Biography by Jason Ankeny
One of the most acute and savagely satiric songwriters of his era, Warren Zevon was born in Chicago on January 24, 1947. His formative years were as colorful as the scenarios played out in his music: his father was a professional gambler, a lifestyle which forced the family to move frequently, and Zevon spent most of his formative years in California and Arizona. He learned to play piano, focusing primarily on classical material before a disintegrating home life led him into pop music, as well as a few run-ins with the law; after his parents divorced when he was 16 years old, Zevon hopped into the Corvette his father won in a card game and headed for New York to become a folk singer. His music found little response, however, and he returned to California, eventually releasing his first recordings as part of the duo Lyme & Cybelle. Session work followed before Zevon issued his solo debut Wanted Dead or Alive in 1969; the LP received a poor reception, and so he returned to session work and composed advertising jingles, and also served as the Everly Brothers' pianist before the duo's breakup. Following a 1974 sabbatical to Spain, Zevon returned to Los Angeles, where his longtime friend Jackson Browne had secured him a recording deal; with Browne in the producer's seat, Zevon cut a self-titled offering which was met with lavish critical praise upon its 1976 release. His 1978 follow-up Excitable Boy established him as a wholly unique talent, and earned a sizable hit with its wry single "Werewolves of London."
However, Zevon had fallen prey to alcoholism, and his personal demons sidelined him for the next two years; 1980s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School and 1981's live set Stand in the Fire marked his gradual return to form, and the promise of his early work was restored on 1982's brilliant release The Envoy. The album fared miserably on the charts, however, and Zevon again fell off the wagon. A long period of therapy and counseling followed before, newly sober and revitalized, he issued Sentimental Hygiene in 1987, recorded with backing assistance from members of R.E.M. (In 1990, another collection of material from the sessions featuring Zevon and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry was released under the name Hindu Love Gods.) He continued his comeback in 1989 with Transverse City, a concept record inspired by science fiction's cyberpunk movement, and 1991's Mr. Bad Example. In 1993, Zevon issued his second live album, Learning to Flinch, followed in 1995 by Mutineer. His next studio effort, Life'll Kill Ya, did not appear until early 2000. It was a moderate success, enough to inspire him to step back into the studio after touring the U.S.. My Ride's Here, which featured a guest appearance from David Letterman of all people, was released in the spring of 2002. Several months later, Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an inoperable form of lung cancer, and doctors expected him to live no more than a few months. Zevon decided to work on a final album, with the help of a handful of celebrity friends and collaborators; The Wind was released in August of 2003, nearly a year to the day after Zevon learned of his condition, and he lived long enough to see its release, as well as the birth of his first grandchildren.
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