Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Saturnalia

I know I’m not the only person that feels a sense of emptiness and loss as I watch my babies grow into young adults. I’ve just been looking at my Christmas records over the years.

Every year since the 70s I’ve made Christmas music for my mother. It started out as original music but when the kids happened, that became too difficult. I found it easier to make psychedelic versions of the standards. I think the whole idea was inspired by the Beatles Christmas records. They released one every year for their fan club.

The pics on the pre-kid covers were usually the highlight from that year’s biggest adventure. When the kids came along I used pictures of them of course. My mother loved it.

I think when Dylan was 6 and Chloe was 4 I started using them on the recordings. I was afraid they were a little hard for folks to listen to so I stopped putting them on St. Louis’ annual Noelathon.

The Noelathon is a Christmas project run by my good friend Margaret Bianchetta. Proceeds go to charity. She used to try to get me and Stephen Martin to ring bells for The Salvation Army. She’s really into the Christmas thing. I will have to do a post about her one of these days.

In the 4th century, when Christians had only just stopped being Jewish a hundred years earlier, the Pope decided to take Rome’s best party Saturnalia and call it Christ’s birthday. For some reason, when the Romans took it from the Pagans, they decided the solstice was the 25th.

In spite of my hatred of all things religious, I love the holidays. The best experiences are shared ones. Consider how much less fun it is to drink alone. I love sharing a party or ritual. I think most people do. I also know what it’s like when you go through a holiday alone. There is nothing lonelier!

But, as usual, I digress. I have mixed emotions when I look at my kids growing up on the CD covers. I still think about running around an entire block twice holding a bicycle up by its seat, or pushing one of them on a swing. It’s amazing how much richer your idea of love becomes when you have kids.

On this year’s cover they’re standing in front of the tree we brought home. There’s an old woman who lives on an island off the River Road in Illinois. For years we’ve taken a ferry over and she lets us cut one down. Either her daughter lives there now or I’ve just gotten older but the woman over there seems younger. The back cover is a bridge in the park across the street from our apartment.

The back cover of the 2003 CD is the last winter I still had a whole family. Kim’s even in the picture. We were sailing just off a small island by Puerto Rico. Married life obviously wasn’t healthy for me judging by how fat I was then.

I ended up getting sun poisoning when Dylan and I snorkeled through a coral reef there. Parts of my back I couldn’t reach with sun screen were directly exposed to hours of tropical sun. The itching, burning, misery I went through was only alleviated by a waterfall I found up in the hills of the Puerto Rican rain forest. As I stood under it I was in ecstasy as tons of water pounded my back. Oh, a lot of booze helped too.

The pic on back cover of the 1999 CD was taken by Dylan. I was shooting basketball hoops at the garage of a friend of ours in Chicago. Dylan was 5 and had just gotten his first camera. I loved that it was taken from his perspective. It gave insight into how he saw the world.

The kids used to just sing on the CDs. Last year Chloe played flute and Dylan composed the basic melody. He wrote it out on staff paper and had me play it. He presented the music to my mother with the CD.

This year Chloe played flutes and Dylan played bass guitar. I might put it on my music MySpace. The kids are getting much better and perhaps we’ll be making appearances at the annual Noelathon again.

Happy Christmas, I hope you’re able to share it with someone.

Oh and I almost forgot, don't forget the true meaning of Christmas----

Share a Coke with Santa!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Birthday Kent

I ran into my old buddy Kent in the locker room at the YMCA last week. Last Sunday he turned 50. I still think of us all as teenagers.

Kent and I lived together as kids. We both had single moms. I still think of his mom as Aunt Suzy.

Kent and I had a lot of adventures together. He was with me when I was molested in Forest Park as a kid and when we had a big raid at our apartment in the DeBaliviere area. I posted those stories earlier.

When we were kids living together in the West End we were in the middle of a large gay community. We were both heterosexual but that didn’t stop us from running around with guys that took us to places like the Red Bull in East St. Louis. We were minors and got in everywhere. We never paid for anything of course.

We could be very rude and maybe even a bit homophobic. We’d giggle at guys making out at the bar. We’d feign gayness. I’d call him Lance and he’d call me Trent.

The movie My Own Private Idaho reminded me very much of those days.

It’s funny who you run into at the YMCA as you stand naked in the showers. I run into lot of old friends who are turning into old men.

Several years ago I had to use the downtown Y when they were cleaning out our pool. As I showered I noticed an old man playing with himself. He was watching me. Surprisingly, it didn’t really bother me. I figured this was all he got.

On another occasion I stood naked showering with a bunch of Irish musicians who played at a local pub. Later I learned they were IRA fugitives hiding out here in the States. It’s weird to think of standing around naked with people who have actually killed.

Anyway I really wanted to give a shout out to my old buddy Kent.

Happy birthday man!

I don’t have any recent pics of Kent but this is how I still think of him. We were living in Soulard. He’s with his old girlfriend and one of my favorite people Allie Bock. I just got in contact with her through FaceBook. FaceBook has been incredible!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Burl Ives

My kids and I were in a super market last night shopping for dinner. The usual seasonal Muzak drifted mostly through our subconscious. Burl Ives’ Holly Jolly Christmas began to play. My son Dylan reminded me of a review my band Wax Theatricks had gotten years ago.

We had just released our last LP and it was winding its way through the rock press. I was rifling through our old releases but I couldn’t find it. A reviewer from Hawaii really liked it.

There’s nothing that strokes a song writer’s ego like seeing your lyrics printed in a newspaper. After the kind words he went on to say, “but the singer sounds strangely like Burl Ives.” That was my buddy Dominic and I don’t think anything ever cut him as deeply. I still think it’s funny as Hell!

Wax Theatricks promo pic by Matt O'Shea circa 1981

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More on Fire

I almost forgot what is probably the most life defining aspect of fire. Fire dies.


Valerie, the kids and I went to the highway 64/40 reopening last Sunday.

Whenever I see a person in a suit at a public function I always make a crack about it being the mayor. Sure enough, this time it was mayor Slay and I was totally oblivious as usual.

My kids were excited about walking where speeding cars would be. I could only think about the thousands of miles of American Interstate my buddy Dominic and I hitchhiked as teenagers.

I am definitely jaded.


Even in the St. Louis public school system it’s possible to run into teachers that can leave a lasting impression on you.

In 9th grade I had a history teacher who made it clear to me that history was written and rewritten by the winners. She really liked me and encouraged my urge to explore the human condition through history. She gave me Ds in the class because I wouldn’t do my assignments. By the end of the year the class had only gotten about a quarter of the way through our text and I had read it twice. I was fascinated with it.

It seems like I was always left alone in the back of my classes, like there was an unspoken “you don’t bother me, and I won’t bother you,” agreement.

In 7th grade I had a science teacher who posed an interesting question, “Is fire a life form?”

It was my first real thought experiment. What exactly constitutes life? Fire seemed to have all the elements. It feeds, breathes, reproduces, and eliminates waste. I learned that smoke was combustible material that wasn’t processed efficiently. Just like most human waste.

It was an early introduction into thermal dynamics. What we experience as heat is molecular activity in various states of excitement. There are 4 states of matter; solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Plasma really caught my imagination. The molecules become so excited (hot) that electrons are stripped from atoms.

Fire still captures my imagination. I can’t imagine anything more dangerous but we would have evolved without it.

I spend a couple of days in the middle of the week in St. Peters with my kids. They go to school out there. We come back to the city on the weekends.

Man I wish I could put them in a city school but I’ve given up on the idea.

My ex graciously disappears to her boyfriend’s house and it’s almost like I still own the place. I don’t sleep well there. Usually, after a lot tossing and turning I turn on the TV.

Last Thursday I turned it on to a news bulletin about a fire. It had gotten out of control. It was across the street from California Donuts. The residential properties around Mattingly’s Micro Brewery were too far gone to save. It slowly sank in that they were talking about my apartment in the city.

Horrified, I called my girlfriend Valerie. It took a long time for her to answer which only heightened my anxiety. When she finally did she was groggy. “I thought I smelled smoke,” she said.

It turned out the fire was at a storefront across the street from us. In the summer we’d often hear gun shots coming from there. On more than one occasion there would be police cars and yellow crime scene tape around it.

Valerie always gets to know our neighbors. She had learned from them that the cops had been scoping the place out as a drug front. They were waiting to gather more evidence before the big bust. I guess that investigation is over.

When I came home to check it out I was immediately impressed with the effect of condensation on the tree in front of the store. It had been one of our coldest nights and the fire created a wave of heat that condensed on the tree and then froze.

Fire it up!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Valerie, my kids, and I went to CompĂ´nere, a small gallery in University City, last night. Our friend Mark Hurd had a show that was opening and we never pass up free wine and snacks.

I’ve always thought galleries, where you can be a little too loud and even heckle the artist if you want, was a better environment for art than a cold, uptight museum where art goes to die.

When it’s warm out we like to go to art fairs and it seems like Mark is always there. Lately he’s been doing prints of iconic St. Louis places. My kids love them because they recognize all of them.

There were a few other artists there I really enjoyed. My favorites were Stephanie J. Witte and Bill Reid, both of whom are sculptors.

Stephanie works with painted gourds and tiny pieces of watch machinery. She said she has to get her gourds from California. The local ones are too thin. Her pieces remind me of Jules Verne or maybe The Wild, Wild West. I was trying to identify some of the materials she used and she told me she found them inside a hard drive.

She also does furniture with full sized characters seated in them. I asked if her home was crowded with them. She said her husband was a left brained computer programmer who was incredibly tolerant. They have a perfect yin and yang relationship, and yes her home was filled with it.

The other artist I really liked was Bill Reid. He worked with painted, welded metals. They all had great titles. My favorite was a complex contraption that appeared to have a bird feeder at one end and dragster slicks on the other. It was titled A Perfectly Safe Birdfeeder.

I’m posting John’s painting of the Eat-Rite diner because I have a very personal history with the place. My friend Judy Northington was murdered there.

I asked about his printing process and was given an extremely lengthy explanation. I noticed a large printer in the corner of the gallery and asked if it was ink jet. I was told it actually used acrylic paint.

I wish I was in a position to patronize artists I really like. I did my best to steer people who seemed to have money toward my favorites.

The prints were numbered in series so I asked John’s girlfriend how this worked. “It’s not like you can destroy the original template,” I said. They were stored on a computer. She told me it was the honor system and John was totally trustworthy.

This brings me to the real point of this post, art speculation.

When I was in my twenties I idolized Salvador Dali. I was well aware of his standing in the art community. It had been years since Andre Breton (founder of the surrealist’s movement) rearranged the letters of his name to spell Avida Dollars. I threw myself into both Dada and the Surrealist movements. It didn’t stop there either.

The allure of the subconscious, science and a lot of drugs on my part were just too tempting. Dali was painting intense equestrian war battles based on DNA models. I have a poster of a group of live nude ballet dancers he formed into a giant skull. To me it represented the specter of death lurking behind youth and beauty.

Dali was as big as John Lennon to me.

I was living with Stephen Martin on Oregon. We shared an audio studio with bedrooms on either end. I got a direct mail post card with a drawing for a Dali print as a prize. I was still naive to the ways of the commercial world and entered the contest.

A few weeks later I got a call from an art broker in Arizona. He told me a really fascinating story.

It seems Dali was commissioned to paint a series of tarot cards. He whipped them out without any enthusiasm and his clients wanted their money back. Dali wouldn’t give the money back and it ended up in court. The judge agreed the paintings were garbage but said Dali had lived up to his end of the bargain. He did make Dali sign 1000 blank sheets of paper that the clients could put prints on to sell for whatever they could get.

Well this was the closest I figured I’d ever come to owning a Dali. I bought a litho and an etching. I put $5,000.00 on a credit card. I figured it would never go down in value.

Somehow my ex girlfriend Pam and I were still in communication with each other. She thought it might be a good investment too. Unlike me she did a little research. The original 1000 sheets of paper turned into 10,000.

The broker ended up doing five years in prison and I lost my money. The weird thing is the forgeries were lithos. One of mine was an etching and the signature looks totally different. Who knows?

I figure I have $5,000.00 worth of posters.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giving Up on the Central West End

About a year before my dad drowned I was living with my girlfriend Jill in the Central West End. This was the apartment on Parkview I talked about previously.

We had been forced to move from our place on West Pine. Washington University bought the property. Several of my friends lost their places too. A lot of people didn’t want to move but you can’t stop progress, especially when it’s already been paid for.

I don’t know what Jill and I were thinking. Our apartment on Parkview was in the shadow of a looming Barnes Hospital complex.

Sure enough, after our couple of years of domestic bliss, our landlady Effie told us they were forcing us all out.

Effie had two small 4-family flats right next to each other. She lived in the other one. Except for Jill and me, the other tenants came and went. Life was always changing.

The walls and floors were so thin it felt like we were all living in the same apartment. There was a couple upstairs that were always fighting. He’d beat the crap out of her and just as things got quiet, as she sat on the floor sobbing, she’d say something that would provoke him to start beating her again. We called the cops several times but that sick relationship stayed together even after they moved.

A couple of years later my girlfriend Pam and I lived with Fojammi and his girlfriend Josie in the Fox Park neighborhood. Josie and I did laundry together at the local laundry. Josie was never too shy to go up to battered women there and ask, “Why do you let him treat you like this?” I was always amazed at the answer, “Because I love him!”

Effie was never the same after she got the news. She bought the apartments with her husband after WWII. Her husband died several years before and the apartments became her entire social life. She didn’t want to leave. Her son took Barnes to court and they battled it out for a long time.

During this time Effie’s mental state began to deteriorate. She rented the place next to us to two hard assed guys whose faces were pulp from constant fighting. I wasn’t entirely sure it wasn’t the same guys that rolled Marge and me up in carpets when we were robbed on West Pine.

We got to be friends with them. They told us creepy stories about partying with Effie. Apparently Effie would get very drunk and dance throwing her dress up to reveal the absence of underwear. She was in her nineties.

While we were living there I made it out to a spot on the Big River where I’d learned to swim as a child. There was a channel between a sand bar and a dock where I first swam without my life vest. The river was deep and the current was swift. I yelled to my dad to watch. He jumped in, pulled me out and spanked me. (It still hurts).

I was swimming at the same place.

I was wearing shoes and the water got very deep. I couldn’t seem to get my breath or keep my head above the water. I went down. Panic set in as I kicked violently. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I remembered my dad getting his head under a waterfall out here. If a friend hadn’t pulled him out he would have drowned. He told me he’d passed the point of pain. I had read drowning was the least painful way to die.

The panic passed and I guess my lungs were full of water. I reached an acceptance of the inevitable.

I opened my eyes to see an enormous cat’s ass moving away from me in the dark. I was in bed and Jill was lying next to me. The cat had been lying on my face.

Jill and I split, I spent some time alone, and Tracy moved in before they actually kicked us out.

Barnes hired movers for us and we beat it to Soulard. Man, movers really makes a difference. I never looked back.

They bought Effie a small bungalow in South St. Louis. She died lonely and heart broken a few months later. A collateral necessity as far as Barnes was concerned.

Pics show Jill's murderous cat plotting behind my dad's back, my brother Patrick and me admiring an object d’art when I was living on Parkview (pic by Matt O'Shea), I wish I had a pic of Effie, my dog Sinbad finally about to get his lizard, Patrick and me at the Big River in our cumbersome life vests.

When I took my son Dylan on his first camping trip, he was 5 I think, we floated in a canoe down the Meramec. The river was high from spring rains, we hit white water and the canoe capsized. Dylan washed downstream. I love those cumbersome orange life vests!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hey Turkeys

When my ex and I split up the holidays got a little strange with the kids. Thanksgiving goes to her family but the kids and I have our own traditions.

My 13 year old daughter Chloe became a vegetarian a few years ago. This made me happy of course but it’s a total pain in the ass for her mother. (This also makes me happy).

Chloe is the only vegetarian within a thousand miles of my ex’s family. Chloe and I are Commies to them.

For several years now Chloe and I sculpt our own bird out of tofu. We added a hat last year. Our design is based on the turkey we all learned in school. You know, the traced hand motif.

I think Thanksgiving is a good secular holiday. It’s great to sit in silent repose and ponder the things we’re grateful for. I’m extremely lucky when it comes to loved ones. So I feel compelled to send my friends and family the bird.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More On Personal Space

My friend Geo commented that his car had been stolen. I had one stolen recently myself. I've published a few articles at Associated Content and one was about that. Check it out.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Personal Space

One of my first posts was about two guys robbing my roommate Marge and me in our apartment. They rolled us up in carpets before they left.

It’s hard to explain how important your personal space is and how violated you can feel. I have several friends who have been raped and I can’t bring myself to imagine how unnerving that must be.

Sanity is a construct that has to be constantly reinforced. Society is an illusion based on trust. We tend to gather in our tribes for security. Sometimes it’s us against them.

When I was living in the West End as a young man I had to move three times because Washing University and Barnes Hospital kept expanding. I’ll be writing about eminent domain soon.

I was forced to leave the apartment where Marge and I were robbed. By then I was living with my girlfriend Jill. We found a nice little apartment on Parkview owned by a WWII refugee named Effie. She told us Effie meant grandma in Polish. She had a secret life I’ll write about later.

Eventually Jill and I broke up and I found myself alone in the apartment. The apartment began to fall apart as my life became more and more disorganized. The place looked like someone was always in the process of moving in.

During this time I got back together with my old girlfriend Lora.

Anyone who knows me knows how lightly I sleep. I’m incredibly restless and have always suffered from insomnia.

After one such night Lora and I awoke to find we’d been robbed. The room right next to where we slept had been ransacked. My flute, alto saxophone, and twelve-string Alvarez Yari acoustic guitar were gone. These guys had balls. The door to our room was even slightly ajar.

Eventually my buddy (and bassist) Tracy moved in. We had a very active social life and spent a lot of time away from home.

One night we came home together to find our apartment wrecked. It reeked from a long neglected cat box and our stereo was gone. We looked at each other and had a really great laugh. We had long ago learned not to become too attached to worldly possessions. This was out of psychological necessity of course.

I have a little side story about the power of friendship to diffuse a bad situation.

I lived at that apartment in the 70s. We were very much aware of a potential nuclear event in those days. We never trusted those crazy politicians and even though we were in our early 20s we had already been cynical for quite some time. My buddy Dominic and I were listening to that very stereo (probably Captain Beefheart or Brian Eno) when a low constant rumble shook the apartment. Dominic and I looked at each other, convinced in our hearts that the “Big One” had just dropped. We smiled at each other like it was the last time. It turned out to be one of Missouri’s more famous earthquakes.

Years later, when I was married, my wife Kim and I were going to meet up with some folks at the Train Wreck Saloon in West Port on St. Patrick’s Day. Just as we were about to enter the bar a friend stopped us to tell us our apartment in South St. Louis had been robbed. We rushed home to find our apartment torn apart. Why do people who break into other people’s homes find it necessary to be so destructive?

I had a huge collection of CDs. They filled pillow cases with them. Most of them were obscure imports I’ve never been able to replace and I’m sure they couldn’t sell.

We came home a month later to find the apartment had been broken into a second time. This was too much for Kim and we ended up living in her folks’ basement for a month. This was total Hell for me. Kim, our baby Dylan and I slept on a mattress on the floor.

Our landlord at the apartment was Colorful Tom, one of my skydiving buddies. During the month we were gone he installed an alarm system to tempt us back. After promising to get a dog, Kim acquiesced. We came back to find a big brass knocker on the door that announced The Udells.

The night Tom and I were putting the finishing touches on the alarm system we accidentally triggered some kind of panic button. It must have been at least 10 cops that burst through the door. They threw us up against the wall. Tom had long hair then and I must have been disheveled enough that we looked like burglars.

It occurs to me that I’ve been robbed so many times I don’t remember them all. I may have to update from time to time. The point is we all have personal space that needs to be respected.

Dave with uke circa apartment with Marge, Lora circa Parkview, Kim and Wounded Knee Dave circa Tom’s apartment, Dylan practicing celesta circa Tom’s apartment.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I’ve had 2 bosses in my life that really had an impact on me. Both were father figures. Dennis Connolly, the owner of The Broadway Oyster Bar who I’ll get back to, and Dave Verner.

Calvin “Calmodee” Britt, head Goon Squad member, calls Dave “The Prince of Darkness who’s forgotten more about skydiving than most jumpers will ever know. Dave’s also the father of world champion skydiver Kirk Verner.

Verner ran Archway Skydive Centre in Sparta Illinois and eventually Vandalia. I taught the static line first jump course for him.

I’d spend the entire day with my students. When the class ended I’d take 3 at a time up in a small Cessna and put them out of the plane. Verner would talk them down with a radio.

Verner was famous for his penny pinching. He’d run around the drop zone collecting beer and soda cans. He had the most demonic grin as he flattened them with his little hand pumped crusher.

Verner helped me out of several jams, especially when my car broke down. He threw wildly successful chili parties every winter. I remember leaving there so drunk one year that I drove my little Suzuki Samurai right into a ditch. Luckily I could put it in 4 wheel drive and get out.

Verner could never turn down any business. One time I had a class of seven Japanese engineering students from Parks College. I was teaching them exits from a mock up airplane when I began to get the feeling they didn’t understand a thing I said. I scanned the group and noticed one of them seemed to understand English. “You seem to understand me,” I said. “I understand every word,” he replied. “Great, explain it to them.” “I’m Korean!” he exclaimed.

Anyway, I taught them the commands for steering and landing and Dave talked them down safely.

Pics are me boarding a blue Cessna 182 (this was one of the planes I put students out of), Dave telling one of his bad jokes to a group of jumpers (he’s wearing the green hat), Me standing in front of a red Cessna 185—gotta jump off here.... Our friend George was the pilot of this airplane. I spent a 3 day weekend at a skydive camp 10 miles from Vandalia being coached by Jack Jeffries. He was the team captain of Arizona Airspeed. They were the world champion 4-way team for several years and Kirk was a member. We were practicing our moves at the Greenville airport when George landed his C-185. He had just watched a load exit the plane back at Vandalia when he noticed a glove finger in the back of his plane. He picked it up only to discover it still had a finger in it. Our friend Steve Otke had his finger in the plane’s door hinge and he exited leaving it behind. George flew straight to show us.

The last pic is the Verner family. I got it from Dave’s FaceBook. It shows Dave, Kirk, Dianne (Kirk’s mom), and Kirk’s son. Kirk’s wife Melanie took it.

When Kim and I got married in freefall, Dianne tried to talk us out of letting Dennis Jett be our minister. Dennis was a bit of a Viet Nam vet psychedelic that seemed to have been ordained by mail in San Francisco. Dave told her to shut up and let us have our day.

P.S. I just remembered. There's a scene in the movie Drop Zone where several skydivers form a large spinning round formation over Washington, DC. The single jumper spinning the opposite direction in the center of the formation is Jack Jeffries.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The School Band

In 1969 my brother came home from school with a violin. I was jealous. I was so jealous my dad gave me his cornet and I was signed up for band. His horn was almost unplayable. It became apparent I would need a better one if I was going to take this seriously.

The place to go for band instruments in those days was St. Ann Music. I got a beautiful Conn trumpet that had a copper bell. I’ve never seen another one like it. They told me it improved the tone. It just looked really cool to me.

The next year I started junior high at Nipher in Kirkwood. It was 3 miles away and I used to walk along railroad tracks to get there. Sometimes I’d hop a train. You should try that carrying a trumpet case.

Band teachers were always a little different than the others. They were just a little off. Nipher is where my friend Baritone and I would trade instruments. Our teacher was cool with it. He encouraged experimentation.

In those days when the door bell rang at night we were instructed not to answer. It could only be a bill collector. One night, as we hid in the dark, the ringing became so incessant I had to answer. I couldn’t stand it any more.

Sure enough it was a guy from St. Ann Music looking for the trumpet payment. If he couldn’t get that he wanted the trumpet. I told him I’d left it at school. He asked how my instruction was going. I told him I loved it and I was getting better every day. He said he was glad to hear it. I never heard from them again.

When I moved out to the country with my dad I hadn’t practiced for months and my embrasure was shot. I auditioned for the school band and didn’t make it. I had always been encouraged and this was a real blow to my ego.

Somehow when I moved back to the city with my mom I passed the audition and was back in the school band.

It was a whole different experience this time. My teacher was a lovely, ancient woman who wore too much rouge and perfume named Mrs. Lewis. She loved me and really pushed me to excel.

Mrs. Lewis took me to play with the black gospel church groups on St. Louis’ north side on Sundays. I traveled with a friend whose name I can’t recall. He would wail out an improvised horn line every now and then. I was really impressed and realized how musically repressed I’d been.

I loved these trips. I felt like I was carrying on a family tradition. My dad and his friends went to church for the gospel music on weekends even though he had admitted to me that he was atheist. He thought the lyrics of a Blood, Sweat and Tears song were really deep that went, “Swear there ain’t no Heaven but I pray there ain’t no Hell.

At the end of 8th grade Mrs. Lewis took my buddy and me to audition for Walter Suskind. At the time he was the director and principal conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

I played Mendelssohn’s Intermezzo which I’d never even heard before. I remember my buddy got to play something that seemed like a lot more fun. We both passed the audition and got free summer lessons from one of the first chair trumpet players of the Symphony. I think this was the course you took to get into the Young People’s Symphony.

I remember I had to ride my bike miles with the trumpet case hanging from my fingers. It hurt.

Eventually I quit. I felt like I was burning up my summer vacation. I regret it now of course but at the time I never admitted to anyone that I hated the sound of trumpets. It was electric guitar for me!

Well here I am with kids in band. Schools are always cutting band from their budget first and we’re lucky the St. Charles schools realize how important music is.

My kids have the same discipline issues I did and Dylan has already given up trombone. They had both studied piano for years and eventually lost interest. Chloe seems to be genuinely into the flute.

To be fair to Dylan he’s getting better at bass and guitar every day. I guess music has to be a personal pursuit.

When I gave up trumpet my brother and I took the bus downtown to Hunleth Music. (An incredible place whose demise is a real loss to St. Louis). We were both playing hooky. I traded my trumpet for a violin for him. We were stopped by a truant officer. We explained we were on a musical expedition for school. He looked at the violin case and let us go.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


We have mice. It’s not a big deal for Valerie. She grew up in the country and they were just a fact of life. They terrify me.

They didn’t use to bother me at all. When I was still living with my mom in Soulard we had one that would sit on a mop that was propped against the wall. The mouse watched every move we made. It had no fear. I guess it didn’t need any. We left him alone.

They may as well be rats as far as I’m concerned.

When I was in 4th grade I lived in the Shaw neighborhood. There were blocks and blocks of empty apartments where highway 44 was coming in. In those days there were no flashing yellow caution signs for road work. They used weird little bowling ball shaped torches that had a little flame on top. They must have been filled with lead because they were very heavy. I’m not sure how they could have been bright enough to stop an accident. I had to steal one of course.

No one had air conditioning in those days. My brother and I slept on our back porch. Mosquitoes were easier to deal with than the heat from inside.

This led to late night excursions into the dark. One night I grabbed my stolen torch, wandered into the alley, lit it and sat by its little flame like it was a campfire. I noticed movement nearby. There was a large rat right next to me. Its eyes glowed red from the flame as he gazed at me with loathing. I was paralyzed with fear.

The empty apartment shells of the construction site looked like post war Europe. This is where we stuck a smoke bomb in a dead rat’s ass. Kids find the strangest things amusing.

I think my real fear of mice came when I was living with my dad and his second wife in the country. I was in the basement and a deer mouse ran along a wall. It looked like a hideous genetic freak. It had a mouse’s body but long deer legs. Man I still get goose bumps thinking about it.

From there my brother and I moved back with my mom to the attic of a mansion in Gaslight Square. The Central West End hadn’t been gentrified yet and the neighborhood was filled with dilapidated old mansions.

We had a swimming pool that hadn’t been used in years. It was half filled with black water and a bloated, hairless, dead rat floated in it. No one would go near it.

A few years ago, when we were living in Florissant, we had a mouse that would come out of an air vent. My kids found a tiny Christmas stocking that was really a tree ornament. They hung it next to the vent and put a small cookie in it. Christmas morning they discovered the cookie had been nibbled on by the mouse. I never told them I made it look that way.

Anyway, like I was saying, we have mice. At first Valerie’s cat Charlie took care of them for us. Valerie couldn’t bear the thought of traps. She would scoop them up alive if she could and take them outside. From there I’m sure they would just come back inside.

Charlie is 15, constantly sneezing from allergies, and probably deaf. The other night I was tossing in my usual state of insomnia when I noticed 2 mice playing around my shoes. Charlie was in a purring meditative ball at the end of the bed. I gently lifted him and set him down facing the mice. He turned back to look at me like he was confused. I guess his mousing days are over.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I mentioned in an earlier post that the universe changed as I was listening to the radio one day in 1964. I was listening to my favorite song, Lena Horne’s Stormy Weather and it was followed by the Beatles version of Twist and Shout. It really felt like we were entering a whole new world.

There were 2 stations in St. Louis in those days, KATZ and KXOK. St. Louis was as racially divided over the air as it was on the ground. KXOK was my connection to God.

I had an old tube radio by my bed and a small transistor with a tinny little earpiece. I don’t know why ear buds sound so much better today.

Childhood was like a movie and KXOK played a sound track of Beatles, Monkees, and Good Vibrations. When I hear Len Barry’s 123 I still slip into a nostalgia delirium.

I was a big Johnny Rabbit fan. He had a sidekick named Bruno J. Grunion.

If you are familiar with The Paul Winchell/Jerry Mahoney show or even the later Pee Wee Herman show you’ll understand the effect Bruno J. had on kids in St. Louis.

Johnny Rabbit had been stationed with Elvis in Germany and everything about that era in radio was totally magic to me.

From what I can remember Bruno was the manager of a band called The Aardvarks. I loved these guys. They even opened for The Beatles at Busch Stadium.

We were living in Laclede Town at the time just a few blocks from there. My mother later told me she wouldn’t even consider going because ticket scalpers wanted $20.00.

The event is famous in St. Louis history because a hundred bands played before The Beatles arrived. It rained the whole time. When The Beatles finally got on stage their set lasted 18 minutes. No one could hear anything of course.

Later, as a young man, I would get to know Ron Elz (Johnny Rabbit), Chuck Connors (Bruno J. Grunion) and Mike Newman (Guitarist for The Aardvarks). I thought I knew all the really important personalities in St. Louis. Eventually I learned none of these guys were the people I idolized as a child. One step removed from greatness.

All three of these guys are great in their own ways. Chuck is a saint and I’ll definitely do blog about him and his restaurant The Other Mother.

The Johnny Rabbit and Bruno J. Grunion of my childhood were both Don Pietromonaco and Mike was too young to have been in Aardvarks yet. I have had a few adventures with Mike and his ex, Gail.

I remember driving around with my mother in 1970. We were listening to the top 100 count down from the sixties on KXOK. When it got to number one it was Hey Jude. We sang along. We always sang along to the radio.

My mother’s favorite pastime was driving us around as she dreamed of living in one of the pretty little houses in one of the nice little neighborhoods we’d visit.

By the end of the sixties culturally conscious kids outgrew the commercialism of the AM stations and moved on to KSHE and WESL or MAJIC 108.

Even by then St. Louis was segregated on the air waves (still is). Some of the white kids were lucky enough to know what was going on in the other camp.

I’ll never forget listening to WESL (East St. Louis) in my first apartment with my brother and Tony Patti.

WESL’s DJ “Dr. Jockenstein” ranted over every record he played. It made great radio. Most of it was Funkadelic.

We learned George Clinton himself gave Jockenstein his name and the title cut from Mothership Connection was based on his show.

Years later I was tending bar at the Broadway Oyster Bar. Jockenstein came in, jumped up on the stage, got the band to jam on a riff and did a spectacular Old School Hip Hop routine. He was pure Hollywood, sleazy lounge and sunglasses. What a show!

The Frank O. Pinion show has been talking about KXOK all week. I’m not really much of a fan of the show but Frank seems to have the same nostalgia for the station that I do. I had forgotten what Bruno J. Grunion really sounded like. I think kids are too sophisticated for that kind of radio today. I think the whole world grew up the same time The Beatles did.

Check out this link.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Chip Off the Old Block continued......

I was driving my mother to the store the other day. We were talking about Dylan. I always joke that he’ll still be living at home when he’s 35.

My mother asked me if I remembered when I realized I’d become an adult. I thought about it and had to answer that I never had. “I’m glad you said that,” she said. “I never did either.”

What I do remember is thinking maturity was always somewhere in the future. When I was a teenager I thought it was 21. In my 20s I thought it was 30. I’m 51 now and I still have the same, off in the future, feeling.

My mother said she was the same person she had always been. She is coming to terms with it always being that way.

I know the sum of our experiences must have molded us in some way.

My mother and I share the same memory that we were never children in our minds. Maybe we missed out on something. I remember adults having a problem with my lack of automatic respect for their authority.

My mom found my reaction to her childhood photos very funny. I’m unnerved by her adult face on her child’s body.