Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Bob's Music

"He still loves Rock-and-Roll"

Published onMar 31, 2024
Bob's Music

Photo by Caleb Oquendo:

Bob asks most people to call him Robert.
“Bob is gone,” he said to his mother,
“he doesn’t exist anymore,”
but Jane insists on calling her son Bob,
and so I do, too, we’re together so much.

Before he started hearing voices,
before his illness,
in his mid-teens,
Bob attended a school
for the musically gifted.
The clarinet and classical guitar
were his principal instruments.

He still loves Rock-and-Roll.
He has a shiny old red acoustic guitar
with deep, mellow voicing
our music instructor envies.
I got Bob a fake license plate
with the album cover of Abbey Road
painted on it for his seventy-first birthday.

Before COVID, we took weekly guitar lessons.
I learned to play, too.
The teacher, Bob, and I
created an ensemble tempo.
Otherwise, Bob tended to tumble
headlong forward,
ending mid-song, confused.

But after hearing Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice
It’s Alright,” in my car, he played it
without sheet music the whole way through
perfectly, singing out, he knew the lyrics,
remembered the chord progressions.

When COVID put a halt to our lessons,
Bob told me once, “it hurts, not to play,”
as if he were describing being jabbed
in the side with scissors.

We haven’t played guitar for three years.
I’m not good enough, Bob won’t play
with me alone,
he can’t carry the both of us.

Still, Bob seems finally in a good space.
He doesn’t swat voices away,
he smiles and laughs more,
he likes being around others.
He listens to his Rock-and-Roll,
on headphones,
and downstairs in the common room, in person.
He gets up and leaves a concert
if he thinks it’s not of any count.
He won’t stand on appearances.

The last Christmas of our lessons,
Bob performed in a recital.
Hundreds of people came
to hear a large ukulele ensemble
(the players were all such sourpusses!),
guitarists galore, a few serious violinists,
and a bit of free fiddling.

Bob was courageous.
He stood in front of God and everybody
and played “Blowing in the Wind”
solo. He played it by heart,
perfectly, straight through to the end: 
“How many miles must a man walk down
before he can know he’s a man?”
I recorded it all for his mother Jane.

As Bob finished, the woman sitting next to me
clapped so hard that the table I was using
to steady my filming arm
jerked up, rolled sideways, slammed down.
You’d think there had been an earthquake!
I can hear and see it all when I touch playback.
My table neighbor didn’t know Bob
from Adam—the original person. She wept
at what he, playing, kept. Man, it’s in the wind—
and it’s blowing in the wind.

Greg Miller, a professor emeritus of English at Millsaps College, currently lives in New York's Hudson Valley. Now and Then Here and Now: New and Selected Poems is his most recent book of poetry (Sheep Meadow Press, 2022). 

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?