The porcelain girl was a blubbering mess on Cherokee Street.
I had stepped out of the Bob Reuter Memorial at the Casa Loma Ballroom for a hot second, to take a copy of the new Eleven Magazine to my van -- the Bob Reuter tribute issue. As Doom Town's Ashley Hohman spun Bob's scratchiest 45s at the front of the house, people were snatching up copies of the mag before the stacks could be set down in the ballroom. I wanted to make sure I had an issue to take home and read before they were all gone.
"Please, please, please," she approached, clawing at the air. "My friends -- those dumb bitches -- they abandoned me here and I haven't eaten in five days and, and, and I need to get to Collinsville. I need money for a bus ticket. Anything. Please, please, please. I would trust you if you gave me a ride. Just please. PLEASE."
I couldn't make out her situation exactly. Crocodile tears or the real deal? Desperation or deception? A lie or a half-truth? Real life is never black and white. Unless it's a Bob Reuter photograph.
With 16 cents to my name and no gas, I was useless to her tonight. She shuffled off sobbing, the subject of one of Bob's hard-scrabble city stories that would never be written, to a dark side street never to be photographed. A place with no story or name, and no longer a Bob Reuter to give it either.
The headline was inside the ballroom: "Enormous crowd turns out for Official Bob Reuter Memorial." But Bob was an outsider. Sometimes I think he would have been just as comfortable among these beggars and bricks, sirens and fire, lovers and palookas and street-corner comedians than at a party in his honor.
But, oh, what a party it was on the inside. I hope Bob would have smirked slyly at the loving attention.
"It's so weird that they can take a guy's life and fit it into just one minute," Bob once said, a little disturbed, about the KDHX "St. Louis Music Minute" segment. It may be too hard to fit Bob's life into one minute. It was even hard to fit neatly into five packed hours of music, poetry, photography, art and recollections the night of his official memorial.
The walls of the Casa Loma shook as a room full of rockers, South-siders, punks, artists, friends, fans, freaks and longhairs gathered to celebrate the rock 'n' roll life of Bob Reuter -- St. Louis' uncompromising artist and host of the much-missed "Bob's Scratchy Records" on KDHX. It was complete with a three-camera video shoot, an ever-changing slideshow of Reuter's best photography, and a silent art auction. Proceeds from the entire memorial supported the Cowboy Angel Foundation -- a fund set up to help disadvantaged artists and keep Bob's artistic legacy alive.
"And look at all the hot, tattooed women here tonight," one of Reuter's friends remarked. "Oh he woulda liked this."
If anyone Bob really pissed off in his 61 years on Earth showed up that night, I didn't see them. No one was out there spitting at the floor, anyway.
"Bob Reuter was a bad man," said Reuter's friend, editor and literary executor Erin Wiles, smiling warmly and setting the evening's tone. "Bob Reuter was a talking dog. Bob Reuter didn't like your mother and he was mad at you, too. Bob Reuter was a pervert. Bob Reuter ruined radio. Bob Reuter broke your bike. Bob Reuter hated children and kittens. Bob Reuter peed on your fuzzy toilet cover. Bob Reuter was late for the show. Bob Reuter got mad when you were late for the show. Bob borrowed three dollars and didn't pay it back. Bob Reuter ate you for lunch. Bob Reuter was a twisted genius."
She continued: "Bob Reuter played a song that you were conceived to. Bob Reuter wrote with the voice that you hear in your head. He wrote the way 19-year-old beats aspire to. He wrote St. Louis. He wrote you."
The entire room applauded when it was revealed Reuter left journals upon journals of unpublished writings and works, which his estate is beginning the long process of transcribing, curating, editing and digitizing. "I am compelled to compile the rest of his written and unpublished works into another volume," said Wiles. "There might in fact be two."
Johnny Wirick, aka Johnny Walker of Cincinnati's Soledad Brothers, and Alley Ghost plugged in and wasted no time howling their rock 'n' roll reverence from the stage, channeling Bob's guttural scream over a catalog of no-nonsense songs spanning some 40 years of music and ever-changing styles. The rock anthems of Alley Ghost, in both its original and newest incarnations, gave way to the heartfelt Americana and country of the Kamikaze Cowboy-era, which buckled and lurched under the thrash of Bob's early punk band, the Dinosaurs.
The Casa Loma bar ran out of Pabst Blue Ribbon at exactly 9:21 p.m., by my watch.
Chris Baricevic -- keeper of Reuter's estate, founder of Big Muddy Records and member of Alley Ghost -- served as an enthusiastic emcee for the night. Guest-singers and musicians rotated on a song-by-song basis -- Pokey LaFarge, Sleepy Kitty's Paige Brubeck, Little Rachel, Grace Basement's Kevin Buckley, Warm Jets USA's Jason Hutto, Bunnygrunt's Matt Harnish, Magnolia Summer's Chris Grabau and so many more.
With all the emotion ping-ponging between the stage and the crowd, the sonic feedback and bittersweet sing-alongs, this was the punk rock version of "The Last Waltz."
Poet and musician Brett Underwood and the Get Born Crew punctuated the moments between sets with a tribute to Bob's writing. Their words weren't always audible over the low rumble of constant conversations and clinking bottles, but the attentive were treated to some of Bob's greatest lines, short stories and love letters to South City such as "The Sun's Gone Down on Grand and Gravois."
"I'm a rock 'n' roll addict," one colleague read from stage. "I am a rocker. I listen to shit by dead people who lived real lives."
The diehards danced until midnight. There were sweaty hugs and baptisms in beer every time bottles waved wildly above heads. It was loud, obscene, fun and a little trashy. It was reverent in its irreverence and a wildly appropriate Viking funeral. It smelled like stale popcorn and Catholic girls.
The last time I saw Bob, he screamed at me, "Pay ATTENTION! This is how REAL RADIO IS DONE!" before dropping the needle hard in the KDHX air room. The first time I saw Bob, he was carrying two fuzzy kiwis. "I'm going to go home and fondle these under the covers," he said, disappearing down dimly lit Magnolia Avenue. I celebrated everything inbetween and after warmly that night at the Casa Loma Ballroom. How many people do you know whose life warrants a full-blown rock concert?
"All the things you do, every relationship, every struggle, every interaction in life's journey is like a thread in one of those old Persian rugs -- all these patterns, they intersect and move away from each other," Bob said once, in a stream of consciousness Facebook post. "I read this in a book somewhere -- that what life's about really, is the looking back at this rug at the end of your time here and going, 'Ooh, that was all so beautiful!' or 'strange' or 'scary' and/or 'amazing'."
It's well known by now that Jeff Tweedy dedicated Wilco's "Born Alone" to Reuter on the first night of LouFest 2013 to a cheering crowd of thousands. It was a beautiful moment to witness. But part of me has to take issue with the lyrics. "I was born to die alone," it goes. It doesn't feel quite true, now does it?
That night at the Casa Loma, it sure seemed like Bob Reuter was born to live forever.
"I'll die one day, probably sooner than later. I'm not so afraid as I once was," Bob wrote in his story "Truck in the Rain" on April 24, 2013. "That ain't sayin a lot though. I ain't quite ready yet."