We are taking a trip down the Far Out archives and are revisiting this beautiful duet by the awe-inspiring pairing of Warren Zevon and Neil Young on a 1993 live version of ‘Splendid Isolation’. While we are cooped up inside at home amid strict social distancing measures, the recording arrives as the perfect antidote for the strange times that we find ourselves in.
The track, which originally featured on the late Zevon’s eighth studio album Transverse City, was released in 1989 and captures the supreme talent at the pinnacle of his incredible storytelling powers with Young contributing with backing vocals. The first time that the duo linked up was two years prior to this glorious collaboration when Young delivered a rip-roaring lead guitar on the title track of Zevon’s 1987 album, Sentimental Hygiene.
Zevon was well known for being incredibly open to collaborating with artists who he admired and, quite often, he would invite numerous different artists into his studio in a bid to get the best out of him on a creative level. On Transverse City alone, Zevon worked with The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia as well as David Gilmour, Chick Corea, and the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell.
The meaning behind the track is a poignant one that feels extraordinarily comforting right now. The term ‘Splendid Isolation’ refers back to an old British military phrase deriving from the 1800s, one that refers to avoiding permanent alliance.
The duo would first perform the beauty of a track live in July 1992 while appearing at the Winter Park Resort in Colorado. A year later, at Young’s 1993 Bridge School Benefit which included a line-up Simon and Garfunkel, Heart, Sammy Hagar, Bonnie Raitt, Young and Zevon would again roll out the material for a special live outing.
The musicians are perfectly in sync and appear as though they’ve played the song together 100’s of times which, on reflection, is testimony to the innate chemistry that the duo enjoyed when stepping out on stage together. “Neil was kind enough to sing this next song with me from some album of mine,” Zevon told the crowd before launching into it.
In Zevon’s biography, which features passages from his diaries, the late singer writes poetically about how a chance meeting with Young in 1992 led to the two taking to the stage at the Winter Park Resort in Colorado together: “July 10, 1992-Colorado: Stopped to eat at what seemed like no more than a crossroads in the middle of nowhere: we walked in and there was Neil Young and his wife, Pegi,” he wrote. “They’re with their son at camp: pure coincidence.”
The anecdote then continues: “July 11, 1992-Winter Park: … Up at 8:00 with a headache. Rode over to the festival site early with Randy Newman and his guy. Newman seemed to have no interest in me whatsoever…Neil and I running into each other was major local news. Later Neil and Pegi arrived, Neil wearing ‘Old Velvet Nose’ boldly on his T-shirt…He asked me what we were going to do. We played Splendid Isolation and Cortez…great audience…great day. Neil and I spent some more time together. I sure like this guy and it was a thrill playing with him on stage.”
Watch the footage below, of the two taking to the stage together in 1993 when Zevon would repay the favour as they would reunite once more.