I regret never meeting local musician, artist and writer Bob Reuter who died tragically on August 3, 2013 in an elevator shaft accident in a downtown loft.
But in typical St. Louis fashion, happenstance brought a couple connections. As a teenager, I was in University City, MO at Vintage Vinyl and I made a flip purchase of one of Bob's records. When the clerk checking me out saw it, he gave me a weird, gruff stare and voiced toward the back of the store: "Hey Bob, this guy wants one of your records, should I sell it to him?" I turned around and saw the look on (who I presume was) Bob Reuter's face and he just kind of stared back at us like he was either slightly pissed or utterly disinterested. I felt like I had to justify why I was buying this record and it was memorable (albeit insignificant) and it stuck with me. As a young suburban kid from Illinois this deviance from buying music at a Camelot/Musicland mall situation proved a serious pull to the west across the Mississippi River.
The other brush with Bob was, of course, listening to his "Bob's Scratchy Records" show on
. The music was typically solid off kilter stuff from Carl Perkins to Neil Young to Dick Hell. Really, it was his on-air personality that made the show standout. I've always liked the more off-centered, regionally grounded stuff that KDHX brings and Bob's show fell into that bucket...a real St. Louis original.
Fast forward to Bob's untimely death in August, 2013 when I started to read a lot of personal tributes, eulogies and kindest of words from friends/acquaintances on Facebook and other media sources saying beautifully nice things about Bob and his impact on their lives and the friendship he brought to many in the St. Louis arts and DIY/Lo-Fi community.
I wish I'd met this guy, more now than ever after having read his book "Tales of a Talking Dog" available at the Central Library at 1301 Olive Street.
The book is hard to find, but you can get one with some persistence. I'm hesitant to put the contact info on here so as not to inundate the kind soul who has helped me out with gaining copies in the past. I will offer to give it to you if you are so inclined, just send me a note.
Here's the story on the publishing of "Tales of a Talking Dog":
Reuter's memoir of his life in St. Louis (and small towns in North County) from the 1950's up until his death in 2013 tells a sometimes tear jerking, sometimes hilarious but always unflinchingly honest recount of what it was like to be a fringe white guy coming of age in the fading industrial north St. Louis post-Civil Rights Era. You trust his perspective and his accounts of racial stories because he always gravitated toward people who were not racist trash; he talks of befriending a black guy in his teenage years and how this had a calming effect on his life, they eventually became roommates in 1969. His stories are largely centered on his upbringing in North City, but pass through the then new suburbs in North County, west St. Louis near the DeBaliviere Neighborhood, a brief time in Syracuse, NY, and then finally settling into a bona-fide artists life in south St. Louis until his untimely death.
The book is a page-turner. A rapid, well written, zig-zag through his life...mostly with the tragically less-documented 1960-1980s St. Louis as the backdrop. If you share a deep interest and quest for understanding of how North City turned from a dense, fully operational healthy group of industrial working class/European-immigrant neighborhoods to the current state of decay and abandonment, then this book is an essential document to take in the stories and settings of the real working-class Northside. Some of Reuter's stories are foreshadowing for why white people disappeared in droves starting in the 1950s...and the bleeding of residents continues today.
He describes his upbringing in North City in great detail and usually accompanied with an occurrence either humorous or tragic enough to make a lasting impression, all the while keeping you glued to his story, always with St. Louis as the backdrop. It paints a familiar yet still distant time when white people still lived in North City is equal numbers to blacks and what it felt like to become a numerical minority as a kid in your neighborhood.
Bob's voice is one that you can't help but trust because he's so honestly portrayed himself in his youth and adult years as well. You want to hear his take on growing up in North City at 2909 Bailey Avenue in
in a violent, transitional, weird time in St. Louis' history.
You'll read first hand accounts and faded memories of a place with Arkansas 3-leg chicken and chop suey joints, hillbilly chanties "never meant to last", Southern Pentacostal Church girls in storefront churches who's dads moved north to work in paint factories by the river.
You'll hear of when North City was still integrated with whites and blacks and how one of the last remaining Catholic schools Bob attended had to chain the door from the inside during school hours and the schools with white students were forced to stagger the time they let school out so the kids would have a chance to get home before the black schools let out and the brutal beat downs would occur.
Bob describes a time in ~1966 when black people started marking their turf and how the mid-60's were becoming inhospitable for even open minded cool white people with roots in the neighborhood:
"Well, 'round about then, the black folk started moving in and marking out their new turf. Seemed like they'd move in during the winter, but you wouldn't really notice 'til it got warm out. Civil rights was heatin' up and the streets were a war zone. I kept spending more and more time at the band house down off Broadway near the river, and only touched down back home on occasion."
And then in 1969 walking home from school:
"My senior year in high school, I'd walk the two long blocks from the school to the bus stop to get home. It was the only Catholic high school on the Northside. This wasn't no place to be white, and the worst thing a teacher could do to you was keep you after school long enough to miss your bus and have to get home alone. They staggered our schedule to let us out twenty minutes before the all-Black public schools in the area, so as to limit confrontations. So this one night, there we were, a handful of white and black Catholic school guys, all just tryin' to get home. Too early for trouble...or so we thought.
I stood there with five or six others and noticed this one sad kid, some sophomore misfit leaning 'gainst the corner lamp post alone. Then, as if out of nowhere, a black kid gang surrounded him, moving in quickly. Piranhas come to mind.
I watched in slow motion. He was there and then not, lost in a sea of throwing black hands. Then just as suddenly, they pulled back and I saw him, now covered in blood, slide slowly down the pole to the ground. He had no facial features, just streams of blood. The boys who'd jumped him swung wildly as they fled. One hit me in the mouth as he passed. I spun, scared to death, out into the street with nowhere to run-no safe direction-just as the bus pulled up, just slowly with doors open."
Stories of when the city used to hose down the streets to wash all the trash into the sewers, and a recount of the established rules in place for swimming in Fairground Park post the horrible
that took place there. Stories of being strung out and living in a 17-room abandoned house just north and west of Forest Park in the hedonistic 1970s. Bob describes living among thieves and drug addicts and racists and tales of friends getting rid of old wrecked cars by driving them into the Mississippi River.
His tales of a musician and artist are equally fascinating with memories of working on the set of "White Palace" and describing the 1970s St. Louis underground rock scene when the "St. Louis Outlaw" paper was published and rocking out with the Dinosaurs, one of the first DIY bands of the time. How he was listening to Iggy Pop and the Stooges eating canned stew smeared on Wonder bread, practicing in basements in the industrial zones off Broadway by the river and "rockin' and rollin' on the lowest possible level". He describes when musicians would do popup shows on "Hippie Hill" in Forest Park by the World's Fair Pavilion.
The book also provides insight on the juxtaposition of St. Louis and neighboring suburbs in North County. The entry on page two reads:
"When I was growing up in North City, we hated anybody who lived in the suburbs. They hardly knew we were even there (you mean people LIVE down there?)."
And how living in the working class city made him an alien in the "new suburban life" out by Lambert Airport where we recounts a tale where he was dropping a friend off at his house in a then wealthy suburb after a night of drinking and needing to drain his bladder in the worst of ways. He went in to a place where he wasn't welcomed during the day, where his friend's mom called him "Icky Boy". After a night of drinking, here's how he describes that drop off:
"So I'm in the bathroom trying to pee. I gotta go but it's hard to concentrate cause I'm blind drunk and can hear her (friends' mom) lecturing him. I'm standing there over the toilet, supporting myself with a hand on the wall, and I'm looking around at the bright red shag carpeting on the floor and the frosted glass shower doors with etched little fishes swimming 'cross wiggly waves....All of a sudden, I just get this wild hair and start pissing all over everything-the carpet, the fuzzy toilet seat cover, the frosted fishy shower doors (I never ever lived anywhere with a shower).
When I finished, I surveyed my work and saw that it was good. I slipped out the side door and on out to the car like I'd just knocked over a gas station. The whole way home to the city, I felt this warm glow of satisfaction: I'd done what I'd done for my people, for my class...and 'cause I just figured it was the kind of thing that a guy named "Icky Boy" would probably do."
Again, the soul of the book is Bob's heartrendingly honest accounts of growing up without a dad and being raised in a place where he wasn't always welcome and had a complicated relationship with his family. Admitting to being a broken man at times, but how redemption of art and plodding through kept him going. There is an uplifting recount of a time playing the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, MO and having a cherished interaction with a kid in the audience that'll bring a tear to the eye of any dad or childless guy alike.
Then, a memorable story about one of Bob's favorite guitar players, Gene Edlen, from North County. He describes Gene's showman-like, yet legit playing and songwriting that he admired from afar as Gene and he were from different parts of town (City v County) and those folks typically "didn't mix". He tells a story about one day Gene was called for his draft physical during the Vietnam war; he showed up and proceeded to go through the motions of the physicial when he found himself standing in a line and just decided to say 'fuck all' and took off running down Market Street in nothing but his underwear and shoes to escape the draft processes. Gene became a fugitive and was laying low playing in biker bars and hanging out in North County. Gene died and here's how Reuter recounts his passing:
"So when did Gene die? I don't know, late 80s, early 90s. Go on out to the Charlack Pub and ask, they'll tell ya.
I heard that shortly before the time of his death, he was playing 4 AM shows over on the East Side.
How'd he die? I suspect it was written up as "death by misadventure." I didn't really know Gene. I know he at least knew who I was...but goddamn it. You can't even believe how much you're missed, brother. You did leave you mark."
Bob Reuter, I didn't really know you either, but I miss you, brother. Thanks for telling your stories in book form. As a result, we have one of the best personal accounts of the 1960s/70s St. Louis rock scene and growing up in North City in its most transitional era.