Remembering Bob Reuter: St. Louis Speaks [Multiple Updates]

Categories: Local History

Joe Thebeau of Finn's Motel

I won't be the first person to say that what I shared with Bob Reuter was an uneasy friendship. That's because with Bob, almost nothing was easy. When I hired him to shoot promo photos for my band, he asked for money in advance to buy photo paper. So, I gave it to him. Then, when a few weeks had gone by and the photos still hadn't been printed, he said he needed more money for photo paper. What had happened to the previous payment? I didn't ask. I knew he was often living from one $20 bill to the next, so I gave him another handful. The photos did eventually materialize and they were great. But, it wasn't easy. And why should it be?

The essence of a great story is conflict. And the best art is that which makes you uncomfortable in some way. Nobody understood this better than Bob Reuter. His songs, his stories, and his photos were great, not because he was a great singer, not because he had a great command of the language, and not because his photos were perfectly in focus. His voice often cracked, he preferred to use street language, and his photos were often obscured on purpose. But, they were great because Bob was a master at recognizing, capturing, and sometimes even creating conflict. His songs often have characters whose problems go unresolved. His short stories are filled with arguments and fights, which as we know in real life, almost never end with everyone living happily ever after. The best of his photos are those where you can easily imagine the shit that must have just happened right before the shutter clicked. And a guy his age taking pictures like that of young girls, well, that made us all a little uncomfortable. But all great art does that.

We had an uneasy friendship. Though I hired him for photo shoots, went to his photo exhibits and went to his music shows and short story readings, Bob kept me at a bit of a distance. For good reason. I have a day job working for The Man, I left South City for the suburbs, and have often sacrificed my art for family life. I tend to avoid conflict. A guy like me ends up cast in the role of antagonist in a Bob Reuter story. I got nervous writing this, because I could hear his voice asking, "why did you get him to write about me?" Not to say we didn't get along. He commented favorably on a poem I wrote, calling it "epic." We talked about how Bob's dedication to live the life of an artist was something Henry Miller wrote about a lot. We had plenty of agreement. But, it's fair to say that we had differences of opinion. So, I'm sure I won't be the only person that Bob left with unresolved arguments. But, all the best stories end that way.

Dana Smith, St. Louis artist and musician

The main thing that always drew me to Bob was his photographs. Every single photo of his captures truth and honesty. His songs capture that too, of course. In 2005 I had a son and suddenly realized I was going to have to have family portraits done. The very first thought in my mind was Bob Reuter. I contacted him and he was all for it. I wanted the photos done on a specific day and would need to coordinate with Bob to make sure he was available and able to make it at some point during that day. For four years we did this annually.

Sometimes I'd have to pick him up or drive out to some specialty camera store to buy the right kind of film that he used, but any minor task like that was fully worth the effort. I'd assemble my family, with a daughter addition in 2007, and he'd snap away. We never had a plan, just think off the top of our heads -- let's sit here or go to this park and see what happens. I never told him what or how to shoot. Never asked for specific type of pictures. Never asked for specific sizes. I simply asked him what was the charge and payed him in cash. Then we'd go our separate ways.

When the photos were ready he'd contact me or I'd see him at show and we'd tentatively plan to meet up so I could get them. Each time he gave me a batch of photos, any expectations I might have had were far exceeded, and those photographs have always been the most cherished images I have of my family.


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14 comments
archangel666
archangel666

I heard one of Bob's ex-friends put a New Orleans style curse on him a few months ago. He had treated this person very badly, inexcusably so, in a way that only Bob could try to excuse. Kinda' makes ya wonder...though knowing Bob it probably wasn't the only time he'd been cursed. Don't think I'm disrespecting him, but he did have a nasty side. Which probably made his softer side even sweeter.

Patrick Lester
Patrick Lester

Black Friday radio show-Funny Dude,at a different level than most peoples minds operant on!

CLEMENSBYRON000
CLEMENSBYRON000

Known Bob Henry Reuter as people say off and on since 1968. Don "Frankie" tomazi, DeAndreis, North St. Louis his mom . . . Dinosaur days, Kamikazee Cowboy photos books . . . Watched over him in intensive care twice . . . Was in my wedding "uncle" to my kids . . . He was no saint but he was real . . . Like any real artist he was sometimes a jerk . . . but I can say that like so many others there is a big hole in my cynical old heart . . . I loved the man, his music, his art . . . And his struggles Bob was no saint but he was a "real" artist and appealed to the better angels in all of us flawed and sometimes dark but ALL heart no surrender

SocRandom
SocRandom

I was never a fan of Bob Reuter.  I listened to his radio show at times; I saw him perform around town.  I never connected with his rowdy radio host personality or with him as a performer.  I didn't dislike him, it's just that I never connected with him in a way that made me want to hear more.  I believe we had some things in common; he attended some of the same shows I attended and we had mutual friends.

All this being said, when I heard about his tragic death over the weekend I was compelled to follow the story.  I was shocked; I wanted to know what had happened and why.  We are still waiting for some of those answers and we may never know some of them.  As I followed the story, I began to read the tributes about him, written by friends and fans.  I listened to his songs in a way I never had before; I looked at his photography and thought "WOW!".  I began to see something that I had never seen before, never noticed, never sought out.  I saw that he put his heart into the things that he did, the way he lived his life.  He was completely himself, and he didn't care who liked him and who didn't.

What I started to really see is that he was the type of person that I aspire to be.  He made a mark.  He influenced people by what he did and who he was.  Not everybody will recognize this influence but it is there.  I started to feel a kinship with him by realizing that he was motivated by the same thing that motivates me: a passion and love for art and creativity.  I realized that I write songs and record them so that people will know me better after I am gone.  I do this for my daughter first and foremost, so she will someday know me as a person and not just as a parent.  She will know what/who I loved, what I cared about, and how I struggled.  I also do this for my family and friends, and anyone else who cares to listen.

There are two very valuable lessons we can learn from Bob's life.  First, be who you are and don't be afraid to show it.  Second, appreciate those people around you while they are here, rather than when they are gone.  Thanks Bob!

tonypatti
tonypatti

Bob made himself important almost casually, by recording and releasing the first DIY punk rock single I remember seeing. There were no covers, just plain white sleeves, but the label had a wild, crude, howling figure decked out like a punk on one side, and that was enough. Up until this point, most of the musicians around town had only vague ideas about recording music, which seemed like something only signed musicians were allowed to do. Bob's now commonplace act, of doing it himself, was a radical invention to every band that saw it. You have to understand what this meant to St. Louis: Bob literally jump-started the entire scene with this 45 record. 

The Dinosaurs played with all the earliest punk bands of the late 70s. The Retros, The Camaros, The Felons. But Bob didn't look punk to us. He looked old, with his beard and his balding hair, his plain cowboy shirts, so many of the kids and punks rejected him, not so violently, but by limiting their enthusiasm. And soon after getting everyone whipped up with that record, Bob went away to Syracuse, and we all wondered what happened to the Dinosaurs.

Through the years, I kept going back to the Dinosaurs. The first big punk band! Rock'n'Roll Morons! The ancient shows, dim in memory, the excitement of something radical and new happening.

When he came back through, punk rock had curdled into the formula of the 80s that reached it's most formulaic height in the band Green Day decades later. Bob was now singing country music, and this was even more radical than I might be able to get across. There was probably no time in the musical landscape when country music was more unhip than the mid 80s. Bob seemed irredeemably lost to most people in the local music scene. He must have been bitterly angry about the lack of attention he suffered back then, but he still had his fans, just not the cool, cruel, trend-loving alternative kids. 

But Bob never stopped playing, he just got better. His band Kamikaze Kowboy suddenly seemed to fit into the scene a little more naturally, as Uncle Tupelo and Diamond Stud started throwing down country covers, and Uncle Tupelo started writing songs that had a strong country influence, much like what Bob had been doing without any recognition. They blew up big time, and Bob continued, with a bigger fan base, doing his rock and country hybrid, with Kamikaze Kowboy, throughout the 90s.

In 2000, after a couple of minor recordings, he recorded his greatest alt-country CD, Down In America, and seemed to have reached a kind of peak, at least of songwriting and critical recognition. But Kamikaze Kowboy kind of fell apart, and Bob mostly played solo most of the time, and could be seen working the door at Frederick's Music Lounge. A lot of people who he became close to got to know him then, as an old guy who did a lot of solo gigs and sold photos in bars.

His comeback, after nearly dying of a heart attack, was mythic, inspiring, glorious. That bitterness, that anger, that resentment of seeing everyone else get their slice of the glory finally started to fade, a little, though the habit was hard to break. A lot of people through the years could never understand Bob's distance, his anger, his sharp edges, but through the years of never-ending struggle just to have a toehold in the music scene while shallow stars shot up and faded away around him, he managed to use that anger as fuel to keep going, to keep true; always offering us a chance to see how brightly he could shine.

jasminblu59
jasminblu59

Bob once told me that for all that he had a million contacts in his phone, there was only maybe one or two people he could really call when he was in need of help. He felt his "friendships" were very superficial, that he never got close to people. "Everyone I get really close to always leaves me and you're prolly going to leave me, too" he'd say. I don't think people left him so much as he drove them away. He'd get abusive and alienating and controlling. That, and his racism and his borderline perverted desire for young girls did, in fact, drive me away, too. It's sad to me, because the part of him that was gold was 24 kt solid. We were very close, for a very short time, until his demons took over. I hope when he crossed the River Styx he left those demons on the far shore, and I hope he is now really resting in peace...

bill.streeter
bill.streeter topcommenter

@jasminblu59 I think that Bob's obvious human flaws is part of what makes him attractive as an artist. That he could have these deep personal shortcomings and still contribute something wonderful to the world is something we can all learn from. He knew he had demons, he acknowledged them, he wasn't proud of them but he was able to expose them to the light of day and examine them in public through his music and writing and we're all better off for this. 

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