Sunday, August 4, 2013

Remembering Bob Reuter, St. Louis Renaissance Man

Every time I sit down to write one of these kinds of things I worry that I sound pretentious because so many other people knew the departed so much better than me.  I wasn’t close to Bob Reuter, I wasn’t an expert on his life, and this isn’t intended to be an official tribute of any kind.

I guess I’m mostly writing this for me.  But I’ll share it because if even one reader gets turned on to Bob Reuter’s music, photography, or writing because of this, then I feel like I’ve done him some kind of solid.

I was devastated today to open up my computer and see the flood of comments about the passing of St. Louis Renaissance Man Bob Reuter.   When I first read people saying they were going to miss him, I assumed that maybe he’d recently announced that he was going to stop doing his radio show.  That made me sad.  But I quickly learned that it was much more serious than that. 

Bob was moving into a new apartment space in downtown St. Louis.  According to the Riverfront Times and STLToday, Bob attempted to step onto a freight elevator in his new building, but the elevator shaft was dark and he didn’t realize that the elevator was actually above him.  He fell into the shaft and dropped 18 feet to his death.

18 goddamned feet killed Bob Reuter.

And he’d just been on Facebook the night before talking about how rad his new place was.

I first heard of Bob twelve years or so ago when I became a member of listener-supported radio station KDHX in St. Louis.  After joining, I got a newsletter in the mail and there was a big fuss about this guy Bob who was doing a new show on the station, Bob’sScratchy Records.  The only thing about the interview I remember is there was a whole section of it about how the song he used to launch his inaugural show was an AC/DC track.  I remember thinking, “Well, that seems kinda mainstream.”  I had so much to learn about being true to yourself and appreciating music for the feeling and vibe and nothing else.

I eventually started listening to his show and it opened up a whole world for me.  I don’t mind telling you that the Dirty Roots Radio Show has been greatly influenced by Bob.  Not only did Bob turn me on to all kinds of music, but he was also the one who taught me that you could go all kinds of ape shit banana crazy on the air and rip your very heart open for all to hear, exposing the deepest secrets, darkness, and light inside it to whoever happened to be listening.  And he taught me that when you do that, it will create a unique, undeniable, and incredible bond between you and your listeners.  Bob taught me that it’s OK to talk all over a song while it’s playing on the totally disrespect the music, while at the very same time completely respecting it and loving it with every fiber of your being.

In addition to hosting his weekly show on KDHX, Bob was a photographer, storyteller, and musician.  Eventually we became acquaintances after I interviewed him when his first album with his band, Alley Ghost, was released.  He was performing live in front of Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis for the second annual Record Store Day celebration.  I remember during the performance, he kicked over his drummer’s snare drum, mid-song.  I couldn’t help but feel that the drummer didn’t look as thrilled with the action as Bob obviously was.

We talked on and off over the years, mostly through Facebook.  I remember one late night conversation when he turned me on to Johnny Thunders.  Thanks for that, Bob.  I remember a conversation about Vaudeville-era one-man-band Abner Jay.  I also remember one time, the day after a T-Model Ford concert we were both at, that somehow we discovered that we’d both gone home and watched the movie “True Romance” after the show.  I remember trying to philosophically get to the bottom of what, cosmically, was happening that our brains were both in the same place to that degree. 

One of my favorite memories was seeing Bob in a small bar attached to the venue where I’d seen Steve Earle perform.  Bob did a post-Steve Earle-show performance.  He’d just been voted “Best Songwriter in St. Louis” for the first – but not last - time.  There weren’t many people there, which surprised me.  I had to leave before he was done, but late that night I sent him a message that I’d really enjoyed the show.  He wrote me back and opened up about how much he needed to hear that message right then.  He was just having one of those days where you wonder if things were all worth the effort.  It made me feel good that I could do that for him.  He’s someone I look up to and admire so much and to A) know that he felt that way, like any other person, was kind of humbling in a way.  And B) anytime I get close to genuinely telling someone how much something they did meant to me, there’s an initial moment of hesitation.  I guess its pride or fear or vulnerability or something.  But sometimes I give into that shyness and don’t share the compliment.  I always regret it when I don’t.  This was one of the times where I went out on a limb and offered the unabashed praise.  And not only was it graciously received, but, for him it meant the difference between a bum night of “no one gets it” and “hey, at least SOMEone gets it.”  It just felt good to do that for someone who was, if not a hero, then not far from it.

That vulnerability, Bob’s ability to share what was in his heart, is one of the things I most admire and love about him.  If you’ve read my blog or listened to my radio show with any sort of regularity, you know one of my personal themes is the amazing duality of life – how it can all at once be completely hard, brutal, awful, and unbearable, yet at the same time be so wonderful, awe-inspiring, and beautiful.  Bob got that.

I’ve been working on a review of his latest book, “Tales of a Talking Dog”.  I haven’t been much able to get past the opening line I wrote…which is “Bob Reuter gets it.  Gets what?  Well, he gets me.  And he gets you.”  I absolutely hate it when writers say that someone they’re writing about “gets it”.  Gets what?  And what makes you THE expert on whatever IT is? 

But in the case of Bob…he GETS IT.  And IT…well, IT is life.  He gets how hard it is.  He knows.  He struggled and scraped to get by most of his life.  And he knows how beautiful and wonderful life is.  I’ve never met anyone else so genuinely thrilled and appreciative of the modest amount of success they were able to achieve.

Bob got it.  He got life.  And because of that, he got you and me.  And because of THAT, he was so incredibly relatable and approachable.  His words – in his stories, books, and songs – resonated with something so special.  Because he got you.  And you recognized that.  There aren’t many people you can truly say that about.  It’s a rare thing.

In “Tales of a Talking Dog” Bob described his music as such:  "Sunshine and fresh air have nothing to do with the music I play.  Rock and roll is meant to involve loud volumes in small sweaty rooms.  It is sex, anger, joy, and pain in repetition, mixed with a certain amount of darkness and mystery. ..The music we make involves a certain amount of communal sharing, the release of demons, the ritualistic sacrificing of widely-held cultural beliefs, virginal maidens, and televisionary deceits.”

Prior to his work with Alley Ghost, Bob worked with the bands Kamikaze Cowboy, Thee Dirty South, and the Dinosaurs.  You can find a lot of that stuff online and some of it through his record label, Big Muddy Records.  Look it up.  It deserves to be heard.

He released a book of photography a while back called “Light Fuse and Run”.  His photography is simply amazing.  Gritty, black and white…raw.  He conveyed his feelings about the beauty and awfulness of life through his photographs.  In a digital age, he still developed real film in an actual dark room.

Bob was always talking about the great things that made him feel alive.  The last thing I remember him saying that about was the Fourth of July in the South City neighborhood of St. Louis.  He frequently talked about how he was finally – in his early 60s – living the dream he had as a teenager, making music and sharing his art.  Not more than a few days ago he talked about how, even as an older guy, he had so much more to do and how thrilled with everything he was.  He was loving life.

This sounds totally cliché and I hate to write it…but I guess Bob’s passing has really brought into clear focus the fragility of life.  Another friend, T-Model Ford, passed away a few weeks ago, but T was 90-something years old and had been in failing health for a long time.  Bob was only 61 and was kicking ass.  Eighteen feet took that all away.

When I wrote about T-Model Ford’s passing I said that you simply don’t know people like T-Model Ford.  They don’t exist.  And that’s definitely true.  But the thing is, you DO know people like Bob Reuter.  You grew up with them.  You hang with them all the time.  Bob Reuter was just a guy.  A normal guy that you could talk to.  But Bob lived a life that was so genuine and so authentic and so real that it made him something special.  He was one of the few people who aren’t afraid to talk about the rawness of life – the awfulness and the beauty.  He talked about it on the radio and in his music and in his stories and even in his photographs.  If we didn't have a few people like that, how would we know how to approach life…you know?  I mean, we go through our lives and follow the little paths that are laid out for us.  We think we live life.  But Bob really and truly lived life.  He lived it the way his heart told him.  He made his own path.  He struggled for that.  But by living life so genuinely, and sharing the good and bad of it in so many creative and beautiful ways, we all can look and see how, despite how ugly and tough it can be, how very beautiful this life is. 

Thank whatever god you worship for people like Bob Reuter.

Among the many comments I’ve seen about his passing online today, one has really stuck with me.  One dude said, “Bob Reuter is dead and you’re not.  Try to live up to that, okay?”

Seriously.  This beautiful ragged soul who lived a life he loved, in spite of whatever ugliness, was so full of spirit and isn’t here anymore.  And we are.  That needs to be some kind of a wakeup call or a challenge or some damn thing.

I dunno.  As I’ve mentioned, there are so many people who knew Bob better and were closer to him than I was.  I’m not writing this as a grieving friend…I’m writing this as a grieving acquaintance and fan.  This is what Bob has meant to me over the last twelve years of knowing about him, and a few years of knowing him, a little. 

Search around and find Bob Reuter’s pictures.  Take them in.  Read his stories and listen to his music.  You can find it all online.

You need to know Bob Reuter.


Here is a trailer for a documentary about Bob that started a few years ago.  He invited me to meet him at the KDHX studios in St Louis to watch an early version.  The timing didn't work out, which I've regretted ever since.  The project ended up being put on hold, but just a few days ago Bob said that it was back in production.  Let's hope it gets finished...the story needs to be told...

Here's a video that was created to help with the Kickstarter campaign to get Bob's book "Tales of a Talking Dog" up and running...

Here's Bob's most recent musical release - a special 45 rpm single called Dana Dew...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this beautifully-written tribute to Bob Reuter. It's how I, and I'm sure a lot of others, felt about him too. I'm really going to miss him.