Country singer Hal Ketchum is dead of the complications of dementia. He was 67.
I read that news a few minutes before coming in to write this column, and it seemed odd, not because he was relatively young, but because, in COVID Nation, you forget people die of other things.
And they do. Last week, a guy on a motorcycle cartwheeled off the ramp to a bridge six blocks from my house. They found him several miles downriver, several days later, dead on the shore. God and running water always take you somewhere.
"You ever hear of Hal Ketchum?" I asked my wife. "He was a country singer."
"A country singer?" she said. "Then, no."
So, I told her who he was and that he was dead.
Ketchum sang a song back in the early '90s, called "Past the Point of Rescue," and he hadn't written it but his voice owned it. And it was about missing a woman who'd left him, and it contained the line, "Is no word from you at all the best that you can do?" which is a line that is as country as a turnip is green.
And I think I was missing some woman that year, so I liked the song. I made jukebox companies rich and bartenders angry playing that song.
In those days, before I got a wife, a mortgage and two cats to keep me honest, I was always missing a woman. I'd get a woman, and then I wouldn't pay much attention to her, and she'd leave me, and I'd think of myself as the injured party. It made me feel misunderstood and romantic, the way young newspaper reporters were supposed to feel back in the days when you could smoke in the newsroom.
Country music takes a continuous beating from people who believe that not liking country music makes them hip, or at least hipper than the guy who installed their replacement windows.
This, of course, is ridiculous. For one thing, Johnny Cash was the only person in the world who was as cool as Snoop Dogg.
But I spent several months of one year mourning the departure of a woman, and I did it the way it is written in the Book of Maleness that you should do such things. I did it in a bar with country music and whiskey in a glass.
It's long been my theory that male country music singers are the "designated criers," for men like me who don't cry. I walked away from my mother's grave with dry eyes, and she wouldn't have expected anything else from me.
"Be a brave little boy," she told me when I was 5 and had to have a tetanus shot. "Don't cry."
So the lesson is learned, but what you push out the front door comes creeping in through the back door, and for more than 50 years, I've let country singers carry my sadness, and do my weeping for me.
A lot of people reading this will consider my lack of tears to be a symptom of some larger problem. Most of those people took Psychology 101 in their first year of college, and now believe they can diagnose hundreds of mental disorders. Most of them got a B in the class, too, and a few got a C. That doesn't matter, though. They graduated and became "managers" at companies producing almost no goods and a huge variety of services, some of which are of doubtful value.
They should all live long, and vacation in Disney World, and contribute the maximum to their 401(k)s, and they should teach their sons to shed tears the way a faucet runs water.
I'll be at the bar with Hal Ketchum, and he'll be crying for me.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, "Devil's Elbow: Dancing in the Ashes of America," is an unemotional collection of his best columns. It is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and for Nook, Kindle and iBooks.
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