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

Categories: Local History

Jason Holler, St. Louis musician, Kentucky Knife Fight

With a summertime head cold and two tall glasses of wine behind me, I would like to talk about the recent passing of Bob Reuter.

Our band owes a great debt to Bob. He was the first DJ to play us on the radio. Even though we hadn't pressed vinyl. Even though we were this young unknown band from Illinois. He would still give our CD a spin. Often times he would tastefully tuck our song between the Replacements and some rarity by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Many people knew Bob as the Friday afternoon madman, someone who documented St. Louis with his camera, a songwriter, a musician, a North side native with stories to tell, a South side curmudgeon with a wry wit and dark sense of humor, and a guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of rock n roll.

For me, Bob was all those things. It was my pleasure to be interviewed by him. It was my pleasure to be photographed by him. It was my pleasure to know him. He was a friend and constant supporter.

Bob and I admired tragedy. We would talk about it at length. We would joke about horrible things, awful things. Humor was our defense against a cruel and uncaring world. Music was our direct line to the beauty and potential of human beings.

There was one lunch in particular where I informed him that Chopin had supposedly requested to be buried without his heart due to a lifelong fear of being buried alive. Bob laughed with a mouthful of pasta. After he chewed, swallowed, and wiped his mouth he added in a low voice, "man, that's pretty twisted."

During the same lunch we listed off what we considered the most deceptively depressing songs ever recorded. I declared Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" the most deceptively depressing. I built up this five minute long case. It was fully equipped with a line by line dissection of the tune and I even emphasized my argument with wild hand gestures.

"Yeah, that's a pretty good one," Bob responded dryly, all the while not breaking stride from eating.

"What's your pick?" I asked.

"The Turtles' 'Happy Together,'" he said in between bites, while offering NO explanation. Why no explanation? BECAUSE HE DIDN'T HAVE TO!

Bob was a confidant on dark matters. He was an on-air shaman, whooping and howling around the studio. Through the lens of his camera he viewed a changing city. Among the young musicians of St. Louis he was an oracle. To his friends and radio listeners he was Scratchy Bob. Not only did he leave behind one hell of a record collection, an impressive selection of photographs, and a stack of heartfelt writings, he left behind generations of St. Louis musicians who will never meet him. That part hurts.

I sit here wondering what song was in his head when he stepped out into that elevator shaft. We'll never know.

But I bet it was a good one.

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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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