by Julian Spivey
The music performance at the end of the “Late Show with David Letterman” on Friday, April 24 was one of the most memorable ones in that show’s great history for multiple reasons.
Americana sweethearts Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, who married in 2013, performed the great Warren Zevon song “Mutineer” on Letterman’s program on Friday night. The married couple had recently released “Mutineer” to iTunes a couple of months back.
Zevon is very likely Letterman’s all-time favorite performer, whom the legendary comedian had on his show many times before the singer-songwriter’s death from lung cancer at the age of 56 in 2003. Zevon’s many performances on Letterman helped gain him more notoriety and fame than he’d ever had before. He even substituted for band leader Paul Shaffer from time to time when Shaffer had other performances to play.
Knowing that he was going to die soon from cancer Zevon appeared as the only guest on Letterman’s broadcast on Oct. 30, 2002 in which he was interviewed and performed multiple songs.
Zevon spoke of his illness and impending death in length during the interview and Letterman asked him if the experience had taught him something new about life and death. Zevon’s memorable answer was: “Enjoy every sandwich,” which would later become the title of a tribute album to the performer. Zevon thanked Letterman for all he’d done to help out his music over the years calling him, “the best friend my music’s ever had.”
Zevon’s final performance from Letterman’s show that night would be a request from Letterman to do “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” from his terrific 1978 album Excitable Boy. It would be Zevon’s final public performance.
In the green room after that show Zevon presented Letterman with the guitar he’d played during every one of his performances on his show and told him, “Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.”
The day after Zevon’s death Shaffer’s CBS Orchestra played his songs for the entire episode and as a tribute Letterman re-aired Zevon’s performance of “Mutineer” from less than year before.
Over the last few years Isbell has become one of Letterman’s new favorite artists. Letterman has invited him to perform on the show many times in a short time span and Isbell was even invited to play a personal event hosted by Letterman.
When I first heard Isbell and Shires’ cover of “Mutineer” in February I knew that this would have to be the song for his farewell performance on the ‘Late Show’ because of Letterman’s great history with Zevon.
The duo didn’t disappoint with their beautiful melodies on a perfectly written song that Isbell would later tweet: “And of course it was a real special thing to sing Zevon’s beautiful song. He had a lot of those.”
A noticeably emotional Letterman thanked Isbell and Shires for their terrific performance before he signed off for the night by saying with tears in his eyes, “Jason, I can’t thank you enough for everything. You’ve been great to us. Thank you.”
Isbell and Shires performing “Mutineer” on Letterman more than a decade after Zevon said goodbye to the show with his performance of it was really a full circle moment for Letterman. It’s an instant classic moment on a show filled with classic moments.