I first was introduced to the magic of divination through Bob’s remarkable book, Oracle of the Turtle—a collection of poems based on the 64 hexagrams of the ancient Chinese oracle, the I-Ching. I live in Alaska, and every now and then over the years I’d happen to remember the book and bring it out so I could have a little visit with Bob. To my surprise it often would fall open to some poem that exactly mirrored whatever was going on in my life at the time. Hmmm. That seemed to suggest that even though we humans are nitwits, there are patterns and currents in the cosmos that help us keep our appointments. The timing of our lives is not without elegance and synchronicity.
When I was back in Columbia during Christmas 2006 I learned Bob was critically ill. Before calling him I had an urge to first consult the I-Ching. I threw the coins and created a hexagram, which I identified as fire over mountain. But what the heck did that mean? Lacking a copy of the I-Ching, I phoned a friend in Colorado who told me that it was number 56, the Wanderer.
Soon thereafter I visited Bob at home in Boonville. He told me about the idea of friends recording versions of his songs for a CD. That made me think about one I’d heard him play maybe a decade earlier. I couldn’t remember the song’s name, but I thought it concerned the tarot and began with the Fool stepping off a cliff into space.
A week or so later, the day before I was to leave Missouri, Bob gave me the lyrics for The Wandering Fool from his hospital bed. He told me the song was based on an actual tarot reading which he had reworked a bit in order to tell the mythical story of his life. That night I began learning the song by watching a DVD of Bob performing it at a concert in Lupus. By midnight I had worked out a sort of bossa nova arrangement that seemed promising.
I was thinking to record the song in California later in the spring. But on my way out of Columbia the next day I stopped by to visit Steve Gardner at his recording studio. The next thing you know I was singing Bob’s song into the microphone. I had never played it all the way through so it just sort of recorded itself while I was busy reading the lyrics. There was only the one take.
That evening I drove by Boonville and gave a copy to Bob, back home from the hospital. Bob and Sharon and I listened to the song. Bob laughed and commented that his favorite lyric was: “Sphinx with a sword rules with a smile.” Then I said goodbye. That was the last time I saw him. I drove west all night, intermittently listening to the song. Around midnight I hit a barn owl flying across the highway.
The Chinese ideogram for Wandering is represented by a pair of wings—which seems appropriate as a symbol for travel, flight or roaming. It is said that simplicity, humility, gratitude and inward sufficiency are attitudes of vast importance when you are a guest traveling through space and time.
And the Fool, appearing marginally as the joker in modern playing cards, is actually the main card in the tarot—the zero—embodying all duality, and infinite in its possibilities. The Fool, or Trickster—with one foot in the sacred and one in the profane—shows up in various cultures disguised as Coyote, Raven, Br’er Rabbit, or High John de Conquer. Able, as Zora Neale Hurston put it, “to make a way out of no way, and hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.”
Rose in his hand as he steps into space. Good luck out there brother Bob, and thanks for scouting the territory ahead.