We felt like sharing some memories of our earliest days in St. Louis, reminiscing about the mid-1990s. This is a continuation of that post, with an emphasis on a local access cable show called Critical Mass and honing in on why I preach that St. Louis is its own thing and the small towns that surround it are not at all like St. Louis in most cases, and an upbringing/formative years in these other places do not translate into a true St. Louis experience but are wholly and equally meaningful at the same time.
Basically, we’re trying to validate the fact that where you are from means something very real, and if you sugar coat this basic fact, honesty and revelation as a real person may elude you throughout life.
I’ve lived this, growing up in Belleville, being with a woman from Fairview Heights for over 20 years and living in St. Louis for just about that same 20 years. We’ve reached that tipping point of life in IL and STL.
We’re from Belleville and Fairview Heights, but we’ve lived in St. Louis for over 20 years. This is the lived truth. This is who we are.
But maybe sometimes it helps to hear the same sentiment from somebody famous, respected, or influencial. Like Jeff Tweedy on a local access cable interview at Kennedy’s in 1991 on Critical Mass.
Jeff Tweedy, a dude from Belleville, Illinois, now Chicago, played bass, guitar and wrote/sang some very great songs in a rock band called Uncle Tupelo (and later Wilco) who started in Belleville and ended up getting signed on Warner Brother Records, putting their stamp on American music and changing many people along the way, us included.
I can’t write adeptly enough to explain how much this band formed us as teenagers and twenty somethings. Their records and their ethos shook us...nothing seemed more immediate, real, rocking and cool.
This band was one that drew me to music and I had to have people in my life that liked the same kind of music and felt inspired to get up and do something about it.
Looking back at my trajectory in the Belleville days, I could very well be siding with Trump supporters and working at a glass shop and still listening to Kansas and shooting my mouth off about how the kids need to start listening to KSHE and picking up the damn guitar, get off their phones and rock again.
Uncle Tupelo changed us. That is dramatic, I know, but art can do that and still does to this day.
And in this case, back then, her art came from pottery and drawing and mine was always and only listening to music. Music was my currency then and probably still, now.
I played her Uncle Tupelo on a cassette tape for the first time when we started dating. Her immediate “yeah!” reaction cemented my teen lust/love for her. We were a match now, and I knew I could forgive the Cure sticker on her VW bug. I met somebody real here. She likes to rock, and not just in my April Wine’s eye.
We’ve shared our love of music for our entire relationship. Enough to define memories and timeframes and very specific moments. I can say: “what do you think of when you hear Peter Bruntnell?”, and she will relay the memory right down to the details that I have in my noggin. We validate each other in love, a place in time and experience…all set to music.
If she would’ve scoffed at Uncle Tupelo, we’d a been done and I would’ve thrown a Screaming Trees tape at her, verbally berated her and sped off in my Dodge Omni. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!
A life tipping point…the crossroads for us maybe.
We’ve got 20+ years now and that just married, we were together for 6 years before we got hitched by a priest named Father Blood at St. Cecelia’s down on Alaska and Eichelberger in South City.
So I clicked on this Critical Mass video with Tweedy and was listening somewhat aloof until 0:58, when I locked in on the question the interviewer posed…this was the perfect question, and I was hanging on the answer.
The interviewer, asked:
“I think what’s neat about Uncle Tupelo is they made an identity for themselves and they stuck with the Belleville, Illinois, instead of (like) a St. Louis band. Was that a choice that you consciously made or did it just seem natural to say ‘hey, we’re from Belleville, we work around St. Louis but we’re really from Belleville, Illinois’?”
Reader, the antennae went up when I first heard this question posed to one of my teen hero’s. I listened hard after that question was posed.
Here’s what Tweedy said:
“Well, our first instinct has always been when somebody asks you where you’re from…I’ve lived in Belleville, Illinois for 23 years. I say Belleville, Illinois.
If there are bands in St. Louis that can say they are from Webster Groves or Clayton or whatever…we’ve always felt really separate from St. Louis.
When I was a kid, going to St. Louis was like going to mars.”
My experience too, I smile every time.
So me writing this maybe stemmed from something self-serving. I thought, if somebody famous, or talented or inspiring said the same things I’ve been saying for almost 20 years, maybe it’ll somehow justify a stance I’ve taken in my life.
Please just say where you are from with the most revealing/honest part of your heart out there. Own it. Don’t sugar coat it, don’t make it easy…make it real. Own it.
Here’s the video.
If you’re into the whole brevity thing, just start at 0:58 and find what I’ve been yakking about.
Where you are from and where you live matters.
Peace and kindness from South City.