Like Letterman, Warren Zevon was an oft-misunderstood, feeling, thinking, snorting, spitting, mad man. Like Letterman, Zevon was born in the Midwest and found early success in Los Angeles. Like Letterman, Zevon threw it all out there.
Prior to a dive into his back catalog in college, I think I only owned Excitable Boy (likely thanks to you, dearly departed BMG Music Club), and I likely only listened to “Werewolves of London.” Fortunately, in the diving, I discovered an unheralded bard, classically trained by Igor Stravinsky and reared in the world of late 60s / early 70s Los Angeles (alongside contemporaries like Jackson Browne and David Geffen).
Around the time I was finishing up at school, Zevon announced he had cancer. I found myself in front of the television a few times over the course of the summer of 2003 where Zevon was showing up with greater regularity as he promoted a final album, a final tour, and a final round of performances on The Late Show.
Below, I’ve linked to all of Zevon’s known performances on Letterman-lead programs and the forty-five minute documentary focused on the recording of Zevon’s farewell album. Also, it’s worth checking out Enjoy Every Sandwich, a terrific Zevon tribute album.
“Excitable Boy” and “The Overdraft”, 1982.
“Boom Boom Mancini,” 1987.
“Trouble” and “Lawyers, Guns, & Money,” 1988 (Late Night’s Sixth Anniversary Show).
“Splendid Isolation,” 1989.
[In 1990, he appeared to perform a cover of “Raspberry Beret,” which has been removed from all known sources for reasons obvious to those familiar with the author’s recent spate of actions to further protect his work.]
“Searching for a Heart,” 1991.
“Finishing Touches,” 1991.
“Roland, The Headless Thompson Gunner,” 1992. “One of my heroes,” says Dave.
“Mr. Bad Example,” 1993. “We’re goin’ drivin’ later, right?”
“Seminole Bingo,” 1995.
Warren filled in for Paul Schaffer a few times over the years. This was one of my favorites, the spit take music.
Another one of Warren’s plate appearances in the role of designated hitter.
Third time’s a charm.
A supercut of all those Paul Shaffer stand-in jokes.
“Porcelain Monkey”, 2000. Come for the music, stay for the Tylenol PM bit.
“Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song)” Letterman appears on the album version of this song, penned by Mitch Albom, shouting, “Hit somebody!” as Paul Shaffer does in this performance.
If you’re not already a Warren Zevon fan, watch his four-part final appearance and become one.
Twenty years of complicity. Too many good moments to call out any one here. Well, I’m particularly fond of his final words of advice, “Enjoy every sandwich.” Picture-perfect Zevon provided us with the meaning of life in just a few words and just in time.
Letterman announced Zevon’s death and replayed clips from his final appearance.
Warren’s son, Jordan, appeared on the program in 2007, performing his dad’s “Searching For a Heart.”
And finally, Inside Out, the VH1 documentary from the summer of 2003, which details the recording of Warren Zevon’s final album, The Wind.