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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Seeing Warren Zevon perform was one of my happiest musical memories

By Ted Slowik

I've seen many great rock bands in concert over the years: Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and many others. The only time I was in the front row was when I saw Frank Zappa and Jerry Garcia on a double-bill at the UIC Pavilion on Aug. 18, 1984.

One of the more memorable concerts I attended was seeing Warren Zevon perform at the Holiday Star Theater in Merrilville, Ind. on Dec. 21, 1990.

I've always been a big Warren Zevon fan. Years ago I just dug his sound, the classic southern California hard rock production with members of the Eagles singing backing vocals on a number of songs and thick bass and drums and screaming guitars and intricate keyboard parts.

But over the years I began to appreciate Warren's songwriting. Besides his quirky recognizable hits "Werewolves of London" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money," Warren could write some truly beautiful songs, like "Searching For a Heart." After I read the posthumous biography, "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon" by his ex-wife Crystal, I gained a deeper appreciation for Warren's artistic sensibilities.

He certainly was capable of composing and recording music that would have been more commercial, sold more records and been played more often on the radio. But Warren struck me as the type of artist who wouldn't compromise his integrity. Nowadays I regard him as one of the most influential songwriters of all time.

Warren had a great sense of humor, but could seem a bit morbid at times. He certainly was aware of human mortality. With albums titles like "Life'll Kill Ya" and "My Ride's Here," he almost ironically foretold his premature demise in 2003 at age 56.

I only saw him once in concert, at Christmastime 1990. I went with a small group of friends to the Holiday Star Theater to see him. He had a full band. I remember it was incredibly loud. Our seats were in the fourth row, off to the side a bit. He opened by playing electric guitar on "Lawyers, Guns and Money."

When the band struck the opening chords, I jumped up our of my seat and did a big fist pump in the air. Warren turned and looked right at me. I was one of maybe four or five people standing up in the entire theater, like lone trees dotting a prairie landscape. He gazed at me for maybe only a few seconds, and before long I sat down, since it wasn't going to be the kind of show people stood for. But I think Warren appreciated that a few of us stood up and cheered his opener.

Warren loved writers, and befriended authors like Stephen King, Dave Barry and others who played in a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders. He became friends with "Tuesdays With Maurie" author Mitch Albom, and in 2002 they co-wrote the hockey song "Hit Somebody."

I never had the chance to meet Warren but I did meet Mitch during an author tour last year. He was friendly, funny and very down-to-earth. When I introduced myself the first thing he asked was if I'd seen the Seth MacFarlane movie "Ted," and when I said yes he said, "Oh, the things that came out of that teddy bear's mouth."

I knew then that Mitch was a good guy, just like I imagine Warren would be.