Warren Zevon’s daughter Ariel says that “tears came to my eyes” when she learned that her father was finally nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But she and her brother Jordan were all smiles as they discussed the nod with Billboard via Zoom on Wednesday (Feb. 1).
The consideration has been a long time coming. Zevon — who died in 2003 at the age of 56 from mesothelioma, a type of cancer — has been eligible since the mid-90s, and his exclusion from the ballot has been among the most controversial through the years. Social media groups were started to protest and also promote a nomination — echoing good friend and early producer Jackson Browne, who once told Billboard, “Why the fuck isn’t he in there? Come-on!”
Most recently it was revealed that Billy Joel wrote a letter to the Rock Hall in praise and support of Zevon.
And there were huzzahs from many corners of the music world when the nomination was formally announced on Wednesday morning.
Zevon’s legacy certainly merits the celebration. He left 15 studio albums — including The Wind, recorded after his terminal diagnosis. It won Grammy Awards — Zevon’s first — for best contemporary folk album and best rock performance from the track “Disorder in the House,” featuring Bruce Springsteen. Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan and Browne are just a couple of the artists who have covered Zevon’s songs over the years. And former manager/producer Andrew Slater is moving forward with a family-approved documentary.
Both of Zevon’s children have followed in their father’s footsteps and released music of their own. Jordan, who resides in Los Angeles, contributed tracks to the tribute albums Enjoy Every Sandwich and Hurry Home Early, and Ariel, who’s in Vermont, also has acting credits in Silence & Darkness, My Little Assassin and TV’s ER. And while they’re not getting ahead of themselves, both are happy that their father’s finally getting this long-awaited opportunity…
Billboard: How are you feeling about the nomination?
Jordan: I’m excited. I had to wake up at 4.50 in the morning to get the news firsthand, so I’m very caffeinated and possibly a little dizzy, but I’m excited.
Ariel: When I first saw it, tears came to my eyes first and then sort of the shock of it being 20 years later since he passed away. It feels definitely, like, significant. I don’t pay much attention to any of this type of stuff; I’ve removed myself from the whole business aspect of it. But it feels like a significant moment for the Zevon family.
How would he have felt about it?
Jordan: There’s this misconception that dad wouldn’t have cared. I think maybe, to be blunt, the later records didn’t sell a million copies; that didn’t mean he hated the industry. It just meant he was on the fringes because he wasn’t Britney Spears. But he wouldn’t have been, like, “Who cares about that?” It’d be like, “Hey Johnny, hey Ariel, guess what?!” It would have been, “It’s a big deal.” It was his business. He wanted to be good at it. You want to win, you know, best plumber of the year. (laughs)
He’s been on so many lists over the years of someone who’s nomination was overdue. Did you feel that way as well?
Jordan: I’ve respected the choices that they’ve made. It’s been such a broad range of people that I kind of didn’t think it would happen. I thought he was worthy of it, but it seemed like there were so many boxes they were trying to check that getting around to dad might not have happened. It was such a grassroots thing, people rooting for it, that I was excited for them. There’s been Facebook groups and stuff like that for years.
Ariel: I have been asked — and Jordan might have had this similar experience where some of the fans ask me in this, like accusatory way, like I’ve stood in the way somehow, allowing (the exclusion) to happen. And It’s like, “No, I would love it. It’d be great!” So, yeah, I’m especially thrilled for all of those fans who have been pounding their fists saying, “Why hasn’t this happened yet?!” It’s great for them.
Do you have any sense about why it finally happened this year?
Jordan: I don’t know exactly what’s happening right now. I get notifications form the Facebook groups, just so I can post things once in awhile. They’re hosted by other people. But the people asking to join his group and the amount of people that have gone to his website over the past few months has just skyrocketed. So I don’t know.
I think there is a feeling from awhile back, like strike while the iron is hot. But I’ve seen this resurgence lately that I can’t really account for. It’s been amazing to watch. But before any of this…I just kept wondering, “Where is everybody coming from?” It’s pretty exciting. It’s just something in the air, I guess.
What’s today been like? Have you been hearing from a lot of people?
Jordan: Yeah, I have. It’s just some of the people like Roger Bell and Duncan Aldrich, and some of the crew that he’s worked with. I haven’t heard from, like Jackson (Browne) or Waddy (Wachtel) or anybody like that. But it’s bene nice.
Ariel: Some, although again I’m pretty removed from everything. But yes, I have gotten calls and messages saying congratulations. There is definitely a buzz about it, and it’s exciting. It’s an exciting thing to share with my kids. My kids are actually almost 20, so for them it’s like, “Look what’s going on!” They’re pretty psyched about it. They’re passing around the voting thing to all their buddies at college. That’s great.
Jordan: I’m the older one but Ariel is the smarter one, and she’s distanced herself from social media and stuff, which I should really be doing at my age. (laughs) But I’ve been more kind of tuned into all the Facebook hits and sharing and everything else and, yeah, that part has been a little out of control. My 14-year-old is excited, but her biggest question is, “If he does get in, will Billie Eilish be at the ceremony?” (laughs)
Were the two of you aware of the Billy Joel letter that had been sent?
Ariel: No, I didn’t know. He’d be cool to see play a song.
Jordan: OK, we’ll put that one out there.
Ariel: That’s one I hadn’t even thought about but that’d be really cool. (laughs)
It is just a nomination at this point, but are you allowing yourselves to think about what the induction night might be like?
Jordan: I do. It’s been a while since I’ve attended or done one of those things, and you know it may be a little geeky, but that’s kind of like a like a sports game, or something like that. I know the energy and the way they’re put together. So I can just kind of picture it almost on the technical aspect and basically the adrenaline of the entire evening, and I kind of picture it that way.
It’s almost a rhetorical question, but what’s your stump speech to the voters? Why does your dad deserve to get in?
Ariel: For one thing, you know, great artists, great writers, great songwriters, write things that echo again and again throughout the ages, right? And I feel like probably some of that momentum happening right now is that his words are still resonating, maybe truer than ever, his view on his perspective on the world.
It resonates in a whole deeper, broader sense, I think, for a lot of people nowadays given where we’re at globally and everything else. So I would say that’s a good sign of somebody who probably deserves to be recognized, for a contribution to the arts, just generally speaking.
Jordan: You know, I’ve been just engulfed in music all my life, and listening to so many different genres. And I just think the quality of the music and the songwriting, it’s such a different level, and I think that he put so much care into it. He didn’t flippantly write songs. When he was writing songs there was a typewriter. There was a lot of little balled up pieces of paper. He even told me, “It’s really hard.”
And I think that when you put his education, musically and intellectually, along with his experiences, it just combined to make something that is really in, and of its own. You can have, like, the dangerous songs and the party songs, and then the more fore-thinking songs like “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” and “My Shit’s fucked up,” which means so much more even now than they did then. I just think his view and the way that he managed to keep writing for such a long time. And commercial put aside, quality-wise he still kept writing some songs that I think are just really, truly amazing, throughout his career. I just think he is pretty fucking good!