Saturday, October 25, 2008


When I first met Ollie he was the enemy. Dennis and Donna Jean had just bought the Oyster Bar from Bob Burkhardt. The catch was Ollie still owned the building and he had no intention of selling. It would be years before he did and by then we were friends.

Ollie was famous for traveling the world and knowing every Beat poet that ever lived. His photos were incredible. I remember one that hung at Allen Avenue (The Shanty) of an old African guy playing a homemade guitar. Its body was made from a large square can.

Ollie visited the studio Steve and I shared once. He decided he liked me when he noticed I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. We discovered we had the same birthday.

Years later I learned a party was being thrown for both of us at the Venice Cafe. This was before I worked there. I was already out on the town and got so distracted with my adventures I never did go.

When Becky and I took up skydiving Ollie decided he wanted to try. We were a little worried he had a death wish. We also weren’t sure if Ollie was over the weight limit. He was very large at the time.

The day he showed up to jump, Becky and I went up with him. I remember his huge round body climbing out on the step of the Cessna. He stepped off hanging from the wing’s strut. We put him out at 3,000 feet. This is about as low as you can exit safely. Ollie looked straight ahead into the wind. He never looked back for the signal to let go. I don’t know if he was in an ecstatic state or if he wanted to drag the whole plane down killing all of us. He wouldn’t let go. By the time we were at 1700 feet we had the pilot jerk the aircraft to shake him off.

I was a million miles away in my alternate suburban, married universe when Ollie died.

Valerie was at the library and found "Pictures of People" a book of photos by a friend of ours William Stage. He used to do the Street Talk byline in The Riverfront Times. We still see him every year at Dennis’ New Year’s party. I didn’t even know this book existed. There are several friends of mine in it including an old girl friend. Pics of Ollie (hat) and Dennis are from it. The Cessna we're getting into is the one Ollie jumped from.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Women in Simple Black Frames

Soulard has several characters I want to write about. Johnny Rio (the sheriff off Soulard), Bob Burkhardt (the Mayor and creator of every bar in St. Louis), Zeno (the poet laureate), Ollie Matheus (How to describe Ollie?) and David Classe’ (resident artist) are all luminaries.

The first David Classe’ piece I was exposed to was a giant mosaic on the southern wall of the Broadway Oyster Bar’s beer garden. He spent a lot of time on it and I believe he was paid in alcohol.

It was the early 80’s and I was in the middle of my art fever. I tried to talk to Dave about it several times. It’s a primitive reconstruction of Botticelli’s Venus. It’s made from oyster shells, broken glass, and beer bottle caps.

The difference is a black woman standing on the side with her hands on her hips looking at the Venus. She’s a contrast to the uptight Venus who covers her breasts in embarrassment. I always thought that he used this piece to poke fun at western cultural repression in general. Dave said I was full of shit. I think he doesn’t want to have to explain himself. The piece speaks for itself.

Dave had a show in Soulard last Friday. There were a lot of beautiful pieces. There were several references to other famous paintings. The obvious were Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso and Magritte. His most recent had photos of soldiers that died in Iraq. It looked like post war German Expressionist graffiti. That’s the picture I’m posting. It’s not the most beautiful piece but it’s my favorite.

I began to wonder if everything he did referenced some icon in art history. I asked him if everything at the show was based on some other piece. He said about half of them were.

The show was called Women in Simple Black Frames. He painted all the frames black. The poster for the show was a woman wearing sunglasses with women in the reflections of the black frames. He seemed to be pleased with himself when he pointed that out to my friend Sharon.

I’ve always wondered if Dave was really an intellectual. There seems to be a great deal of thought in all his work even when he just whipped it out.

We were at a party several years ago and he decided to paint the host’s shower curtain. I was jealous. I’d been trying to get one of his pieces for years. I even offered to trade him my car once. He really needed a car then too. My mistake was I asked for oils and he said he only worked in acrylics.

Dave used to live upstairs from the Downstreet Cafe. This place had the best beer garden in the city. He had an incredible art loft apartment with canvasses everywhere. One winter his mattress caught on fire. He didn’t have running water and had to throw it out the window.

I’m planning a St. Louis art blog and I’m sure Classe’ will be my first post. There are endless anecdotes about him and I’ll try to get to them all eventually. I hope I get a lot of comments about him. Some of my best friends know a lot more about him.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Poverty update

Man that post would be perfect for Reader's Digest. The boxed food was from ADC. This was before they issued food stamps. My mother wanted to point out we didn't go through the entire winters without heat. Boy it sure seemed like it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


My friend Sharon just sent an email notifying me of Blog Action Day 08. Never heard of it but it appears to be a group of blogsters that converge on a topic. Today’s topic is poverty. I notice a lot of bloggers are trying to get at poverty’s root causes but I believe we get to stick to our own formats. Here goes------

I mentioned in an earlier post that my brother, mother and I spent a couple of years without heat. In 1969 when I was 11 we lived in an unincorporated suburb of St. Louis. My mother worked for the Human Development Corporation. They assisted low-income families. My mother was a single woman raising two boys and qualified for assistance herself.

She was furious that she was making a third of what men earned doing the same jobs. I’m not sure if this was the case at HDC but she wasn’t earning enough to support us. She would borrow money my brother and I made selling newspapers, then buy boxed macaroni to feed us.

We had an oil furnace that winter and couldn’t afford to fill it. We were so cold one night she took us across the street to visit an old couple. We didn’t know these people. They were horrified with our situation and lent us an electric blanket. For some reason we still had electricity. The three of us spent a lot of time in bed together.

In those days there were no food stamps. There was some religious organization that distributed food in boxes. I remember canned meat,powdered eggs and some kind of axle grease in a can called country butter.

I used to enjoy riding around the state in the back of a van with several other boys selling newspaper subscriptions. We saw a lot of people living in over heated homes tucked away from the cold wind swept streets.

Once our boss drove us down into the Missouri boot heel. These folks were really poverty stricken. Huge extended families gathered around potbelly stoves on dirt floors in tarpaper shacks. It was incredibly warm in there emotionally as well as physically. They all bought subscriptions from us too.

On our way back up the state the boys all looked around at each other. Our eyes began to tear. We were choking. I’ll never forget a small bald headed kid that laughed and said, “To you, your own fart smells sweet!”

That same year my brother and I decided to play hooky one day. We knew we were going to get caught but decided we’d live for the moment. As the day progressed it occurred to us that it was our mother’s birthday. What a lucky break!

We found her cookbook and discovered we had ingredients for a pound cake. We would tell her we stayed home to bake a cake.

When she got home that night she had a large box.

Some time earlier she had been speaking with nuns from a local convent. They asked her if there was any one thing that would make her happy. She told them the three of us loved music. She really wanted a Zenith Circle of Sound stereo so we could play our records.

That night we listened to Sgt. Pepper over and over as we ate pound cake. She told us for years that was her favorite birthday.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rock Festivals

I was listening to KWMU’s local interview program that Don Marsh hosts last week. There’s a new book written by Steve Schankman and Dick Richmond. It’s the history of Contemporary Productions.

Contemporary was always The Enemy to me and Schankman and Irv Zuckerman were the big bosses. They took outdoor events to new levels of corporate control.

Richmond used to give my band favorable reviews in the 80s.

I never really blamed Schankman personally. I saw him as a carny. Money was his art. In the interview he confessed his crowning achievement was Pope John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis. His biggest disaster was the Axel Rose fiasco. If you’re not from St. Louis or don’t know Google it.

Corporate control of rock events goes against the very idea of rebellion. Just look at the Riverport dinosaur. No coolers allowed with alcohol. Draft beer is $8.00 and you have to rent lawn chairs if you want a lawn seat.

My first show was Joan Baez at Illinois’ Mississippi River Festival. What a great venue! I kept asking my mom what that strange smell was.

It used to be an outdoor festival was an instant counter culture city. A utopian existence defined by drug consumption and free love. We were young and thought we could keep our shit together. We couldn’t of course. Imagine a kid’s first apartment especially if they’ve never had to cook or clean up after themselves.

In 1974 three friends and I hitched to Camdenton, MO for a 3 day festival. I must have been 16. Imagine 4 tall long haired guys hitch hiking together. We had no trouble getting a ride. One of my friends had a father who owned a pharmacy. We had an endless supply of preludens. They were my favorite speed. I remember a loud thump as we stood on the highway. We turned to witness a huge dog spinning in the air. He had just been hit by a motorist. I imagined this was what a human would have sounded like.

I think Camdenton was a town of 2000 that we made swell to 20,000. There were no facilities, no drinking water and no food. We didn’t care much because we were speeding. The show was being held in a rodeo arena and we were herded through cattle stalls. It was appropriate. Young entrepreneurs were selling ice cubes. Wandering around the grounds at night people kept asking me if I’d seen Dave. “I’m Dave,” I told them. I learned this was how people sought LSD. The whole scene was total chaos. The only bands I remember were the 2 openers—Brownsville Station and The James Gang.

Years later my friends Annie, K and I went to a several day event at a place called The Armory. You could get in for canned food donations. Acid Rescue was always set up for kids that couldn’t handle their drugs. I still think this was incredibly humane.

We were tripping on something called Space Tabs. I have a feeling it was PCP. At one point we hitched back to Annie’s to steal a bottle of wine from her mother’s wine cellar. We didn’t have a cork screw so we brought an arrow we found in the basement.

We hitched back to the show. When we were finally exhausted we left. As we stood hitch hiking it began to snow. K still had the arrow in a pocket of her bib overalls. Annie and I watched as a laughing K opened her mouth wide and the arrow’s tip went up into her throat. The next stop was an emergency room.

I guess it was inevitable that society would clamp down on this kind of behavior. I miss it but have to confess I would never want my kids exposed to it.

Check out this list of banned Rock events:

I found the photo at flickr

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Consulting Spirits Update

One of the Wong brothers used to walk into the kitchen, tilt his head back, cover a nostril with a finger and shoot a snot rocket across the room into a garbage can. He never missed. This was a world class chef!

My brother was so impressed he practiced for years until he finally got it down. Let me tell you it takes years of practice before you hit your target consistently.

Consulting Spirits

Sometimes events in the universe seem to conspire. I got a message on my “My Space” from Sean Havey. Jim and Donna’s child on the photo from my “Breaking Up” post is an adult now. He invited us to meet up with him at the Venice Cafe.

I had my son Dylan. He’s a minor so we had to leave the bar before the band started. Dylan had been after me for a long time to take him inside. He’s heard a lot of stories. Uncle Bill would be working the door but hadn’t shown up yet. Bill’s wife Martha Rose was setting up her table out in the garden. She makes her living reading palms as Madame Rose. I told her I’d flash her card on my blog.

I was wondering what I’d write about this week. I was looking at the photo with my brother and me in the middle of the street in U. City. I was thinking about palmistry and it came to me.

I think it was 1973. I was 16 or 17 and still living with my mother. Pam, Dominic and I were working a Ouija board in my room.

We asked about Dominic at first. It kept telling us in different ways that Dom must never go to New Orleans. It said he would die at a Mardi Gras parade. It shook him up. He wouldn’t even go if the band had a gig there. He hasn’t been there to this day.

Pam was living with me at my mom’s but it was time to for us go. I had to get a job. I asked the board. It told us I had to go to Hi Fi Fo Fum immediately (a local high end stereo store). I blew it off. I’m not superstitious at all and figured we were subconsciously manipulating the board.

Later that afternoon I jumped into Wild Life, my Pontiac, and went out job hunting. I figured, what the hell, I’ll check out Hi Fi FO Fum. The manager told me he wished I’d been there a little earlier. He had a job I would’ve been perfect for but the position had just been filled.

Feeling a bit dejected I drove to U. City. There was a Chinese restaurant there call The Lantern House. I went in and was hired on the spot.

I ended up getting jobs there for my brother and my friend George. George said it was the worst job he ever had. They worked us to death. They had an incredible work ethic and no one spoke English.

I remember once they told me to go down to the basement and get a bag of rice. The bags were a hundred pounds. As I was struggling to drag it across the ground a small woman, maybe 4’2” and 80 years old named Miss Linn, told me to move over. She threw it over her shoulder and carried it upstairs for me.

We used to fill giant bowls with rice and water and skim floating weevils out. You’ve never lived until you’ve scoured the grease trap of an overhead industrial stove fan.

I was the only white person they let cook anything. I made the fried ice cream desserts.

The place was owned by 2 brothers named Ben Roth & Liong Q. Wong. They won several gold medals but they never cooked for the patrons. They would be so offended when someone ordered a hamburger that they would make me go across the street to DQ to buy one. Then they’d put it on their bread. It reminds me of when White Castle was built across the street from the Oyster Bar. Dennis would send me over to buy one of their burgers. He’d put an oyster in and sell it as “The Ultimate Slider”.

At the end of the night, when the Lantern House closed, the brothers would cook for us. The family and employees surrounded several huge round tables. Once they prepared carp someone caught. They loved it but I had trouble keeping it down. It was like overcooked eggplant that smelled like cat food. The building is now owned by the Fritz Root Beer company.

Anyway back to the cosmic events that would unfold leading me back to the Venice Cafe. I never did see Sean but I was able to give my son Dylan a tour. He’s 14 and after introducing him to everyone it occurred to me that we’d come full circle. The reason I left the bar 14 years ago was that I would come home drunk at 3:00am and stare with wonder at my new baby in his crib. It was time to move on.

Photo is Dom and Ben from the Ouija board era. Dom is doing his best Ian Anderson. This was in his mom’s basement where we learned how to be a band. Dominic shares Ian Anderson's birthday.