One thing this job has taught me is that no matter what I write, it's going to make somebody mad.
– Mike Royko, Jan. 19, 1984
The late Mike Royko is near the top of my list of great newspaper columnists.
I have been reading – and re-reading – Royko columns for more than a quarter of a century. And with good reason. He was one of the best, after all.
"I'm sure," Royko wrote, "that if a column consisted of nothing more than 'Good morning, I hope you have a nice day,' someone would respond:
"'What do you mean good morning? It was a lousy morning, you jerk.' And somebody else would say, 'I hate dopes like you who tell me to have a good day. I'll have any kind of day I want.'"
I can relate.
For the past few years, no matter what I write or when I write it, someone who's still in search of his first original thought tends to contradict it posthaste.
In fact, if his writings weren't so damned boring and ridiculous, they might be a bit dangerous. On the bright side, I'm always happy to provide grist for his minuscule mill.
As Royko said, "If I wrote nothing more than 'God bless you,' somebody would surely shout: 'I'm an atheist, so keep the blessings to yourself.'"
All of this brings me to a story written by Blake Phillips for http://ourkindofmusic.com.
Mr. Phillips writes about one of my favorite recording artists, Robert Earl Keen. About a decade ago, a friend and co-worker shared an REK CD with me. I was hooked from the first song, "Corpus Christi Bay."
"No Kinda Dancer" also hit home for obvious reasons.
But nothing beats "Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear."
Blake Phillips' interview with Robert Earl Keen a few years ago goes as follows:
"Now, going back to your 'What I Really Mean' album – There are two songs on there that I love, that’s 'The Great Hank' and 'Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear.' Both of those make me want to ask a two-part question – Where did those stories come from, what were you smoking at the time, and where can I get some?"
Robert Earl Keen replies: "Well, 'Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear' has to do with a personal small-town political thing that I got involved in. Well, I didn’t get involved in it; I got sucked into it. I didn’t ever want to be a part of it. The song was my vindication."
For anyone who's been involved in politics – on any level – "Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear" sums it up as well as any song could.
* * *
Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear
Robert Earl Keen
Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear were banging on the door
I told 'em once, I told 'em twice, don't come 'round here no more
They've stolen all our chickens, they killed our neighbor's cat
Last night I saw 'em talking to big weasel and his rat
It's such a cozy neighborhood, we love our little town
Lately things ain't been so good, there's something goin' down
It happened just a year ago; someone hired a band
They had a dog-and-pony show that got clean out of hand
There was fur and feathers flyin', the son of the old goat
Said Coon-boy pulled a shotgun from his worn out overcoat
Bobcat killed Miss Peacock; Coon-boy shot the Mare
While Mr. Wolf smoked opium and grinned at Mama Bear
Two dead ducks lay there beside Miss Peacock on the floor
The fat goose grabbed the telephone and called the Dogs of War
The guineas begged for mercy, the pigs began to squeal
Coon-boy took the kitty, jumped in his automobile
Bobcat and the wheelman, the famous Wolverine
Shot out the light and in the night they faded from the scene
Chief Detective Rambouillet did not work for free
And Sheriff Hog was called away unexpectedly
The sheriff's re-election, the murder of the Mare
Might get Hog implicated with the Wolf and Mama Bear
So Rambouillet took up the case then shut it down for good
He bought a house in southern France but lives in Hollywood
The bodies of the bobcat and the famous Wolverine
Were found inside a motel room outside of San Joaquin
The city council voted the insurance board to pay
The victims of that heinous crime upon that dreadful day
And I watch from the shadows where beneath a frosty moon
Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear feed on a dead raccoon
Rory Ryan is Senior Editor, North American Desk, at Paperitalo Publications and the owner of The Highland County Press in Hillsboro, Ohio. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.