Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rich Cotton

Last Tuesday night Valerie, Dylan and I went to Rich Cotton’s Funeral Parade in Soulard. Rich died from liver disease just 2 weeks after our friend Sue died from the same thing. It’s given us all a lot to think about.

Drinking had always been part of who Rich was. We used to marvel at his ability to play when he looked like he should be falling off the stage.

He was one of the original members of the Soulard Blues Band. I’ve known him since the early 80s and there’s only one sax player I’ve ever known who even came close to his talent. That was the late great Big Joe Enloe, Tommy Bankhead’s sax player.

I think it was around 1990 and I was on the road with Rib Tip, Soulard Blues’ harp player. We were on our way to go camping when Jim said he had to call Artie. Artie is the bass player in the band. They had decided Rich’s drinking was interfering with the band and he had to go. It was early summer and they loved him so much they gave him until after New Years Eve, the most lucrative gig of the year.

I wondered what Rich would do without the band. My buddy Stephen Martin grabbed him and he played in The Mighty Big Band for the last twenty years of his life.

His playing only improved.

One night my friend Fojammi and I went to Hammerstone’s in Soulard to watch the band. We sat at the bar. For some reason Rich wasn’t playing. He sat next to us with a glazed look in his eyes. He seemed to be following our conversation but he was staring right through us. Finally he said something. “David, it’s you. I just had cataract surgery and I can’t see a thing.” Fojammi said, “Oh man, I thought you were just totally sh!t faced.” Rich finally made eye contact and said, “I am!”

I just got an email from Steve. There will be a jam session at The Missouri Bar and Grill this Sunday starting at 9:00pm. The Mighty Big Band has palyed that time slot for the last 20 years. It’s hard to believe we’re all that much older.

Dylan and I found ourselves bringing up the rear of Rich’s parade last Tuesday night. A Soulard resident came up to me and asked what we were celebrating. “We’re celebrating the life of one of St. Louis’ great musicians.” I said.

Early publicity shot of Rich in the band Adrastus. The rest are from the parade. My skydiving buddy Colorful Tom – Valerie, Dylan, Linda and Joe Sutterer – Brian Casserly - Dylan and me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Random Impressions of the Shaw Neighborhood

The two years I spent in the Shaw neighborhood were a strange time in this country. My mom, brother and I moved there the summer before I started 4th grade. It was around 1967 and 1968.

While I was there Bobby Kennedy, King and Che were assassinated. We were about to go to the moon and Sgt. Pepper was released.

Highway 44 was under construction a block behind us. It was a two block wide strip of abandoned 4-family flats that extended as far as the eye could see in both directions. It was our playground.

My first memory the summer before 4th grade was a racially motivated killing cattycorner from Mullanphy School in the construction. I was told the KKK nailed someone to a tree facing the school. I’m not sure if it was true but all the kids in the neighborhood believed it.

There were only three or four TV channels then so you settled for what was on.

There was a show that started at 5:45 call P.S.4. It taught adults how to read. The teacher was my school’s principal Mr. McNamara. I couldn’t believe he was on TV. He used to display a vintage, flat baseball bat on his office wall. Corporal punishment was very much in use then. He eventually became the superintendent of the St. Louis School System.

I remember walking to school with a friend of mine one morning. When we got to the schoolhouse we kept walking straight to Tower Grove Park where we spent the day in a tree dodging truant officers. It was the first time I played hooky without convincing my mom I was sick and had to stay home. We didn’t have a phone so I was never caught.

This was one of the winters we spent without heat. We had a fireplace that was built for gas logs with no vent. We cracked all the top windows and burned real logs. Everything was covered in black soot. I’m amazed we survived.

Speaking of winter, the Monkees were huge and all the boys wore Mike Nesmith knit hats. Our ears would stick out form underneath. For some reason it became popular for the bullies to flick their fingers as hard as they could on our cold ears. Man that hurt like Hell!

In spite of how broke our family was I felt sorry for kids I thought were truly living in poverty. My friends Jimmy and Bobby Koerper’s apartment was covered in clothes, trash, cockroaches and a sink that was filled with dishes that were never washed. The smell would knock you over. I used to fear rats when we spent the night. To make matters worse their mother had a full mustache.

I was pulled from my 4th grade class one day to meet with a social worker in private. They couldn’t figure out why my grades were so poor and my vocabulary was so good. They tested me for the gifted program. The kids that made it went to Wade School. It happened to be the school most of my life long friends went to. Tony Patti, George Crider, Lora Steffen and God knows who else went there.

Instead of sending me to Gifted they gave me a psychologist.

I was catcher in the Cub Scout baseball team. Each of the teams represented their school. My team, Mullanphy, came in first.

I used to take my quarter for lunch money and go to a small pool hall on Thurman Ave. just down from Shaw. I lived on Moon Pies and cream soda. Just across the street was the world’s first Imo’s Pizza. It was a tiny take out store front. Back then they made their own thin crust and used a sauce made for them by Charlie Gitto’s restaurant. Charlie Gitto’s is a famous Italian restaurant in St. Louis’ Hill neighborhood. Imo’s hasn’t been that good in years. I drove by there the other day. The painted sign is still on the window. I wonder if Imo’s still owns the building now that they’re a corporate superstructure.

My whole life revolved around The Beatles, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Mad Magazine, the space program and petty larceny.

I traveled the streets dragging a wooden cart filled with newspapers as I yelled at the top of my lungs “Mornin’ Globe Paypehya!”.

We went to the Ritz Theater on Grand Ave. and saw three movies, cartoons and trailers for thirty five cents.

I bought my first tape recorder and a unicycle.

I’ll never forget sitting in my 5th grade classroom as Nancy Frasier, a girl in the row next to me, asked, “What would you do if I said sock it to me?” I can’t remember my exact reaction but I know I was jolted. This was my first proposition. I thought about it for months.

Summers were hot and no one had AC in those days. My brother and I slept on the back porch. You either suffered severe mosquito bites or covered up with sheets and suffered the heat. This did provide an opportunity to sneak out into the alleys with my friends at night. The alley behind our apartment is where I came face to face with a huge rat whose eyes seemed to glow red.

My friend Melvin Bozen turned me onto Castle films. They were 8mm edited versions of the Universal Monster classics. He also turned me onto Famous Monsters.

My pal Marvin’s dad was a drag racer. His dad had a car he called a rail job. I learned what slick tires were and why you had to light them on fire for traction when they raced. Marvin had a Stingray bike that looked something like his dad’s race car. My mom had taught me enough about physics to know my large wheeled touring 3 speed was better for speed. Marvin wouldn’t hear any of it so we held a big race. All the kids in the neighborhood were there. Everyone assumed Marvin would win. He was in shape and I was a dorky fat kid. The race extended an entire block. For the first half Marvin was in the lead but I overtook him and won. It was one of the great moments in my life when he admitted my bike was faster.

The only real fight I was ever in was around then. Typically it was with my best friend Mark. I posted about it earlier. This was the only time I ever fought back and I won. I discovered the winner was the last one standing. The neighborhood kids formed a circle around us and kept pushing us back into each other. It was a relentless series of blows to each other’s heads. Mark eventually began to cry and ran away. It was so grueling I could never go through it again. After that I’d just let myself get beat and ended the whole thing quickly.

The worst part of school was gym class when they made us square dance. Touching girls just wasn’t done. There was a developmentally slow girl named Janice. Instead of feeling compassion the kids were typically cruel toward her. I was paired with Janice. The boys were all joking under their breath. I decided to go for broke. I danced furiously swinging Janice as hard as I could. Instead of getting mad at me she loved every minute of it. It gave me a lot to think about. I think I’m still learning form the experience.

I could go on and on so I’ll pick this up later.

My 6th grade class at Mullanphy – First row right to left Jimmy Koerper, me and Melvin Bozen – Second row far right Nancy Frasier – same row second from left Janice – Mark is far left in the last row and Marvin’s in the middle of the last row in plaid.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


The point of this blog has always been to leave behind an account of my life for my kids. I want them to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. My own father lived a fascinating life and I always wished he had recorded his memories. Most of what I know about his life are the recollections of his friends.

Maybe the recollections of friends are more accurate. Valerie and I have been to a lot of parties in the last month. My son Dylan has been to most of them with us. I thought he’d get bored watching a lot of oldsters reliving their youth. He loved it.

A month ago we went to a birthday party for my buddy Mike Lambert. Mike was my 4-way skydiving team, Muffy and the Divers', principal videographer. In my opinion he’s one of the best, definitely the most fun. He followed us everywhere.

I posted about Mike earlier. He was on one of my first night jumps. As we were climbing to altitude he told about his dog's tail getting chopped off. The dog had to learn to smile like a human. Night jumps require incredible mental focus and all I could focus on was that damn dog's smiling face.

The band at the party were old friends of his made up of 2 acoustic guitars, bass and a drummer playing electric drums. They were long haired 40 somethings that reminded me of Tenacious D. Mike used to be in a band too. Mike’s Overland, classic rock teenage hood couldn’t have been more different than mine. Dylan loved the stories.

Two weeks ago we finally had the memorial party for our dear friend Sue at the Byrnes palace in the West End. There were people there I hadn’t seen in 30 years. Dylan learned more about my life that day than I could ever write about. He really loved it.

He finally got to meet Monica Reed. He had always been fascinated with her life. She sang with the Allman Brtothers and Sting among others. His favorite story was a time she went down in a disabled airplane in the Alps with Deep Purple.

Monica was walking around with a cane. A few years ago she was attacked by a gang in L.A.. They shattered her knee. A year after they put in a new one she was dancing and showing photos of her great legs. Something happened to it though and they had to replace it.

She emailed my mom to invite her to a get together at Balaban’s the day before the party. She told my mom about her knee. My mom said, “You know I’m in a wheelchair now?” Monica offered to come and get her. I thought that was incredibly sweet. She had only met my mother once.

I confronted one of my personal demons at the party. Monica and I went dancing at Faces (East Side) one night in the 80s. Suzy Gorman, the photographer, asked why she only went out with wimpy white boys and I was very hurt. I finally confronted Suzy about it at the party. She told me the great love of her life was a boxing trainer. She only liked hard asses. It turned out he died just a few months ago and Suzy was still mourning. After the confrontation Monica asked if I felt better. I did!

Valerie and me in Mike's pool. Mike took the picture.Suzy took the photo at the party of Monica with 2 of her wimpy white boyfriends. The other one is Sam Poston. The other pic is Monica showing off her legs one year after the attack (also by Suzy).

Saturday, August 7, 2010


In this age of social networking and instant credit checks we’re instructed never to post anything a potential employer might have access to. If you know me you know I can’t resist an act of self sabotage.

I was a natural born a thief. This behavior completely disappeared at puberty but it took a confrontation with the law.

My dad used to empty the contents of his pockets onto a dresser near his bed every night. He continued this practice up until the day he died. By then the pile included a .38 revolver.

When I was probably around 5 or 6 I’d sneak into my parents bedroom in the morning and snatch a quarter. Back then that was an incredible amount of money. Candy bars were a nickel and comic books were a dime.

Eventually I was caught and my reputation was established. It came back to bite me when Sue, my baby sitter, came up with an empty drawer that should have contained bill money.

The whole world was convinced I took it. I spent an entire day under interrogation from my dad. I was spanked and stood for hours with my face in a corner. I continued to deny and my parents grew more and more frustrated with my resolve.

Eventually Sue stepped in and convinced my parents to let the matter rest. She even brought Christmas presents for my brother and me. Mine was a painting of an English setter pointing toward some hunter’s kill.

Around 4th grade I got involved with a bad crowd. We became criminal enablers for each other. I remember stealing Swisher Sweet cigars from the drug store. They were dipped in sugar and tasted like candy.

The bolder our crime, the more respect we gained from our peers. This was the beginning of a social awareness that I’ve never quite outgrown. It’s the same sense of satisfaction I get when I’m the center of attention on stage. Needless to say, my crimes had to be the boldest.

I would walk into a supermarket open a can of soda and walk out the front door drinking it. I got caught when a clerk decided to feel how warm my can was. I couldn’t show my face there for months. Eventually they forgot me and I was able to go around the back of the store, grab a bunch of empty pop bottles and turn them back in for the deposit. Then I could buy cold sodas.

One day a friend and I watched a crowd of kids gather around a Mr. Softy truck. We got in line and ordered our favorite ice cream. When the guy handed it to us we ran. He couldn’t do anything but yell because he was still surrounded by the other kids.

At about this same time my brother and I dropped our bikes in front of a Burger Chef and went in to get a burger. We watched in horror as a gang of kids surrounded our bikes and took off with them. We ran after them but were helplessly out numbered. Our bikes were our entire life. Our territory was the whole city and that required transportation.

In spite of this event it still didn’t sink in that our stealing really hurt others.

A couple of years later we moved to the county. This was the golden age of shopping centers just before they evolved into malls.

Our gang used to ride up to Crestwood Plaza to spend the day. To this day I hate it when my kids want to hang out at the mall. How could they resist the temptation to shop lift? The difference, of course, is the fact that they actually have money.

Sometimes we wouldn’t even make it to the shopping center. We’d stop at a supermarket and line our clothing with candy bars and soda and find some hidden spot to gorge. It’s no wonder I was a fat kid.

One day I walked into Sears and took a large bag, a discarded receipt and a stapler from a closed check out counter. I went to the toy department and grabbed a large box that contained the Mongoose-Snake Hot Wheels race track and cars. I took all of this into a dressing room where I placed the contents into a bag and stapled the discarded receipt to it. I walked through the door like I owned the place. My friend Jeff watched in amazement. He has since said I had balls of steel. This was exactly the kind of approval I was looking for.

My friend Don Belk stole a bike and soon the rest of our gang was doing the same. I’ll never forget get one day a few of us were in E.J. Korvetts. My name came across the store intercom. When I went to the service counter my mom was there waiting for me. I remember a long drive to the police station. My mother was in tears and basically asking where she had gone wrong as a parent. I was wearing a stolen belt and shirt under my clothing.

It finally occurred to her where the race track, Mad books and other toys had come from. I’ll never remember all the stolen things I had. I had a movieola, movies, expensive walkie-talkies, hundreds of books and God knows what else.

My friends and I all ended up in Juvenile court in Webster Groves and I was on probation until I was 16 or 17. I even spent a short period of time in a cell just to put the fear of God into me.

I think it was the pain my mother was going through that made me finally realize how much pain crime causes. I was ashamed. I still am. The pleasure and urge completely disappeared.

As an adult I’ve been a victim of crime more times than I can remember. I’ve been hit on the back of my head with a pistol and rolled up into a carpet as my apartment was robbed. I’ve had my apartment ransacked as I slept in the next room. I’ve come home to and empty apartment several times. I can’t really muster rage against the perpetrators.

I have friends that will insist it’s karma, that I’ll spend the rest of my life suffering payback. Maybe I believe it, I don’t know.

Pic is 4th grade mug shot.