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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