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POLITICS: A Buddy Tale

State Senator Cohen recalls the impact, in life and death, of pal Warren Zevon.

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We’ve all had moments of personal history that are indelibly linked to this or that piece of music. One of mine, back in the late Ô80s, involved a vacation trip from Memphis to Topeka, Kansas, where I was driving my newly reconfigured immediate family to spend some time with my mother and sister, who lived there.

Early in the trip, I plugged a casette into the dashboard that featured an assortment of oldies, including Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” arguably the greatest novelty record ever made and one of the better rockers, too. The bottom line: no other song on the cassette made it into play, as, taking time out here and there for conversation, we kept reversing “Werewolves” and replaying it and singing along with it -- notably the “Owooo!” chorus -- over and over.

All the way from Memphis to Topeka.

Better yet, I got to meet Zevon later on, in Los Angeles during the 2000 Democratic convention, and tell him how much pleasure -- before, during, and after that episode -- this and other songs of his had given me.

The celebrated singer/songwriter/producer went bashful and blushed. He clearly enjoyed being enjoyed.

The man who made the introduction that summer day in L.A. was Memphis state senator Steve Cohen, who had become one of Zevon’s closest friends and would remain one right up through last week, when he telephoned Zeon, who was rather publicly dying from a rare form of lung cancer, and promised to send him some portions of a white aparagus-and-mayonnaise concoction that the artist fancied.

“Send it on,” said an enthusiastic Zevon, who was obviously having trouble breathing but who had “looked good” only two weeks before when Cohen had visited him in L.A. and watched a showing with him of the VH1 television special on the making of “The Wind,” Zevon’s last album and one whose selections consciously reflect his sense of oncoming death.

“He’d always been concerned with life-and-death matters, his own and everybody else’s,” said Cohen, who noted that an unusual number of Zevon’s compositions concerned such cutting-edge issues as the death penalty, racial hatreds, Middle Eastern discord, and threats to the environment -- all without losing that characteristic Zevonian edge of whimsy.

“He wasn’t political in the usual sense, but he didn’t hesitate to get involved in a cause that meant something to him,” said Cohen.

One of the causes that came to mean something to Zevon was Cohen’s own political career. The two first met in 1994 when Zevon, then appearing at the old 616 Club on Marshall, agreed to do a special concert to a group of Young Democrats on behalf of Cohen’s candidacy that year for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Cohen’s long-shot campaign try fell short, but the friendship endured. Zevon would be back to assist Cohen many times thereafter, notably during the state senator’s race for Congress in 1996. And they often got together for purely recreational purposes as well -- the Lewis-Tyson heavyweight championship bout of a year ago being a case in point.

The last time Cohen checked in on his friend was Sunday night, when the NFL’s Tennessee Titans were playing Zevon’s beloved Oakland Raiders on ESPN. The senator called to see if Zeon was watching and learned that his friend had passed. A life that had often been characterized by that exuberant chorus of “Owooo!” had ended quietly.

Cohen will go to Los Angeles this week to attend a public memorial service for Zevon.

AT THE LEWIS-TYSON FIGHT, 2002: (L TO R) IRVIN SALKY, JULIAN BOND, STEVE COHEN, MICHAEL WOLFF, AND WARREN ZEVON

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