Zevon Captures His Times

Singer-songwriter cheats death for one last record

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Warren Zevon beat the reaper. Diagnosed last summer with mesothelioma, a rare, inoperable cancer, and originally given three months to live, the singer-songwriter has finished what is likely to be his final studio album, The Wind, to be released in August by Artemis Records. "I was more prolific than I'd ever been," Zevon says. "I had this goal, and it kept me going."

Co-produced by Zevon, his longtime co-writer Jorge Calderon and engineer Noah Scot Snyder, The Wind features ten new original songs -- wry observations on mortality such as "Dirty Life and Times" and poignant messages to real people in Zevon's life, such as "El Amor de Mi Vida" -- plus a live-in-the-studio cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." Friends and stars who sing and play on the album include Don Henley, Ry Cooder, Tom Petty, Billy Bob Thornton and Emmylou Harris. Bruce Springsteen, who appears on the rocker "Disorder in the House" and the bluesy lament "Prison Grove," chartered a plane in midtour last December and flew to Los Angeles for a day's work with Zevon.

That was Zevon's last studio session; he taped his final vocals -- for "El Amor de Mi Vida" and the album's closing prayer, "Keep Me in Your Heart" -- at home in April. "He was weak," says Calderon. "But he sat on the couch and sang, and it was great. The weakness in him made 'El Amor' have more meaning -- the exhaustion and yearning for this love from before."

But Zevon's illness has not dimmed his famous wit. "I told Warren the other day, 'OK, when do we start the next album?'" Calderon says. "He laughed and said, 'Oh, let's see how I feel.'"