It’s a warm Sunday afternoon in September as I write this. It’s labor day weekend and the weather is nice. Normally we might have friends over for a barbecue or maybe my wife and I would take a weekend trip. This year is a bit different as we’re still mostly housebound with a few exceptions because of Covid-19. It doesn’t feel much like a holiday and there doesn’t feel like there’s a lot to celebrate.
Prior to sitting down to write I went out for a long drive. I do that a lot of days, just to get out of the house without worrying about having to wear a mask or slather my hands in Purell. I live in something of a borderland between suburbs and the rural farmlands of Northern Maryland and South Eastern Pennsylvania. When I go driving I like to go out into the rural areas and drive through the fields and forests. It’s a nice break and feels like there’s some breathing room. The roads are twisty and fun to drive, with only a little bit of traffic here and there. On today’s drive I decided to listen to Warren Zevon because tomorrow, September 7th, is the 17th anniversary of his death.
Zevon passed away in 2003 from Mesothelioma, an awful form of cancer for which the symptoms are similar to those of Covid-19. I don’t really want to be morbid or depressing, but it’s hard to not think about these things as this year and pandemic go on. It very often feels like we’re surrounded by death and trauma every day, which is why every scrap of hope and happiness feels so much more important and desperate lately.
The last song Zevon wrote and recorded was called “Keep Me In Your Heart.” It’s the final song on his final album, “The Wind.” He recorded it in a makeshift studio in his house as he had become too unhealthy to continue going to the studio where he’d recorded the rest of the album. He sounds tired and barely able to keep the waver out of his voice as he sings the words that serve as his farewell to the world around him. As the title implies, it’s a song about how much he loved the people around him and hopes they will remember him, at least for a while.
Despite the nature of the song it’s not sung or played as a dirge. It’s got upbeat guitar and a loud beat running through it as Zevon, despite the strain in his voice, sings it earnestly and with the echoes of his wit felt throughout. Although the song is very much a goodbye, it’s done with a wink and smile.
The song, and Zevon himself, were on my mind because Trapper Schoepp released a cover version two days ago for Bandcamp Friday. Bandcamp Friday is a day each month where Bandcamp waives all it’s fees and all the proceeds from music sold goes directly to artists. They’re doing it to help keep folks afloat during the pandemic. Things have been hard on everyone, but especially for performers whose livelihoods rely largely on people jamming into the kind of small spaces that have suddenly become dangerous. Musicians have gotten creative with Patreon, Kickstarter, Live Streams, and whatever else, but it’s not the same. It just can’t be, and it’s hard.
Schoepp’s version of the song is more delicate and soft than Zevon’s original. He plays a chiming acoustic guitar and forgoes the heavy drum beat entirely, replacing it with a mellotron acompiament. Schoepp’s voice is softer and more gentle than Zevon’s raspy growl. Tanner Shoepp, Trapper’s brother, sings backup vocals and their harmonies blend in that way that only brothers truly can. The total effect is instead of a farewell song, it feels more about togetherness and the melancholy that sets it when you’re apart from the people you love most. It’s a back-porch or maybe a campfire folk song in Schoepp’s hands.
What I discovered listening to both versions driving around the fields and pastures this afternoon is that it’s the song I most needed right now. It perfectly captures what I’ve been feeling almost constantly since I last saw my friends and most of my family in late march. There’s a huge hole in me that is normally filled with laughter and love and joy from the people I have chosen to live my life with. I’m so lucky to have my wife to navigate this with, but so many others are on their own, which makes this all that much harder. Schoepp’s version of the song isn’t so much a goodbye as it is a reminder of how important we all are to each other. His gentle guitar and vocals seep into that void and for a couple of minutes offer some comfort and understanding.
It’s not an easy trick taking someone else’s song and making it your own. It’s even harder to take a song as powerful and emotional as “Keep Me In Your Heart” and giving it a new life and purpose. Schoepp manages to do both. Both versions provide comfort during times of pain and grief, but where Zevon’s was personal, Schoepp makes it a song for and about all of us. So much of music is about hearing a voice outside of our own saying “Hey, I get it. I understand” and Schoepp’s “Keep Me In Your Heart” is almost a hug from an old friend saying “we’ll get through this together.”