The Ballad of Bob

June 1 is the birthday of Bob Walkenhorst, singer, songwriter and painter. His work with the Rainmakers means a lot to a lot of people, me included. His Wednesday night gigs at the Record Bar in Kansas City with Jeff Porter and Norm Dahlor are going strong after 11-plus years. He turns 61 today, and the Rainmakers embark on a tour of Sweden and Norway. Happy birthday, Bob, and many more. This was written a year ago, for his 60th.

Empty the junk drawer
Unpack the memory banks
Bob-O turns 6-O

This calls for epic
Not that great, but really long
Yeah, that’s what she said

Smalltown Missouri,
Norborne, a dot on the map,
Framed Bob’s early life

Mable and Ray gave
Him love, lots of work to do,
Things to write about

They flipped newspapers
And burgers, too — anything
To help earn a buck

The carpenter’s son
Took their advice and found those
Better things to come

College, the Ozarks,
A crazy electric band,
Stumpwater by name

And then the big move
To the brightest lights around
Kansas City town

Steve, Bob& Dave burst
Out of the chute, played oldies
With intensity

They burned things up fast
From priests-and-strippers parties
To Uptown and down

Some originals
Worked their way into the mix
“Kissin’ Time,” “Christine”

That first trio split
Regrouped as Steve, Bob & Rich
Roots rockers unbound

KC, Wichita,
Springfield, Fayetteville, St. Lou,
Lawrence, Manhattan

The depths of Blayney’s
To Parody’s fire-trap heights
The boys played them all

Wore their pants backwards
Played toy-raygun “synth” solos
Whatever it took

“Baba O’Riley,”
“… Coming to Take Me Away,”
They’d try anything

Too fun, too funny
Who knew what to make of them?
So we danced and danced

Then built their own sets
Of rockin’ originals,
Showed us they had “Balls”

Pat joined in on drums
Band filled out its sound, ready
To take the next step

Renamed Rainmakers
Mercury/Polygram signed
Big-time record cut

Local fans rejoiced
Newsweek, Rolling Stone took note
Robert Christgau, too

New songs and synth sounds
Roared, but “Tornado” didn’t
Take the charts by storm

Good news: next CD
Got back to band’s roots. Bad news:
No label support

Worse news: it detailed
In “Battle of the Roses”
Bob’s breakup story

Then reckoning day:
Time for band to hang it up
Fun had become grind

Eventually
Bob got that itch — naturally
To write, play again

“Another Guitar,”
Others with Gary Charlson
Rang at Buzzard Beach

Orbison high notes
And Everly harmonies
Yes, remarkable

And life turned again
Bob found his Missouri Girl
Waitin’ down those stairs

Una made the scene
And Norway fans still beckoned
Steve, Rich, Pat came back

Band reminded us
Of someone, good times “Flirting
With the Universe”

Bob got serious
Rich split, not quite furious
“Skin” band found its Bliss

More videos, gigs
Though again the Rainmakers
Ran their course, it seemed

But music still played
In his head and heart, in work
At video job

Helped start a project
Wrote a song with Una’s class
Honoring hero

Extraordinary
“Primitivo Garcia”
Still brings us to tears

More songs came, found time
To be recorded, found Jeff
To help play them live

Wednesday night gigs born
Along with “The Beginner”
Proof that Bob was here

Norm joined in on bass
The Westport love affair’s still
Buzzzing, 10 years plus

Bob played on with Jeff
And “No Abandon” — they took
Duet to Norway

“Almanac” looked back
As if Rainmakers were through
But “Almanac” lied

Rainmakers re-formed
But didn’t reform — not with
Jeff replacing Steve

25 years on
Band honored its first CD
And made brand new one

Bob mined some memories,
Mature themes about aging
And getting it right

But on stage the guys
Were as crazy as ever
Band of knuckleheads

So Bob rocks, rolls on
Playing, painting, and working
To create, help, love

What is a hero?
One kind grows where he’s planted
Blesses those he knows

So take a bow, Bob
Not bad for just 60 years
Here’s to decades more

Class of 2014 haiku

Graduation day
May 18th, Twenty-fourteen
Olathe North High

Looking forward, back
At the same time — nostalgic,
Exhilarating

The class roll is called
More than 400 — each name
A life unfolding

Among them’s our girl
Just 18, so strong and smart,
With so much ahead

Some mid-’90s names:
Ashley, Cassidy, Amber,
Connor, Brody, Nate

Oluwatobi,
Guadalupe, Magali,
Isidro, Satchel

Sallem, Nabiyat,
Ramzi, Mihret — students born
In a dozen lands

And for this moment
We’re all one — one hope per heart
And one lump per throat

The last name is read
Principal’s farewell spoken
The Eagles take flight

“Ringing endorsement” haiku

Listening to music
Just some compressed mp3′s
Neil Young would hate it

Rock-bottom gear, too
35 buck speakers and
12 dollar ear buds

But voices still cut,
Each instrument comes through to
My old ringing ears

My converters work
Just fine, thanks — digital sound
To analog joy
My smile couldn’t be
Broader, heart cracked more open,
Tears flow more freely

An age of wonders
I tell you — and terrors too
Just listen, listen

A gentleman’s passing

Rest in peace, Jesse Winchester. What a lovely artist. My little verses, from a few days back when I heard he’d gone into hospice care.

“A gentleman’s passing” haiku

Early ’70s
Hoch Auditorium show
Brewer and Shipley

Sing “Yankee Lady”
Recommend the songwriter
Loved him ever since

Jesse Winchester
Slipping away from this Earth
Beautiful heartbreak

Strong-hearted young man
Exiled himself — would not kill
For his Uncle Sam

Voice from Canada
But Tennessee smooth, aching
With innocence lost

“Black Dog,” “Biloxi,”
“The Brand New Tennessee Waltz,”
Passion of “Payday”

Sepia cover
Nothing but his haunted face
Repeated four times

His classic debut
First of 10 touching albums
Brimming with his life

So many lessons –
Live, love, drink deep while you can
— Told without preaching

And love is mainly
Just memories — he knew that
His very first song

Now it’s Jesse’s time
To join the ages — he’d say
Birds are southward bound

What would Jesse do?
Shed a tear, hug a loved one
And crank up the tunes

“Love in the margins” haiku

For Valentine’s Day, 2014

Love in the margins
Filled with doodled daydream notes
Her skin, lips, hair, eyes

Love in the senses
Perfect recall, unbidden
Her shape, smell, taste, touch

Love in the wrinkles
A map of treasured decades
Stretched belly, etched hands

Love in the marrow
Unshakeable, imprinted
Forever memories