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

Categories: Local History

Erin Wiles, Reuter's editor and publisher at St. Louis Projects:

God, this is breaking my heart. Bob was supposed to bring by the last few photos this week to paste into the last six handmade hardcovers of his memoir. He was so excited to get them. We were talking on the phone about the books, then he was telling me about his new place and the renovations they were planning, and how he could walk to his studio. He was so happy -- just enthused with what life had in store for him in the coming weeks -- and you could hear it trembling in his voice, like you can with small children.

Everyone who'd ever met Bob knew he wasn't always like that. In my life, I saw him waver between two extremes -- of uncontainable excitement and this state of outright grumpiness underlied by subtle resentment. I never knew which Bob I was going to get when I met or called him. I liked them both, even though I was vaguely intimidated by the latter -- particularly so before I really met Bob. In my first exposure to him, I had only waited on him a few times at Mangia and of course, heard a few stories from coworkers and patrons. He's so gruff -- such a curmudgeon -- in person. But I'll never forget the time when he caught me leaning against the side of the building, smoking in slanting evening light. He put his hand up in front of his eye and said, "I wish I had my camera." I wonder how many hundreds of times he thought that throughout his late life, and am thankful for the hundreds of times the picture in his mind was captured in celluloid.

Editing the books for him -- one is his memoir and the other, a surprising work of stream-of-conscious poetry and lyrics -- made his life feel like my second life. I spent so much time in his amazing, wonderful, so-fucking-real and don't-give-a-shit-what-you-think stories. When we first published them, I wondered whether I would get correspondence accusing the book of being racist, or sexist, or inappropriate. There was a candor to Bob's writing that expressed the blatant attitude of the time and place he was describing. He didn't sugarcoat or pretend he didn't participate. The book is amazing because we can watch a mind grow from closed to open, and see the formation of the artist from his own point of view. He wasn't ashamed of his sins and was brutally self-aware. And most of the correspondence I got? Glowing, inspired, heart-broken, impressed, tearful (and really only a little of that other stuff I was worried about).

I'm at a loss. He was difficult and hilarious and an asshole and so inspiring. The realest motherfucker. I feel gifted to have been allowed that work. Each person who bought it is blessed to own it. Bob had asked me to keep collecting his stories so we could do another book. I promised you, man -- we have enough, and we will.

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