Back in 1989, three years on from the Chernobyl disaster, the world was growing more aware of its effects on the environment. One of the first artists to really throw his weight behind the cause of environmentalism was the Pink Floyd legend, David Gilmour.
In subsequent years, the guitarist has raised over $21million for climate change charities by auctioning his instruments and various other noble fundraising efforts. This environmental consciousness made Warren Zevon’s song ‘Run Straight Down’ all the more appealing to be part of.
The song is set in a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland where endless destruction of the environment has left the world in ruin. Amid the disaster zone that our society has been reduced to is one weary wandering survivor (and apparently David Gilmour of Pink Floyd helping out on guitar).
This lonesome last Sapien muses on the unfurling catastrophe of an engineered dystopia where machines have overrun man and pollution has destroyed wildlife. The song’s protagonist then returns to his ramshackle abode where he watches a recording of the 11 o’clock news from simpler times long before the disastrous downfall of civility.
It’s certainly not a track as cheery as Zevon’s biggest hit, the gorgeously groovy ‘Werewolves of London’, but Warren is undoubtedly an artist of dualities as the rather scathing rock ‘n’ roll biography I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon will attest. In fact, much of his own work makes use of multitudes as he often makes use of juxtaposed melodies and jarring lyrics.
Notably, however, as one of the seventies’ foremost revered songwriters, Zevon was no stranger to attracting talent into the studio with him. On ‘Werewolves of London’ he is joined by Fleetwood Mac’s acclaimed rhythm section with John McVie lending his inimitable bass stylings and Mick Fleetwood assisting with rolling drums. Likewise, Waddy Wachtel, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most underrated guitar God’s, also features in his back catalogue.
However, the Gilmour collaboration was somewhat of a surprise in that it came at a point when Zevon’s career had rapidly waned. The song itself unfortunately wasn’t the sort of charting topping fodder that was going to revive it in a hurry either. The world might have been more environmentally aware but generally speaking, terrifying hellscapes are not a safe bet for a renascence.
After the album, Transverse City, suffered disappointing sales, Zevon left Virgin and joined Giant Records but never really managed to match his 1970s output. While this hazmat-clad song is certainly creditable in terms of both scope and delivery, it’s still easy to see this his songwriting embers were flickering as opposed to bursting back into flame here.