Today’s post is another deeply personal one. But it is also a post about a song I just heard for the first time a couple months ago, which is a testament to the power of country music as a vehicle for storytelling. And Keep the Wolves Away by Uncle Lucius is incredible storytelling.
Keep the Wolves away is told from the perspective of a man over the course of his young life. It starts with his father “giving a little of his soul every day, making overtime to keep the wolves away.” A sentiment I must take issue with, to be honest. Work exists as more than a vehicle to provide for our families. It has intrinsic value. Along with faith and family, vocation is one of the primary things that makes life meaningful.
This is deeply personal for me. From when my dad started his last business to when he got too sick to work on a regular basis, he was working when I woke up and he was working when I when to sleep six days a week, and he wasn’t great at keeping the Sabbath either. He could have found work for more pay and less hours. His choice was as much about personal fulfillment as it was providing for his family. But all those hours didn’t stop him from showing up at church every Sunday, shoes freshly shined, or from showing up at all my wrestling matches. For most of the time we shared on this earth, he devoted his time exclusively to faith, family, and vocation, and I can’t imagine living a fuller life.
Keep the Wolves Away is, though, a song that knows that chemical plants keep “bread on the table of the working man.” It also employs some of the most vivid imagery you will find anywhere.
Well I was barely 13 when the company man tried to dig my daddy’s grave,
It happened on a French-owned tanker ship spilling poison in the Galveston Bay,
Well the liquid fire filled his lungs and eyes, silenced any moans and cries,
Cold and the grip of death’s stinging pain, he fought like hell to keep the wolves away.
A plaintiff’s attorney plays a heroic role, if one off-screen: a settlement allows the family to get by after the accident. But that settlement money doesn’t last forever, and the narrator is “going for broke with every song I play, cause now it’s my turn to keep the wolves away.”
Yeah, I feel that too. My mom is of the old-fashioned view that she owes me a better life, regardless of the personal cost. And she is entirely too stubborn and proud for charity, even at home. But the wolves have been a constant, malign presence in my life since my dad died, heard if not seen, felt if not heard. So I give her some money when I need to, drive home to spend a couple 15-hour days replacing the roof on the storage shed when I can.
And when the time comes to do more I will do what must be done. I will do it because it is my duty. I will duty it gladly because it is a meaningful use of my time and my money.
Keep the Wolves Away is off Uncle Lucius’s album And You Are Me.
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