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When I talk with other Warren Zevon fans, two albums inevitably come up: the dark genius of Excitable Boy and The Wind, which ends with his final, touching epitaph, “Keep Me in Your Heart.” But setting aside those two albums, Zevon released a treasure trove of lethal, funny, upbeat songs that could double as pulp-fiction titles: “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” “A Bullet for Ramona,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” etc. Even an early hit like “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” kicks off with a comically failed suicide attempt straight out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel. It’s sexy too.
But the most overlooked jewel on that fatal crown is 2002’s My Ride’s Here.
Aside from his signature wordplay and all its radio-friendly hooks, My Ride’s Here features collaborations with an eclectic group of literary friends who shared Zevon’s irreverent world-view—and also didn’t mind poking fun at the Angel of Death.
The title track is one of my all-time favorites by Warren or anybody else. Written with Pulitzer-Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, it’s the only hearse-themed pop song that rhymes the hotel Westin with Charlton Heston. It also features cameos from Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats, John Wayne, and Jesus Christ. In the song Warren tells Chuck Heston that he’d love to stick around and live this beautiful life, but he accepts that it’s his time to catch his ride to meet his maker. (The track was written and released before he received his own real life death sentence. Check out Bruce Springsteen’s live cover on The Zevon tribute album Enjoy Every Sandwich.)
The two enigmatic wordsmiths, Zevon and Muldoon, carry on their merriment with “Macgillycuddy’s Reeks,” gleefully dancing between the downward chart of a lovesick patient and a failed dot-com merger.
The album’s infectious, cheerful spirit continues with “Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song).” Cowritten with sports columnist and best-selling author Mitch Albom, “Hit Somebody!” transforms a tale of a hockey goon named “Buddy” into a wistful ballad. The track rocks with a feel-good, sing-along sound tucked under a bleak refrain: What else can a farm boy from Canada do? Since it features a cameo from friend David Letterman shouting “Hit Somebody!” it could be dismissed as a novelty track if Buddy’s story wasn’t told with such poignancy. Zevon waltzes you through this good-hearted goon’s entire life in five-and-a-half rocking and rollicking minutes.
Turning to Miami Herald writer and novelist Carl Hiaasen, Zevon gives us the hand-clapping ditty “Basket Case,” about “a bipolar mama in leather and lace.” Apparently it was written for Hiassen’s book of the same name. It rides in on a fuzzy guitar before detouring through a Baroque interlude that Zevon pulls off like a musical Houdini.
Although he rounds out his literary tour with the paranoid “You’re a Whole Different Person When You’re Scared,” cowritten by the sometimes paranoid (and always brilliant) Hunter S. Thompson, not every track on My Ride’s Here is a literary collaboration. He covers “Laissez-Moi Tranquille,” or “Leave Me in Peace,” by France’s poetic enfant terrible Serge Gainsbourg.
Another one of my favorite tracks is “Genius,” for which Warren pairs up with musical impresario Larry Klein and paints Albert Einstein as a ladies’ man, “making out like Charlie Sheen.” Genius indeed!
Warren Zevon is my songwriting hero and is one of the biggest influences for the songs on my new EP, You Are What You Listen To, as you can see from this lyric on the love song “Giddy”: “And as we pass through eternity/and we decompose in each others clothes/It won’t end/We’ll make love in the dust.”
My Ride’s Here is another of Warren’s brilliant collections of adventurous pop music and deadpan humor. I wish he could’ve lingered a bit longer before stepping in for that final ride. Long live Warren Zevon.