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William C. Altreuter
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Friday, September 12, 2003

There were months to think about what to write when Warren Zevon died, but I couldn't find the hook. I think it is interesting that he started out as sort of Jackson Browne on Halloween, and became, maybe, more significant than Jackson Brown-- who'd have seen that coming? In the end, though, as Nick Lowe put it, "he never meant that much to me." It is hard to know where Zevon fits, exactly-- is he the Screaming Jay Hawkins of the '70's, or something more than that? (Not that being Screaming Jay wouldn't be a fine thing all by itself, to be sure.) Of course, Nick Lowe used to be Johnny Cash's son-in-law, and the news of Johnny Cash's death is what has me sad today. I have said before that I tend to underestimate the importance of country music's contribution to rock'n'roll, but I won't make that mistake this time-- Johnny Cash is as important to American music as people think Elvis is. He was the real deal, and the kind of person that makes me feel proud to have being an American in common with him. A number of the obituaries I have read and heard have focused on his rebel image, but what will stay with me, I think, will be the image of a man who kept "a close watch on this heart of mine." Even though that's a good thing to do, it isn't always easy, and I'm sure there plenty of times when it was hard for Cash. The fact that he understood how important it was, and articulated its importance so clearly makes it just a little bit easier for all of the rest of us.

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