This special post collects the remarks, readings, and music from the memorial service for Bob Martin of Lowell. Thanks to the contributors who gave permission to reprint their selections. The RichardHowe.com blog is sharing the proceedings to document the family and community recognition of Bob’s passing. He was one of the most outstanding artists in Lowell history and an important songwriter and musician among his peers and with his fans. His creative work will endure. Beyond the music, he was loved and admired in his long life. Bob requested readings from various spiritual traditions to begin the memorial service.
“A Celebration of Life”: A Memorial Service for Bob Martin
Martin Funeral Home, Tyngsboro, Mass., Sunday, October 2, 2022
Opening Prayers and Blessing by Chaplain Pam Frydman
The Lord’s Prayer (Protestant tradition)
Our Father who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory,
Hail Mary (Catholic tradition)
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our death.
The Heart Sutra (Buddhist tradition)
When Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is practicing the profound Prajna-paramita,
He sees and illuminates to the emptiness of the five skandhas, and
Thus attains deliverance from all suffering.
Sariputra, matter is not different from emptiness, and
Emptiness is not different from matter.
Matter is emptiness and emptiness is matter.
So too are sensation, recognition, volition and consciousness.
Sariputra, the emptiness character of all dharmas,
neither arises nor ceases, is neither pure nor impure, and
neither increases nor decreases.
Therefore, in emptiness: there is no matter,
no sensation, recognition, volition or consciousness,
no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind,
no sight, sound, scent, taste, tangibles, or dharma,
no field of the eye up to no field of mental consciousness,
no suffering, no cause of suffering,
no ending of suffering, and no path,
no wisdom and also no attainment.
Because there is nothing obtainable.
Bodhisattvas through the reliance on Prajna-paramita
Have no attachment and hindrance in their minds.
Because there is no more attachment and hindrance,
There is no more fear, and
Far away from erroneous views and wishful-thinking,
Ultimately: The Final Nirvana.
Therefore, realize that Prajna-paramita
is the great wondrous mantra,
the great radiant mantra,
the unsurpassed mantra, and
the unequalled mantra.
It can eradicate all suffering, and
It is genuine and not false.
Therefore, utter the Prajna-paramita mantra—
Chant: Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhisvaha!
Traditional Irish Blessing
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sunshine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Bob Martin Was a Good Man by Paul Marion
Bob Martin was a good man.
Let us say that first. And let us say that together.
Bob Martin was a good man.
But that’s past tense.
I don’t think of him as a past tense kind of guy.
Bob Martin IS a good man
Because he’s present in all of us here.
Alive in memory and imagination.
We’re picturing him now.
We can hear him.
We’ll probably dream about him.
He’s in the room in a different form.
For me, he’s never going to be gone.
I have the movie in my mind of shared times.
I have songs on my brain-drive
And if I forget, I can go to any audio device for help.
In motion, he was husband-father-brother-grandad-friend-
Who would not want those labels?
He introduced me to the flavor of San Marzano tomatoes.
I always felt I was in the presence of genius when with him.
Genius is a powerful word, but he earned it.
Of course, he never acted in a way that made you feel
Anything but on his own level.
And yet he had a sage-like tranquility that was special.
He had the goods, and he was comfortable in his lane.
Maybe he was calm because he had touched the brass ring in Nashville,
And seen behind the gold-edged curtain down there.
He reached the mountaintop of music and came back wiser for it.
He told me one time that as a kid he saved
a small piece of brightly colored wire
from a carnival truck that had set up in Lowell.
In bed at night, he’d twirl the wire around one of his fingers.
He kept that hunk of plastic-covered wire as a magic link
to the traveling world of entertainers and artists
who brought joy to all the small places in America.
Any big place is just a bunch of small places piled up.
He wanted to go where the sound and lights were going.
He wanted to be in that vivid truck
bashing down the highway to the next show.
He chased the carnival and caught up with it
In music halls, cafes, clubs, and coffeehouses,
At home or away, in Lowell, New York, or in Europe.
And we all got something good out of it.
Bob, thanks for the music and the stories.
A Lyrical Journey (1/18/42–9/21/22)
by Tami Martin Keaveny with lyrics by Bob Martin
“I was born in the turning of the tide, just this side of a mill town by the sea.”
My father Bob Martin lived an amazing life. A lyrical journey.
A genius, a polymath, storyteller, folksinger, teacher, painter, prankster—a madman—he was called a lot of things.
In his younger days he was nicknamed Wheels for the constant whirring inside of his endlessly curious mind. He had dozens of nicknames over the years—including Lou, Ro, Boogs, Pickle, Pucky, Veegie, and some things mom called him on occasion that I won’t mention. But I am one of two fortunate people who can call him Dad.
One of my earliest childhood memories, is of my father answering my questions about God. What is God? Who is God? Is God a person?
He answered me by taking me outside and pointing to the attributes of each plant in his bountiful garden, explaining that nature was perfect in its life cycle.
“Her morning song makes the sun come up. Put a dime in her old tin cup, and play that Jesus song for me.”
This conversation about the life force continued throughout my life.
Dad had formal religion in his youth, explored the secular Franciscan order, then left the Catholic church to marry his beloved AnneMarie. As he engaged the 1960s counterculture movement, his explorations in spirituality wound through the works of Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, the teachings of Don Juan, into existentialism and eventually Buddhism felt right to him.
“Yesterday’s grease in the fry-o-later. Door got stuck on the elevator. Never made it in time for the job as a waiter, so they made him a busboy.”
A runner and a vegetarian since the early ‘70s who practiced yoga most of his life, health and physical wellbeing were my father’s true religion. After we moved to the farm in West Virginia, he introduced family regimens, replacing the table salt with sea kelp, dosing us with vitamins, spoonfuls of bee pollen from the hives, taking brewer’s yeast, wheat germ oil, hops and goldenseal root teas, chewing on garlic cloves, and at some point there was some supposed redeeming quality from fermented quail eggs that became a bridge too far for me.
“Don’t it seem like you’re never gonna leave and get out on your own. Don’’ it seem when your young the time goes by so slow.”
The American Midwest, Rio, Juarez, these were places of imagination for my dad, places he had never actually been—he wrote adeptly about the road and wanderlust, but he was a proud native son of Lowell, Massachusetts.
A child of Depression-era parents, whose own parents had arrived in the melting pot to weave the fabric, and make a living from the river, Dad had a fascination with the stories of drifters, and desperate characters, people leashed to their fates by economic struggle and social exile.
Chuck’s Bar, Silver Star Lounge, cotton trains from Georgia, French girls from the factory, his definitive Americana often featured Lowell as its main character.
“Big feet clickin’ down the country dirt road. Don’t cha worry bout your tail, draggin behind.”
He consumed life in large ways. Always over the top. He attended and shot his own footage at the original Woodstock, that became a family home movie shown at gatherings, mixed into the birthday party and anniversary Super 8’s of the time.
He hosted seances, explored Bigfoot sightings, tracked UFOs as part of SETI out of UC Berkeley, and once strung enough heavy-duty extension cords end-to-end to reach the highest hill on our farm in West Virginia where he stayed up all night flashing high-powered light patterns to signal potential space travelers.
He built computers, launched his own businesses around early technology. He wrote two books of historical fiction—one based on the Appalachian drug cartel of the 1980s and another crafted from the records of a 20th-century hospital for the criminally insane in upstate New York.
Once, dad returned from a trip to Ireland, with new connections to his ancestry, and a mad passion for baking Irish soda bread. He then guarded his crusty result as if it were gold, to the point where he would hide it. Sometimes forgetting where he hid it, and then interrogating the family to find out “Who stole my Irish bread?”
“She eats a bowl of nails for breakfast, she can’t be more than 3 feet tall.”
Dad usually led with humor. He had a Vaudevillian lineage, and he loved a joke, a prank, always had a trick up his sleeve. Many of us in the room lost bets to him by cracking a smile while he counted to 10 or fell victim to some ruse where he showed up in a disguise. And if you beat him at his own game, he made sure to come back and get you again.
“Maybe time and the turn of season, makin’ changes in me.”
Aren’t we lucky? This was something Dad said over and over during the past 20 years.
It was the greatest joy of his life to become a grandfather. He regarded Jack & Delia as treasures, “How’s my darlins?” he would ask when we spoke.
He was interested in every step Jack took in life, and when I called him to tell him that I had named Delia after his grandmother, Delia Laep, who’d left the small community of Tuam, Ireland in county Galway to start a new life in America, Dad wept to the point of speechlessness.
“It took a lifetime to learn, and now she knows. Time is a lie.”
Dad was so bound to my mother that they became one word: Bobnanne.
When we learned we were facing the final days of Dad’s life. Mom, who had been riding shotgun on Bob Martin’s magical mystery tour for over 56 years and watched his difficult decline for the past 10, said simply: “I’m gonna miss him tons.”
“Stay a while sunshine. Sing your green song.”
Bob Martin’s amazing life was a lyrical journey of omniscience. He leaves us with great gifts. Great memories. Lots of laughs. New ideas. And all that music.
He never feared death, looking at it as the next great frontier to be explored. In our later conversations about mortality, he would remind me that “energy never dies” and he would always be here. And for that I say, “Aren’t we lucky?”
“Captain Jesus, take the wheel in your hand. Sail me home to the milk & honey land.”
“At That Hour” by James Joyce (read by Jack Keaveny)
At that hour when all things have repose,
O lonely watcher of the skies,
Do you hear the night wind and the sighs
Of harps playing unto Love to unclose
The pale gates of sunrise?
When all things repose, do you alone
Awake to hear the sweet harps play
To Love before him on his way,
And the night wind answering in antiphon
Till night is overgone?
Play on, invisible harps, unto Love,
Whose way in heaven is aglow
At that hour when soft lights come and go,
Soft sweet music in the air above
And in the earth below.
“Blackbird” by Lennon and McCartney
(guitar instrumental performed by Delia Keaveny)
Bob by Paul Richardson
It may well seem like a tired old cliché to describe someone as a renaissance man, but in the case of Bob Martin, he came closer to deserving that honorific than anyone I’ve ever personally known. His interests were myriad and stunningly varied, and he tackled each of them with a passion bordering on ferocity. When he took something on, whether it be music, writing, painting, or anything else, he held nothing back. Even in the case of something like making kombucha, where I watched him behave like a mad scientist obsessed with getting the formula just right, he cut no corners.
Where does he get this energy and conviction? I would wonder to myself. Who is this guy? I first met Bob back in the eighties, when somehow or other I got dragged to his house during the Jack Kerouac dedication festivities, and I remember wondering, what am I doing here? Who are these people, and in particular who is that guy running around with a guitar, a look of fury and resolve on his face? Is he deep, I wondered, or just a little crazed?
Well, as it turned out the answer was both. All geniuses are a little crazed. It’s a prerequisite for the job. It took a while for us to really get to know one another, but over the next few years Bob and I would occasionally meet up at the Old Worthen, and during that time we came to realize that we had a lot in common in terms of our outlook on life, and after a certain period I found myself actively seeking him out to exchange ideas with. He made me laugh, and drew me in to his world, which was a world characterized by an appreciation of irony steadied by a quest for meaning.
Everyone knows Bob was a gifted musician but beyond that I saw something else in his song writing beyond the usual. I came to see him as a kind of playwright, in the tradition of Tennessee Williams, William Inge, and Eugene O’Neil. He wrote songs about small people caught up in the vortex of life, people trying to stake out a claim for their souls and make sense of it all. Those songs were, in a real sense, small masterpieces of theater. He had his own cast of drifters and broken-hearted romantics, individuals living out their lives of quiet desperation as they measured out their days in coffee spoons. I played his albums over and over again, always wondering, who is this guy? And how does he know such things about everyone? And that was the key to his talent: his songs were about all of us, and the greater the loss you felt in your own life the more he was singing directly to you.
You undoubtedly all know the album called The River Turns the Wheel, a mid-career work that was a meditation on the town Bob was from, and the ways in which we try to age with something approaching grace. Bob was a great listener, which in my mind explains why he was such a great writer. He was genuinely interested in hearing the stories you had to tell. Bob was driven by a desire to get to the bottom of things, a need to somehow have those things make sense as part of a larger quest to decode what it meant to be human.
My wife Kim and I came to trust and respect Bob and Anne Marie more and more as time went on, to the extent that we asked them to be godparents to our daughter Paige—a request that they accepted with humility and grace. And they doted on Paige whenever they saw her, as I knew they would. But time moved on and as we came ever more under the demands of living the everyday lives we’re all yoked to, we didn’t see as much of each other in later years as I would have liked. You could even say that living itself gets in the way of the lives we really want to live. So, we didn’t see much of Bob and Anne in the last few years, though they were able to attend Paige’s wedding three years ago, and in my mind they occupied a position of honor there. It was like being reunited with lost family members.
And then last winter, when I heard that Bob was Ill, I was crushed. I got out one of his albums and listened to it from start to finish while driving aimlessly in my car. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be seeing him again, and it was a feeling that sadly proved to be all too true. but I comfort myself in knowing that we still have his music, and I sometimes find myself visualizing the Pekinese dog called Baby on the boardwalk at Salisbury Beach, and a quiet Stella Kerouac and those zebras on the wall. I’ll never forget those images; they’re as indelibly fixed in mind as my image of Bob is, in all his ferocious yearning to find meaning in the stories of others. A giant of man has left us, and we’re all a little bit poorer for it. And yet, I still sometimes find myself asking, who was that guy?
Bob Martin by Dave Perry
In early 1986, I was preparing to move from Connecticut to Lowell and a reporter’s job at the daily paper.
The gig included being the Sun’s designated music writer.
My friend Bill Morrissey had some advice: Look up Bob Martin.
“Trust me. Guy’s an amazing songwriter. He’s the real thing.”
Bob grew up in Lowell. Then he sang Lowell.
He loved the R&B vocal gymnastics of Clyde McPhatter and Little Anthony & The Imperials.
But with his weathered voice and vast storytelling gifts, he was destined to be a singer-songwriter.
I dug for Bob’s records when I got to Lowell.
promo copy of Midwest Farm Disaster for three bucks at Harvey’s Bookland and Last Chance Rider, released in 1982, up the street at Record Lane for 10 bucks.
And … man.
Midwest farm Disaster arrived on RCA precisely 50 years ago in October 1972. The same year also produced Eat a Peach, Exile on Main Street, Something/Anything, Ziggy Stardust, Harvest, and an album called Black Unity by the jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who left us three days after Bob.
Midwest Farm Disaster’s rewards grew over time for those lucky enough to find it. Eleven songs, recorded in single takes over three days in Nashville.
His was backed by members of the elite group of session players John Sebastian celebrated as “Nashville Cats.”
Drummer Kenney Buttrey was fresh off laying down the beat for Neil Young’s Heart of Gold.
Sandy Spence was among those who found Midwest Farm Disaster, at 15, and wore out her copy singing harmony to it. She became quite a singer and years later, Bob would ask her to sing harmony of his River Turns the Wheel and Next to Nuthin’ albums, as well as in concert.
She describes singing with him as “transcendent.”
Midwest Farm Disaster arrived just as glam rock reared its glittery heels.
Bob was denim and plaid.
His record was laced with bedrock values and stories of good people facing hard times. Decency, hard work, family, taking care of your fellow man.
In a time of Nixon and Watergate, it was FDR.
It was loaded with Lowell, right down to the line in “Charlie Zink” when Charlie served “a glass of water and potato stew” Bob sings “pa-daydah”
The longer I’ve lived here, the more sense it all made.
Bob’s songs were a mirror—you found yourself and our neighbors in them.
Without proper promotion, it ended up in dollar bins.
But look at the Amazon page for the CD version. You’ll see entry after entry by folks whose dollar yielded a lifetime of rewards, a lasting love of Bob Martin.
Bob played everywhere, including opening for Merle Haggard at Lowell Memorial Auditorium on April 18, 1999. By then, he was a fireplug of a man. When he pulled out his guitar you didn’t know if he was going to play it or beat the crap out of it.
Bob did Lowell proud.
As for spotlights and big fame eluding him, there’s a line in “Mill Town” that sums up his timing.
“Seems I’ve always been one day before tomorrow, he sings.”
A Buddhist would say that wherever you are, you’re right where you’re supposed to be.
In 1982, he recorded a second album, Last Chance Rider, followed by 1997’s The River Turns the Wheel, 2000’s Next to Nuthin’ and a live album from the Bull Run.
His work was honest.
Like his father, he painted houses. He did carpentry.
And he was a teacher.
He taught computers at the Pawtucketville and Varnum schools.
When Bob signed that RCA record deal, he was teaching math in Bolton. He made $6,400 a year. He had a wife and two kids and an artistic itch to scratch.
So he did.
He toured. A lot. Missing his family, he got out.
He bought a 120-acre spread atop a mountain in West Virginia. He sold some of the land to pay the mortgage, then got some grants and founded the Mountain Heritage School in Union W. Va. It taught traditional arts, from weaving to fiddle playing.
Jenn Kearney visited the farm one July in the mid 1990s, part of a group of local musicians.
“It was so beautiful there,” she says. “At night, you’d look up and it was like you were in a planetarium.
But it was the real thing.”
“Bob was very Lowell, very down to Earth.” Says Jenn. “I learned about being a humble musician from him. He was already accomplished but he was always Bob from Lowell, never full of himself. I always looked up to him as a songwriter.
The echo of Bob Martin will always be here.
In local music. Jenn and the Poorhouse Records artists of the ‘90s revered him. If you don’t hear him in the songs of Frank Morey, you’re not listening.
The teacher is never gone if their lessons live on.
from Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
(a Jesse Martin selection read by Dave Perry)
. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.
Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face: from the prison of her flesh born we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.
Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary, unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?
O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.
Eulogy by Brian Bowles (To Be Added)
“Danny Boy” (sung by Sandy Spence Goulet)
Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side.
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling,
It’s you, it’s you must go, and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow,
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow,
It’s I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow,
Oh, Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so!
But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me.
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
For you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me!
Source: Lyric Find. Songwriter: Frederick E. Weatherly
Danny Boy lyrics © Concord Music Publishing LLC, DistroKid
“Goin’ Home” by Bob Martin, © Riversong Music, A Bob Martin Sing-along
Goin’ home on a bright silver bird,
Goin’ home, the sweetest words I think I’ve ever heard
When you say day is done, goin’ home.
He was 19 years old, fighting in the war in Vietnam
In the fields of the Mekong Delta, without shelter
From the rockets and the bombs.
And he went down like so many others,
Lost some friends, lost some brothers
In the final days when the war was winding down.
And he never heard the corporal
Call back to the others,
Pack it up, movin’ out,
We’re goin’ home.
Goin’ home on a bright silver bird,
Goin’ home, the sweetest words I think I’ve ever heard
When you say day is done, goin’ home.
(more verses follow)