Probably the first music I heard from my crib (1952) was my Mom's old 45-rpm of
"Chant of the Wanderer." Growing up in southern Colorado and N. Mex., Bob's
songs always spoke directly to me, and still do. Especially those of Nature and
God -- "He Walks with the Wild and the Lonely," "The Touch of God's Hand," etc.
easily bring a tear to my eye, because they are just so right -- at once simple
yet profound. I've been on those same hilltops feeling Creation in the wind,
stars and stream-smells. Bob Nolan's lyrics top any possible theology for being
in tune with my own faith.
Of equal wonder is how he got away with it (making hits out of such authentic
personal feelings). It was before the politicization of faith, before "western"
meant the goriness of Clint Eastwood, before so much country and folk music
became a satire of itself. Somehow in Bob's voice, speaking directly from the
heart about wildness remained a confident, even heroic, manly virtue -- far
transcending any particular artistic genre.
It makes perfect sense that Nolan admired Poe -- maybe not the moods, but the
use of multiple rhymes and repetition, for the musical sounds of the words
themselves -- as in the familiar "Bells" and "Raven" -- because that feature is
one of the delights of Bob Nolan songs -- "...the rippling rills, the cataract
spills, the whippoorwill trills..."
...None of which is meant as any denigration of his musical ability. On the
contrary, the melodies seem simple only until you see them written down. Not to
mention his unique singing voice, which is another subject in itself.
Perhaps those who love the surviving Bob Nolan lyrics can take our own trips out
through the wildernesses of the West and "find the lost Bob Nolan songs" written
in Nature itself! "Lord, You Made The Cowboy Happy" is already a favorite:
"Lord, you gave this soul to me...These eyes, that beauty I may see... Then like
the wind You set me free...." You couldn't do better than that with hundreds of
pages of philosophy (and I WAS a philosophy major).
I'll take up your challenge on Bob Nolan's referring to Nature with the male
pronoun -- not because I think I have a "right" answer, but because I'm hoping
to hear YOUR answer.
I admit, I hadn't noticed how prevalent this is. Some straightforward examples:
• In Way Out There, "HE [the moon] gets lonesome way out
• In Watchin' The Moon Roll By, "HE [the moon] will lead me
• In Wind, "Wonder what HE's sayin" [the wind].
• In Saddle Your Worries To The Wind, the sun is "HE."
• In Travelin' With The Sun, "HE'll [the sun] be back at
Then there are less obvious ones:
• The fact that for Nolan animals are usually male -- eagles,
horses or mules, coyotes (except in Coyote Serenade, where a female answers the
• In The West Is in My Soul there's the line "In the sky HE
always was, and he always will because..." That line has confused me -- not just
because I can't tell what the "he" refers to (is it the sun, as suggested by the
previous line, or is it God?), but also because the grammar seems wrong..."he
always will" WHAT? I wonder whether the proper phrasing isn't "In the sky he
always was, and he always will be, 'cause the West is in my soul."
• In Saddle the Sun, the sun is referred to as "he." But so
is happiness -- "HE is hard to find sometimes." (Actually quite suggestive.)
Caveat: Getting inside somebody else's head is impossible. I shun Freud-like
"explanations" -- they're not merely scientific bunk, but they're also simply
irrelevant to the issue of literary/poetic meaning. There's just no objective
answer to such questions, because works of art only acquire meaning, as art, in
the mind of a particular reader/listener. (Sort of a Heisenberg Uncertainty
Principle of Aesthetics (??))
Anyway, having made those excuses, I'm sticking with my first reaction -- namely
that Bob Nolan uses the male pronoun for Nature because it is traditional to
refer to God as "He," and for Nolan, Nature and God are one. There are several
lyrics highly suggestive of that:
• In The Boss Is Hangin' Out A Rainbow, "I saw him throw his
lariat, a braided lightning strand," (etc.)
• In The Love Song Of The Waterfall, "For this is Heaven's
• In Man Walks Among Us,"I look close and see God looking at
me through the eyes of a young cottontail."
• In Wandering, "Then we'll [presumably God and I] become the
sun and seas, the clouds and galaxies..."
Such lines suggest Nolan had almost a Pantheistic outlook (except I suspect he
would have shunned "ism" words) -- that Nature being "The Touch of God's Hand"
was meant quite straightforwardly, rather than symbolically -- that Heaven is
right here for those with eyes to see it -- that there could be no greater
ultimate happiness than to become one with Nature and go wandering off, united
with the Creator, across the desert.
I admit I'm biased -- I would tend to see that outlook in Bob Nolan, because
it's akin to my own (I used to have a bumper sticker saying "What could be more
SUPER than the NATURAL!") [Note: some people think equating God with Nature is a
"reductionist" notion of God, but that isn't true for me, and I'm sure it wasn't
I highly appreciate your comments on Bob Nolan's religious views. [It's not too
hard to tell which songs might be, as he later said, "a sell out" (or at least
written to sell). "When the Golden Train Comes Down," despite the skillful
writing, seems a long way from "He Walks With The Wild And The Lonely."] But
please understand I am in no way hung up on whether his religion was like mine
or not. Besides, to me faith is more a question of VALUES than specific
"beliefs" -- those values found in the heart response of each individual. And
it's Bob's ultimate VALUES that show up in the songs I love most -- even in many
of those which don't overtly mention God at all.