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

Categories: Local History

Ellen Herget, St. Louis musician, the Skekses:

I knew a man, he grew up on the north side in a house full of women, couldn't even keep a dog to his name, loved music more than he loved himself, lived on the road and a thousand places. He fell down an elevator shaft, and that's all she wrote.

Who would love that story more than Bob?

Bob Reuter was the walking gestalt of our city: all of its odd bits and sharp edges, all of its warped love and hard times -- Bob was the embodiment of it, and he was a good man.
When I met him he was so hard that I wondered if he had any tenderness. But I realized the stuff in his brain was worth listening to. And in the last few years I saw a definitive change in him.

He used to hate playing during the day, and he used to be miserable around children. Both of those things changed at the same time. His oft-recalled meeting with a little boy named Dresden completely changed his life, and suddenly he accepted kids as primal little honesty-spouters, and rather interesting. Daytime shows became fun for Bob, because kids could attend. They gave him joy, because they really listened to him, and they really danced.

In the same period, the man who was glad he'd never had children found himself with caring, surrogate sons -- nephews, at least -- in the boys in his band: Maysam, the Barecevics, DoorMat, Dan-O and, more recently, Adam Hesed. During the last Alley Ghost recording, they helped him draw up his will. His band was his family, the family of men he never had.

He had never toured until the last few years. He documented it extensively in his unique words and pictures.

On a personal level, Bob was a fine friend. Other people will talk of the moments when he was difficult, but he was always kind to me. At the last Alley Ghost show I attended, two or three weeks ago at CBGB, he called me up to sing with him. I am so glad I did -- I am so glad I did. Livin' at the bottom of the top of the Dirty South.

When the news was delivered to me by his editor Erin Wiles, she was so shaken up I found myself immediately looking to the comforting words we tell ourselves and our friends when someone has passed. "It was a quick passing. He was so happy with his life. He was doing everything he wanted to do." On one level, these things sounded hollow; on another, I realized that they were utterly true.

Bob came over for a tarot reading about a month ago. We chatted for two or three hours. His voice was full of love. His heart was full of love. He was thrilled with every inch of his life, and he had built that life entirely for himself. While he accepted his roots of sorrow and struggle, he was just beginning to feel that he needn't make himself suffer any more to get the most out of this life.

He was happy.

Bob Reuter, icky boy, talking dog, self-described loser, was totally happy, in the last few years, perhaps for the first time in his life.

This is because of the beautiful work he was doing. This is also because of all of you.

He lived and breathed St. Louis, and he knew you did too. If you snap pictures, if you sing songs, if you write words, you add to the power of St. Louis. That is a power Bob worked his entire life to be a part of, and he could see what felt like a lone mission for six decades blossom into an entire community in the last few years.

I believe, for the first time in his life, Bob Reuter did not feel alone. I believe he was proud of this place, and excited to grow even prouder.

He does not want your tears -- well, not more than a few. We can't ignore that he's gone, it would certainly hurt his feelings, and you know how Bob gets when he has hurt feelings!

But he does want your songs, your words and your pictures.

It is our job now to attempt to do 1/1000th of the work he did here. It is now our job to document this place and time. He showed us how to do all of it, how to observe and document every unique moment, in the midst of violence, poverty, and the staggering sense of futility that dogs every artist in low times. He showed us how to do this.

To Bob Reuter: friend, contrarian, artist, man.


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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 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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