit the “skip” command because I’ve heard the same thing so many times over.
Warren Zevon? Never a skip. Always a selection. Because I find something new in his lyrics every time. I conjure up moments that fit every word and phrase. I drink it all in and smile, harkening back to the first time I heard it, or listening intently to deeper tracks from his albums I’m only now discovering.
That, is the mark of a legend.
“Hold me in your thoughts. Take me in your dreams. Touch me as I’m falling from view”.
“When the winter comes, keep the fires lit. And I will be right next to you”.
All glory is indeed fleeting. Fame should never be the primary reason one is remembered. It should always be their impact on the world, those around them, and those they sought to touch.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs Warren Zevon more than he needed them. They need him, and others like him, to prove there is more to life than charting in the Top-40.
Whether in music, or everyday life, inspiring those who hear those words, see those actions, feel the passion behind it all, should always mean more than simple fame.
Because this, unlike all the glitz and glamor, comes from the heart.
It inspires, and will continue to do so, long after we are gone. If rock and roll was truly created out of a desire to inspire, does Warren Zevon not strike every chord?
That, is more important than fame.