Sunday, August 30, 2009

Busch Stadium

I’m not sure if this blurry picture was a lapse dissolve or just blurry from camera movement but that’s my daughter Chloe on the far left playing flute.(Click on photo to enlarge).

She’s played twice before at Busch Stadium before the game. She played the last season of the old stadium and the first season at the new one. Both times the camera person focused in on her. Unfortunately I took video, not still shots.

This was yesterday and just happened to be my ex’s 40th birthday too. She got free tickets for Valerie and me that were much appreciated.

After dropping Chloe with the band at the stadium we toured a couple of the local bars. My son Dylan saw part of my past.

He got to see an old concert poster from a show I did with Monica Reed, Blake Travis and The Heaters that hung at The Broadway Oyster Bar. He also saw a Cessna 150 I painted that hangs from the ceiling at Paddy O’s sports bar just south of the stadium.

The new stadium is great but I miss the old one. It was from, what I consider, the golden age of architecture in St. Louis. It went up the same time as the Arch and Lambert Airport. The stadium and the airport were designed to echo the Arch.

I grew up watching them all under construction.

I have a long history with the Busch Stadium. On its opening day I was supposed to be on a float in a parade that ended inside the stadium. I was a Cub Scout. There wasn’t enough room on the float so a friend and I were kicked off.

I lived in Laclede Town at the time. I ran home in tears. My mother must have felt bad for us. She gave us a dollar to buy candy at The Ponderosa (our local store). This was a fortune. Candy bars were still a nickel. We stocked up on candy and went across the street to Laclede Park to wade in a fountain.

My little brother Patrick played in Laclede Town’s JFL (Junior Football League) team. They had the full uniforms, padding and all. I was very impressed when the played at Busch Stadium before a football Cardinals game.

Years later I’d sneak into the stadium late at night with my friend John. He was the first Fredbird and even has a 1982 World Series ring to prove it. There was always a lot of beer there. Sometimes he’d lend me his bike that he kept there so I could ride it in the moonlight ramble.

Speaking of Laclede Town, last week Valerie and I took the kids to The Missouri History Museum. They had a photo of the manager’s office at Laclede Park. They identified it as Laclede Town.

A lot of the musicians the museum featured, most of whom are dead, are friends of ours. There were a lot of mistakes about their personal histories. Valerie and I have been meaning to get back to the museum about these errors.

It’s strange how a city can get into your blood. A lot of my friends have moved away but this is home for me. I've almost moved several times but something makes me want to stay.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Last night Valerie and I were enjoying cocktails on our porch (our favorite pastime) when the conversation turned to that old chestnut, the purpose of art.
Valerie said she was perfectly happy if no one ever saw her stuff. She created for her own pleasure. I suppose this is the definition of art for art’s sake.
For me art is a language and there has to be person on the other side. Of course art is whatever you want it to be.
I’m going after truths that you can’t get to any other way. If I could do it with words I’d be a writer. I haven’t been able to get to the subtle nuance of my experience or my subconscious with words. If I was doing it just for me it would be like talking to a wall.
When I improvise, I’m trying to uncover something I hadn’t noticed before. I’m uncovering something for me but I see it as exposing a universal truth.
I guess it’s for some kind of affirmation of my existence. Just as long as there’s two of us life has meaning.
The Udell males have notoriously bad hand writing. That has translated to everything I’ve ever attempted graphically. It doesn’t help that I have absolutely no self discipline and won’t practice.
I remember trying to forge a note in my mother’s handwriting to my teacher explaining my absence. I was playing hooky. My mother’s handwriting was just too damn good and I couldn’t pull it off!
Fortunately I learned it was more important to get your point across than to create a disciplined piece. I guess that explains most of contemporary art.
I remember Dali saying Picasso was a genius but he couldn’t paint.
Sometimes the language of art can be a little exclusive. You can look at Mondrian’s Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red and just see squares and colors. When you learn that it’s based on a classical construct of painting composition you get the joke. This rectangle is where I put the wind mill, this one is the horizon, etc.. Why not just reduce the picture to its real meaning. Representation is for photography. These guys had to learn a lot about the history of art.
In the 70’s I tried painting. I worked with oils and even tried an air brush. I had friends that were purists telling me the air brush was cheating. To me it was like using an effects pedal on my electric guitar, all’s fair.
After countless hours tearing my hair out trying to paint something I liked, I’d plug my guitar into a distortion pedal, my wah-wah, and a delay. I’d achieve instant gratification. Needless to say I eventually lost interest in producing graphic art.
I found an old oil stained notebook of drawings from the mid 70s. One is me being interrupted while pissing by a campfire, one is an apology but I can’t remember what I was apologizing about, and the last is my illustration of a passage from the song Webster Hangover. Note the snail and ant. This was from the great rock opera my buddy Dominic and I wrote as teenagers.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The day I learned Mick Taylor quit The Stones

Valerie, the kids and I are heading to the country today. My good friend Marge is having a picnic. How an urban creature like Marge came to raise horses and live in the woods still knocks me a little off balance.
January 18, 1975, my 17th birthday, Marge, Annie, Pattie (Annie’s mom), Bob (Pattie’s boyfriend), and Alan (Bob’s son) took a drive into the country. Pattie was taking us to a country auction. We were in a van Bob had procured for the occasion. It was a beautiful sunny day and warm enough that I’d forgotten it was winter.
I’m not sure what station we were listening to but it must have been KSHE. I don’t think there were any other rock stations at the time. Mick Taylor’s resignation from the Rolling Stones was announced. I was stunned!
The auction was in a large barn. I couldn’t understand a word of the auctioneer’s calls. There was a giant pot of boiling hot dogs and ears of corn for everyone. Pattie bought an antique couch that unfolded into a bed for $2.00.
Instead of heading home we traveled deeper into the country. Pattie had friends who lived in the middle of nowhere. Their little house looked like something out of Little House on the Prairie nestled in a vast expanse of property. I don’t remember much about them except they had a chimp or at least a very large monkey. The house stunk and I was glad that Marge, Annie, Alan and I would be sleeping on the newly acquired bed outside. I remember a dazzling view of stars and uncontrollable laughter all night long.
The next morning, when I woke up, I couldn’t see anyone. We were literally covered in a blanket of snow. I could see smoke coming from the chimney of the little house. All I could think of was warmth. Who cared about the foul monkey smell!?
I don’t know how I pulled it off, and Marge always tells me how flawed my memories are, but I carried everyone together across the snow on my back to the house. I remember this same crew on my back as I steered a sled down Art Hill in Forest Park. Hyperventilation caused fits of laughter until we crashed at the bottom. I don’t remember laughing that hard since.
One night Marge, Annie and I were going somewhere from Annie’s house in the West End. Bob said he’d lend me his car if I knew how to drive a stick. I lied and said I did. Five blocks from the house I began to get the hang of it.
Bob sold that car to my mom. I used to borrow it every night when she tended bar at the Coach and Four Pub in Laclede Town. I was still living at home in Soulard. When I went to pick her up from work around 2:00am I was struck by a car load of 15 year olds that flew from an entrance ramp from highway 55 onto Russell. If it hadn’t been for a huge limo passing between them and me I’d be dead. I ended up wrapped around a signal light post. They had to pry me out. The kids were too young to even have driver’s licenses or insurance and suffered no consequences. My mother was without a car. Come to think of it so was I. I was a little sore for while too.
Years later a gay church in the West End let my band rehearse on their stage. Alan, now a young adult, was there at a service.
Time marches on.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old Fart at Play

Happy Birthday Dominic!!!

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Sometimes you’re lucky and find a soul mate artistic collaborator. Lennon-McCartney, Jagger-Richards, Rogers-Hammerstein, Boyce-Hart --- you know what I mean.

My friend Dominic and I grew up surrounded by events and circumstances that lead to a mutual understanding that was a blast to explore as youngsters.

I remember spending evenings in the basement of Duff’s Restaurant writing our rock opera “Webster Hangover” between dish washing loads. I think the band got 4 good songs out of it. One of the songs, an instrumental called E Harmonix made it to our fist LP Distances.

As artists Dominic and I couldn’t be more at odds. This is probably the yin and yang of creativity. One of the reasons I don’t play live much is my obsessive need for rehearsals. Dominic has always been willing to expose himself, scabs and all, to anyone willing to listen. He actually learned how to play at our audience’s expense. I don’t remember ever seeing him practice.

I insisted on lots of rehearsal. The band might rehearse 4 times a week only to play out once or twice a month. What if you achieve perfection but never take it out?

One of the biggest obstacles of any budding band is finding a place to rehearse. Fortunately my dad always came through. The only problem was none of his places ever had heat. We hauled a huge oil burning heater into his basement where we practicing. One night it blew up. We found ourselves in a black cloud groping in the darkness for our equipment. Our only concern was getting it all out of the building.

He had a place down in LaSalle Park. We played in the attic. We burned duraflame logs in a Franklin stove to keep warm. These pictures are from there. We have a pose Dom and I struck every few years. There’s a view of the attic with Dom, Keith Hittler (one of our many great drummers), Tracy Wynkoop and Mark Gray. Mark was our sound man. Then there’s another view with me, Theo Johnson, Parker Yarbrough (another great drummer- who left us for Jesus), and Mark. The photo of Patti Smith to the right of Keith may be when she was a poet – before she became a musician. This was in the mid 70s.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Brother's Anatomical Gift

My son just got his driving learner’s permit. I didn’t want him to drive until he was 35. It’s hard for me to accept his being that old. He’s excited of course.

He called to ask me if he should fill out the anatomical gift information on the back. I told him that it was up to him but I did.

I didn’t tell him my mother thought if you were in an accident and they needed a part, they’d just let you die.

He asked if he should donate any organ or a specific one.

I told him I signed for any part but my brother, his uncle Patrick, specified his head.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Jerry the Indian

Honorary Negro

My son has a hard time wrapping his head around my childhood. He can’t imagine never living a full two years anywhere. In spite of my family’s high-strung, flighty temperament I grew up primarily in the central corridor of St. Louis.

St. Louis is famous for its almost perfectly symmetrical racial division. The exception used to be right through the middle. We grew up expecting physical and cultural diversity.

When I was four to six years old I lived at Kingsbury and DeBaliviere. It wasn’t a wealthy neighborhood. I don’t think many kids were even born in a hospital.

I remember thinking black kids were anatomically different from white kids. When we peed in the gangway I’d stare with curiosity at their uncircumcised penises.

When I was six we moved to Laclede Town. The place was a cultural experiment to begin with. Our baby sitter was a Japanese woman named Sue. Fate sent her to the country to visit relatives the day her family was incinerated in Hiroshima. She was five.

My dad was a colorful Gaslight Square character they called Jerry the Indian. There was segregation even in the north in those days. My dad was proud of the fact he could get in the black clubs. He told me even as far north as Chicago there was a black only club he got into to see Roland Kirk.

My mother told me a story the other day. My dad went into a black club somewhere in St. Louis. They told him he would have to leave. My father was incredulous. He was with a friend who told him, “They mean it, man.”

My father even harbored a little old school racism. When he saw I was beginning to have girl friends, he decided it was time to have a talk. I never did get the sex talk. What he told me was, “It’s okay to date a black girl but don’t marry one.” “Society isn’t ready for that yet.” I was surprised to hear this from him. He had always been a paragon of tolerance.

Speaking of the sex talk I never had, when I was around nine my mother thought it was about time. She said she couldn’t really talk to me about it but she intended to get a book for me. I wonder if that talk would have prevented my girlfriend from getting pregnant when I was fifteen. We were using the rhythm method but had our timing incredibly wrong.

When I was nine we were living in the Shaw neighborhood. This was farther south than we usually lived. Martin Luther King was shot. A friend of mine told me he didn’t understand why everyone hated black people. It was like being hit by a car. Until then I hadn’t noticed everyone in the neighborhood was white. I couldn’t get over how unnatural it seemed all of a sudden.

My ex was always embarrassed when I couldn’t let a racist remark go by without comment. I have spent my entire life cringing at intolerance.

My son Dylan went to Fanfest with his mother last week when St. Louis hosted the All-Star game. My girlfriend Valerie got free tickets for volunteering. He told me he was a couple of feet from Lou Brock. I asked him if he mentioned my dad. He had forgotten my dad knew him. If you’re not old enough to remember Lou Brock, he was the Ozzie Smith of the sixties. He was fearless when it came to stealing bases. My mother gave me this Honorary Negro card he signed to my dad.