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

Categories: Local History

Randall Roberts, former KDHX DJ, former music editor of the Riverfront Times, current pop-music critic for the Los Angeles Times:

In an interview last year with the RFT, Bob Reuter explained one reason for the volume and variety of his creative output: "I decided that when I die, I'm going to leave a ton of shit that people can look through and know about me when I'm not here."

This is the story of one piece of that shit.

During the final broadcast of my KDHX radio show, Sovereign Glory, which ended in the spring of 2007 as I was preparing to move to Los Angeles, Bob showed up carrying a black book about the size of a Bible.

I'd known Bob in the way that many did: hanging around bars, clubs and KDHX. Over my years in St. Louis I'd witnessed him play gigs both hellbent and heaven sent, watched as he blew opportunities and burned and rebuilt bridges with eyes and intentions that were sometimes hard to read, but whose presence seemed an essential ingredient of south city's creativity.

The singer/photographer/DJ, of course, wouldn't be caught dead with a Bible, and as he entered the air studio he handed it to me. The cover was handmade, featured a thick red cross glued to it along with the words "The Last Broadcast." Affixed was a cutout of a classic image from the 1950s depicting rows of moviegoers wearing 3D glasses and staring at the screen.

The book was a farewell offering, he said, a project that he'd worked on over the years while listening to Sovereign Glory. It was thick, its cover curled like it'd sat on a humid porch throughout a St. Louis summer.

Bob wished me luck on my move, I thanked him, a bit dumbfounded. I leafed through it quickly in the studio while cueing up my next record. That's all remember about the exchange, but in the six years since, "The Last Broadcast" has become an object I cherish -- and over the past 24 hours its messages have been pouring out.
Once a blank-paged diary, it is filled with 300 pages of collages, the result of hours spent listening to music, cutting and pasting.

For the book's frontispiece, for example, Reuter refashioned a torn-out image of Irish Republican Army freedom fighter Bobby Sands near the end of his hunger strike, emaciated and staring blankly at the ceiling.

Below it, Bob had attached a clipped-out quote from blues singer Son House's "Preachin' the Blues."

I met the blues this morning, walking like a man
I met the blues this morning, walking like a man
I said, 'Good morning, blues, give me your right hand.'

Pages of collage follow, each flip revealing blasts of imagery and glimpses of Reuter's wry, cynical wit. A photo of a crack-addled woman with a glued headline, "Tomorrow, the World." Elsewhere on the page is a caption clipped from a book review: "... killing herself by penetration of the heart with knitting needles while Archer and the husband are talking in the same room."

Weird juxtapositions abound. One page features a twisted black-and-white photo of a man standing on a porch in a gnarly, hand-sewn bunny costume. The ears are cockeyed, and the bunnyman has his arm around a matronly old woman. "Mysteries of the deep," reads the cut-out caption.

There's an image of his long-time photographic muse, Shanna Kiel, holding a gun, stuck to a blurry photo of a horse-drawn stagecoach. A picture of rockabilly hero Ronnie Hawkins is accompanied by a Reuter-scribbled caption, "Adonis in Brylcreem - age 17." Lee Hazlewood with beefy mustache sitting with two kids wearing fake ones. Single-panels of Chris Ware and Charles Burns comics juxtaposed with action shots of baseball players from the 1950s.

Just as revealing are the quotes, quelled from various printed sources -- sentences and paragraphs, interview exchanges, headlines, all cut and re-contextualized:
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mystery," reads one, stuck atop Henri Cartier-Bresson's 1931 photograph of a bowler-hatted gentleman standing in the rain, the long stem of a cigarette holder extending from his lips.

"I stayed left and they went right," accompanies a illustration of a future-boy flying through the air propelled by a backpack helicopter.

Another creepier one: "In 'Mojo Farmer,' a widowed farmer plants a garden of murdered cats and whispers secrets to a scarecrow whom he has lovingly dressed in his dead wife's clothing."

"Truth is chaos."

"Farewell is a lonely sound."

The collages jump from pages, mysterious messages only Reuter could translate but which combine to offer a kaleidoscopic look within a complicated, ever curious head.
"The Last Broadcast" is one of my most cherished gifts because it not only recorded a man's creative mind, but confirmed an otherwise unknown relationship that all DJs aspire to have with listeners: To play music that connects with untold others and fuels the spirit.
Too, the book is a physical manifestation of both my time spent sharing music and his time occupied receiving it. That its contents are variously surreal, inspired, profound, bitter, cynical and defeatist shouldn't be surprising to anyone who knew Bob.

The circumstance of his death -- he fell down an empty elevator shaft in downtown St. Louis -- is hard to digest. By all reports, he'd been as happy as he'd ever been. (I had only seen him a few times since moving.)

But I'd like to think that such a strange and tragic demise would have sparked a touch of giddy electricity within his creative self, especially one particular sentence written by veteran St. Louis news personality Betsey Bruce in an online report on his fall.
"The access to the door was open and the individual was able to step in and felt the elevator was there and in fact it was not."

I'd like to imagine him sitting alone, lost in music, snipping that statement out of a printed report, appreciating both the irony and symbolism. Each step forward, after all, is an act of faith.

He'd glue it on an empty page, then start scouring for the next piece of the puzzle. Hopefully he'd find a weird complementary photo of Bruce from the early '80s sitting at a news desk next to Dick Ford or Don Marsh.

Reuter's puzzle is now scattered across St. Louis and America, music, art, photos and ephemera crafted by an artist on a nonstop creative quest. Now the task of honoring his work -- or, as he'd no doubt phrase it, "gathering his shit" -- begins.

-- Randall Roberts is the pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times. Follow him on Twitter at @liledit.


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13 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

@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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