In 1984, Los Lobos wondered how the wolf would survive; that wolf is Man, all alone in a world that’s changed.

Nineteen eighty-four was a wonderful year (musically) for me. Never one to confine myself to any single genre of music, my broad tastes were free to flourish during this time as my world was swelled with musical forms speared at me from all directions. Bruce Springsteen’s and Van Halen’s “pop” offerings gave way to lilting electro-streams of New Wave music that straddled a delicate zone from charming bouncy to despondent maudlin, and of course, the violent upheaval of heavy metal and all its descriptive incarnations that would result in a Motorhead fan like me to loathe Cinderella faggot fans or Dokken-listening religious freaks. Then there were Suicidal Tendencies, early Sonic Youth, The Cure, and other temperamental alternative cutting edge offerings which sealed that musical era for me, an era replete with an overabundance of choices in vinyl, cassette and compact disc offerings, cascading simultaneously as technologies advanced. Little did the technological worshipers of compact discs dream that in just a decade, digitized bits of data would render their prized discs obsolete.

And in the midst of this lyrical madness, a little Mexican-American band from East Los Angeles, Los Lobos, dropped an album in 1984.

los lobos

The album, “How Will The Wolf Survive,” represented the band’s first major label album release, and it was greeted with rousing reviews. The band’s music, which alternated between folksy Mexican rambunctiousness, rockabilly, rock, country, all the while was infused with meandering threads of traditional Latin music styles.

The state of musical technology in that day was such that I listened to the album repeatedly on my car’s cassette deck. There was not a song on the album I did not like, but one stood out more than any other, and remains a favorite to this day.

When “Will The Wolf Survive” was released, it symbolized only its literal existence to me. It was about the wolf. In my 20’s, such symbolism was lost on me. I was concerned only with the wolf and its gradual extermination at the hands of modern humans. I idolized the wolf’s solitary but ruthless nature. I fancied myself a wolf among men, lurking, surviving, self-sufficient to the extreme measure of isolation and utter independence from any man. Over the years, I came to see that the wolf, as articulated by Los Lobos, represented the soul of the Mexican man: torn by his vast, wild cowboy Mexican spirit, something which was quickly becoming archaic in the latter reaches of the 20th Century, and the beacon of modern, civilized, mannerly culture that sublimated his ferocity and machismo. This interpretation, in fact, is probably what the band insinuated in the song’s lyrics.

LOS LOBOS
“Will The Wolf Survive?”
(David Hidalgo/Louie Perez)
Through the chill of winter
Running across the frozen lake
Hunters are out on his trail
All odds are against him
With a family to provide for
The one thing he must keep alive
Will the wolf survive?
Drifting by the roadside
Climbs each storm and aging face
Wants to make some morning’s fate
Losing to the range war
He’s got two strong legs to guide him
Two strong arms keep him alive
Will the wolf survive?
Standing in the pouring rain
All alone in a world that’s changed
Running scared, now forced to hide
In a land where he once stood with pride
But he’ll find his way by the morning light
Sounds across the nation
Coming from your hearts and minds
Battered drums and old guitars
Singing songs of passion
It’s the truth that they all look for
The one thing they must keep alive
Will the wolf survive?
Will the wolf survive?

But now.

I’ve come to see this song symbolizing something Los Lobos never envisioned, but which I can’t help but to paint for my own benefit and philosophy. The wolf that they sang of was not the animal or the Mexican.

It was Man.

The wolf was our extinct primal masculinity, embodied in the nature, the myth, of the lone wolf struggling to survive so that others might enjoy comfortable existences. The wolf was Manliness, it was a legacy, a historical character which once dominated society, a male beast who didn’t fancy complicated thoughts of equality or fairness for those were alien luxuries that did not cross one’s mind when his only purpose was to be a strong man for the sake of those whose survival depended on him. It was a world of complementary existence. The wolf was the beast, the cowboy, who barreled cautiously but stridently through a dangerous world while wearing the shield of courage and nobility. The wolf who was slowly, through modernization and technology, torn down, decimated, castrated, by the niceties and flood of overwhelming weakness which befell a lazy mankind that traded its fierceness in for job titles and benefits packages and mortgages.

Who was the wolf, but Man?

This is what Los Lobos sang about, this is the archetype they praised and lamented. How Will The Wolf Survive? Indeed. How did the wolf die?