Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ollie









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.

10 comments:

tonypatti said...

Ollie Matheus was the younger brother of Virgil Matheus, a friend of Jorge MArtinez from the old jazz days before Gaslight Square. He also knew Ernie Trova back then, and has a few of his really old paintings hanging at his very cool house in Ohio.

Ollie was always way wilder than Jorge or Virgil. He told me a story I've mostly forgotten about Ollie and a pal getting strung out on speed and barricading themselves into an apartment or house they lived in and refusing to come out because they were so paranoid. Speed! Absolutely the least comprehensible drug on earth. What is the allure of a drug that almost kills you every time you take it? Yet you know I've had my flings.

Virgil and his lovely wife Joan are two of the sweetest people you could ever want to meet. I'm certain he knew Jerry well.

Virgil has one of the largest collections of jazz records I have ever seen. It fill a large basement that is crammed with two-sided shelves like a library, floor to ceiling. He has been selling bootlegs of Miles Davis and other jazz artists for many years out of his basement, some of them from tapes taken from shows Jorge promoted at his old Gaslight coffee house and other venues.

...Sharon said...

I heard a story last week at Classe's show that it was Ollie and my friend Laurie who gathered the records for Burkhardt's juke box. Man, I'm still not over that collection & still trying to put together that playlist. One of my all time favorites - Bunny Berigan's "I Can't Get Started". (I did run across a 1937 scratchy version on YouTube... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0Uqdtzztmg)

In the 70's, Ollie had worked on the tow boats and fallen off, injuring his back. He ended up with a huge scar on his back and a huge settlement check. He then bought his sister a nice little house and bought the Oyster Bar's building (when the note was due). No one else had the money needed. He thought he would be allowed to move in upstairs. He never would have survived that move.

Joan and Virgil became family to Manda when she was off at Oberlin. It was comforting to know they were close by while she was so far from home. They are great folks. David, you met them at the Bottleworks Art Show a few years back. Virgil looks a lot like Pete Fountain.

Doggie said...

Yeah I remember them well. Did he die? Valerie says he did.

Doggie said...

Turns out the brother Valerie knew that died was John Matheus.

Valerie Pennington said...

John Matheus was the nicest guy. I got to know him through Brian Casserly. Brian and John were both ukelele freaks and had huge collections. John gave me a uke with a little cheat sheet of 4 chords witten in spidery handwriting. He insisted that if learned these chords, I could play almost every song.
I met Ollie once, and may have met Virgil - I don't remember.

Anonymous said...

Well, Sharon, I usually read the responses before I read the blogs and was blown away by your comment about Bunny Berrigan. I CAN'T GET STARTED is one of my favorites. I used to have an album of his 78's in pristine condition but don't know what happened to it. I've looked for a cd off and on but have never found it.

Carolyn Udell

Anonymous said...

April 8th, 2011

Subject: Bob Burkhardt & Ollie Matheus

I will like to set the record straight regarding some of “Doggie” David Udell’s false accusations regarding my Uncle Oliver Matheus and Bob Burkhardt.

First of all I spent much of my formative years hanging out at the Last Exit Bar with Bob’ Burkhardts’ daughters and some older kid named Jeffrey. Ollie drove a VW stick shift car at the time. Jeffery loved to put Ollie’s car in neutral and we would push it to various locations . It was like hide and seek but with a car. Bob and Pig were the two people that Ollie never had a bad word to say about. They were the salt of the earth. Bob Burkhardt was not about money, he was about good times! I will concur with the last comment from his nephew or niece that Bob would give you the shirt off his back. That is your first incorrect statement “Doggie”.

Ollie made some good investments. He owned the building that the Oyster Bar was in and Dennis and Donna wanted him to sell. Ollie knew it was a good investment that would allow him the freedom to travel the world taking photos.

Let’s get down to the facts. In the summer of 1990 Ollie went on a photo expedition to Sierra Madre Mountains, Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico. As always Ollie always slept in his tent he kept tucked away in the back of his BEBOP Honda. When he got to Mexico and was dealing with very secluded isolated Indian village but they spoke of a white girl that lived in the cave. Talk about luck, only Ollie could go to remote Mexico and find a hot blonde German girl. Barbie Rose was a German college student who had come to study the Tarahumara Indians, they are famous for running long distances barefoot. Barbie had planned to stay for a few months, but had been living in that cave for over one year. Barbie had been learning Tarahumaran Spanish before she left Germany so she was able to speak to the Indians. I was 22 attending Webster University when Ollie brought Barbie back to America. She was older than me, she was not 15 years old.

Ollie was at least 60 years old, out of shape and had never totally healed since he broke his spine falling off a barge years ago. You go some nerve, implying he was yellow! Ollie had more balls then anyone I have seen and I come from a long line of Matheus “ we all got balls”. Lets see if your whiny little self will still have the nerve to jump out of a plane at 60 years old.

I am glad that you were a million miles away in your alternative suburban, married universe when Ollie died, your stench would have ruined the most beautiful memorial service I have ever attended!

Unfortunately am no longer a St. Louis resident or I would confront “Doggie” in person to keep the honor of my family name “Matheus”. He is really a tough guy knocking someone who is dead and worse using incorrect slanderous information. I ask any of you who read this, any of you who care about the Soulard code of honor, confront this “Doggie” David Udell. Tell him to change his post or take it down. Bob and Ollie should be remembered but not this way, falsely accused by some nobody named “Doggie”. Believe me he is living vicariously through dead men who are more exciting dead than he ever will be alive. I can guarantee that no one found this article by googling Doggie” David Udell.

Anonymous said...

April 08, 2011

Unfortunately am no longer a St. Louis resident or I would confront “Doggie” in person to keep the honor of my family name “Matheus”. He is really a tough guy knocking someone who is dead and worse using incorrect slanderous information. I ask any of you who read this, any of you who care about the Soulard code of honor, confront this “Doggie” David Udell. Tell him to change his post or take it down. Bob and Ollie should be remembered but not this way, falsely accused by some nobody named “Doggie”. Believe me he is living vicariously through dead men who are more exciting dead than he ever will be alive. I can guarantee that no one found this article by googling Doggie” David Udell. They Googled Ollie Matheus and Bob Burkhardt. I miss Ollie so much, say what you want he was magical. He was my guru, my shamen and he was my blood! Who was you’re hero Doggie?

Doggie said...

Ollie told me the story about the German girl. I loved him and never got the idea he was yellow about anything. My accusations about him are based on stories I've been told by a lot of people. I love Bob too. Tell you what, I'll remove the slanderous remarks!

Anonymous said...

John treated me for depression while I was living in Soulard and one evening at session's end he said "Let's go down to Molly's and have a few, my brother's in town". We did but unfortunately Ollie never showed up.