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Relative Man

(Bob Nolan)


I once had a gentle friend who told me of a most fantastic

Journey he once took to the far corners of the earth

And how he had come to this wide, wide river.

And he said to me, “I looked across that river

And there I beheld the most magnificent mountain I had ever seen.

And I wanted to climb that mountain but the river was so wide.”

And a Voice said to me, “Take your time, take your time.

Just build yourself a raft but take your time.”

So I crossed that wide river and stood looking up at my mountain once more

And, oh, it looked much higher than it did from the other shore.

And the Voice said, “Take your time,”

And the wind whispered, “Take your time.”

So I climbed to the top of that mountain and there before my eyes

Was a mountain beyond another mountain,

 Beyond and beyond to infinity.

And the Voice said, “Do not be afraid for you are

Part of, in contact with, and relative to

The vast and endless universe.

And the universe is relative unto God.

And God is relative unto you

So take your time for you are going to be here for ever.

Oh yes, it is almost certain that somewhere along the way 

There will come a day

And a very small part of you will just go away.

But the greater part of you, the most precious of all,

That one indestructible element in the whole universe

Will just become an invisible cloud of mist

And be flown into the far reaches of the atmospheric heavens

 And there to await that magic moment

When you will be returned in the gentle rain,

Back to the earth from which you came

And there, in numberless ways, remain

Part of, in contact with, and relative to

 Forever and ever, forever and ever.”




        In 1977, Jim Nabors included an unusual Bob Nolan song on his album, “I See God”, Ranwood, (1977), one of Jim's many collections of religious songs. The song was Bob Nolan's "Relative Man", one of his poems he had set to music.  According to Bob, Nabors struggled to commit the melody to memory. The song was not a hit but it does throw light on Nolan's personal philosophy. In a telephone conversation with Douglas B. Green on November 20, 1979, Bob recalls:


        “I did a song for Jim Nabors and it was the first time I ever deviated from the Bible teachings and more or less wrote from my own feelings in the religious style. The songs I had written -- anybody can apply them to any religion.  I don’t try to make any waves at all, but on this one I did deviate a little bit. It’s a song that takes almost 5 minutes to sing. It’s got 76 bars in it and 312 words of lyric. 

        “I wrote it two years ago for Jim and it came out about a year ago on the album "I See God". It’s called the "Relative Man".  And I like the way he did it.  He was scared to death of it because I threw the whole book at him of my knowledge of music. He doesn’t read music, see, and I haven’t counted yet the harmonic changes in the whole song.  It’s hard to hold when you have that many harmonic changes in one song.  He had to labor with it.”


The original demo surfaced recently and, thanks to Laurence Zwisohn and Gene Davenport, we can hear Bob sing the song the way he wrote it.

"I recalled how I was visiting my folks in Florida when Bob passed away.  I was reading the newspaper and suddenly saw the story about Bob.  Understandably, it shocked me because I had just seen Bob a few weeks earlier. When I got back to LA I was still shook up and I remembered that while I was working for Snuff Garrett I had seen an acetate of The Relative Man (Bob Nolan version).  I was able to borrow it and make a copy.  So after getting back to LA, I played that recording a few times.  It was just what Bob believed and listening to it was cathartic." (Laurence Zwisohn)


When he wrote it out so Jim Nabors could record it, Bob changed the words slightly.



Jim Nabors' version from “I See God”, Ranwood, (1977)

Bob Nolan's demo


Calin Coburn Collection ©2004