That being said, it is right and good that the first Rock and Roll Death Autobiographies are from Warren Zevon, Joey Ramone, and Johnny Cash, three artists whose personalities seemed always to shine through the characters they created. Death settles all questions of authenticity.
Listening to Joey give the Ramones Treatment to Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" or sing "I want my life, it really sucks" in "I Get Knocked Down," you understand the pain Joey is in yet understand that he approaches death the way he approached life-- with equal measures humor, introspection, and cartoonish fervor. Ditto for Warren Zevon. The last track on "The Wind," "Keep Me In Your Heart For Awhile," is an elegiac, touching, and humble capstone on a career that encompassed everything from archly intellectual smartassery to lacerating fury. Here the weight of his young man's anger seems to be stripped away as Zevon accepts that he won't be here anymore very soon. (Ironically, Zevon's 'meditiations on death' album was 2001's "My Ride's Here," recorded before he was diagnosed with cancer, and I suspect the irony was not lost on him.) Finally, if there is any justice in the Christian tradition, I know that Johnny Cash is sitting on a lawn in heaven next to June, and they both have guitars.
This article also appears at The Ministry of Minor Perfidy.