"Shadows are fallin' and I'm runnin' out of breath
Warren Zevon was the rarest of rock and roll cases; whereas most music legends either burn out quickly or fade off into existence, Zevon was given a decidedly different fate. Diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer and given only three months to live, Zevon—only 56 years old—quickly set out to make his final and most heartfelt album, the Grammy winning "The Wind." With the help of some very famous and close friends—including Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, Timothy B. Schmidt, Billy Bob Thornton, and Don Henley—Zevon dove into what would be a final farewell. For posterity, VH1 came along for the ride, to document Zevon's ticking days in the studio, as he said his final good-byes to loved ones and colleagues, all the while bringing down the house as only a rock and roll master can.
At one point during VH1's documentary, the subject points to a particular author's idea that "most people buy books with the impression that they're buying the time to read them." Considering his health status during 2003, Zevon knew all too well that this wasn't true. For those who didn't live in the 1970s and '80s, Zevon was one of the most acidic, cynical, and talented singer-songwriters to come out of Los Angeles. A musician obsessed with death (a theme that permeated most of his music), Zevon tore through well over a dozen solo albums and had a hit with the howler "Werewolves of London." In a twist filled with the kind of irony Zevon loved, he was often a fringe musician until his diagnosis became public knowledge—which in turn garnered the attention of everyone from Rolling Stone to The New Yorker. The world certainly works in mysterious ways.
In VH1 (Inside) Out: Warren Zevon fans are given one final glimpse of Zevon at work in the studio and speaking frankly with friends and family about his impending doom. One of the wonderful things about VH1 (Inside) Out: Warren Zevon is that it never attempts to find answers to—or in—Zevon's situation. It is simply a chronicle of his last few months on earth as he attempts to squeeze out one more album for his fans. As bittersweet as the documentary is, there are huge pockets of joy within—visits by author Dave Barry, Bruce Springsteen, David Letterman, Ry Cooder, Billy Bob Thornton, and Zevon's friends and family prove how life is only rich and full if you have loved ones around you.
While it's a thrill to see so many talented folks show up, the best parts of this program are when Zevon is just talking to the camera. Often contemplative but never dull, Zevon garners multiple laughs from his situation. During an appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman," the singer ponders that not being checked out by a doctor for over twenty years may have been a slight "tactical error." These are the moments when the show really comes alive and draws the viewer into Zevon's world. As the documentary comes to a close, we're witnesses to one of Zevon's final recordings, the album's closing track, "Keep Me In Your Heart." It's a moment of sheer exuberance, heartbreak, and delicacy all in one emotional farewell—and a glowing example of why Warren Zevon will be sorely missed.
VH1 (Inside) Out: Warren Zevon is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. My biggest complaint is that it's non-anamorphic. It would have been a real treat to have a 16x9 transfer. That complaint aside, overall, this is an attractive transfer, even if it does sport the limitations of a typical documentary: grainy video footage, shaky camera work, and mediocre lighting. Otherwise, fans will be thrilled to have final footage of this iconic rocker. The soundtrack is presented in PCM Stereo and sounds good. Because much of this disc features more reflective, bittersweet moments, the soundtrack is often subdued. Someday it will be nice to (hopefully) get a full blown live performance disc from Zevon's record label, complete with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Until then, this decent soundtrack will have to do. No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are available.
There are a few exceptional extra features available on this disc. The best are two Grammy nominated music videos for the rollicking "Disorder in the House" (Featuring Bruce Springsteen on vocals and guitar) and the poignant "Keep Me In Your Heart," recorded at Zevon's house. Two extended interviews, an uncut "Cherokee" interview, and Warren's thoughts on Hunter S. Thompson give a bit more insight into Zevon's mental state, as well as musings on his condition and life in general. Next up are a batch of odds and ends from the studio sessions for "The Wind" ("Warren, Billy and Dwight 'Dirty Life and Times' Session," "Ry Cooder Alternative Take 'Prison Groove' Session," "Warren and Inside Out Director Nick Reed," 2 sessions featuring Warren and Springsteen recording "Disorder In The House," "Warren Jackson and T-Bone 'Prison' Session," and "Tom, Jorge, and Noah in Studio"). Most of these are just short clips of laughter, discussion, and playing, but for posterity's sake they're worth having. Finally there are a few very short home movies of Zevon in the '70s fooling around on his guitar.
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