Bruce Springsteen walks into the studio where Warren Zevon is recording his final album and delivers a magnificent and inspired guitar solo, the sort of performance that only occurs when a musicmaker is truly inspired to leave his mark. Standing at death’s doorstep and given three months to live late last year, Zevon went on a writing and recording rampage that resulted in a winning album, “The Wind,” and he wisely allowed cameras to follow him through his last public moves. “Inside Out” is a heartbreaker not just for fans of this one-of-a-kind artist but for anyone who loves sardonic and witty writing to go with their music.
Diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare type of terminal lung cancer, in August 2002, Zevon leaped into action immediately and began prepping “The Wind” with longtime associate Jorge Calderon. (Artemis will release the disc Tuesday). One superstar after another, most of them California songwriting cohorts from the 1970s, shows up to assist Zevon. In some sessions he’s brilliant and in others he struggles, though there’s no air of pity, just urgency. They do get at least two great recordings out of the session: the rocker “Disorder in the House” and the tender “Keep Me in Your Heart.”
Producer-director Nick Read captures Zevon in a variety of locales, including his home; at a photo shoot; and in New York, where he gives a farewell perf on “Late Night With David Letterman.” There’s an appropriate graininess to the material, shot in a cinema-verite style; he manages to ensure a somber tone that encourages quiet viewing. (Kudos to VH1 for airing the doc without commercial interruption).
Too bad Read wasn’t able to catch Zevon in the wings of L.A.’s Wiltern Theater, listening to Bob Dylan sing “Mutineer” and “Accidentally Like a Martyr,” two Zevon songs that Dylan added to his nightly set list after the announcement of Zevon’s illness.
There’s a real depth to Zevon that “Inside Out” nicely exposes. The singer-songwriter’s comments and reflections come from a level of intellectual reasoning generally not found in popular culture circles, which amplifies the sadness of his imminent death.
Truly, no one will replace him.