Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Friend Fran

When I got married and moved to Florissant, my life came to an intellectual dead end, or should I say cul de sac? No one was interested in art, science, politics (with the exception of ultra right dogma), or philosophy.

This was where the neighborhood dads and I were taking our kids trick or treating, and one dad noticed a “Vote Democrat” sign in a yard. “A$$hole, I should egg his car!” he said. I told him I thought Republicans were the party of greed, sexism and racism. His response was, “So?” Later, I was in a poker game with him. He spent most of the game trying to convince me the moon landing was a scam. I’d never felt so alone in my life.

When I was working in the yard, I began to speak across the fence to my neighbor next door. His name was Fran, and I began to realize he was one of those truly unique people that live life from their own, individual point of view.

Fran and I shared an interest in computers. I was working on my MCSE at the time, and he was a tech at UMSL. He tried to teach me HTML, but I was lazy and only wanted to use web building programs. He was such a purist, he knew DOS better than English.

Fran and girl friend Sue had a hemophiliac son named Wolfgang. Wolfgang was a couple of years older than my son. Dylan idolized him. Wolfgang gave Dylan his Pokemon cards when he outgrew them.

They wanted him to have a normal life, so they encouraged him to skateboard and dirt bike. The neighborhood kids built ramps in front of our house, and Wolfgang was always the most reckless. I remember several times when Sue spent the night giving Wolfgang injections after he’d hurt himself. She was always in tears.

Fran had been raised in a Republican family but decided he couldn’t handle it when Bush wanted to stop stem cell research aimed at hemophilia.

Fran’s favorite band in the world was Yes. I remember trying to explain to him that, while I loved the guys in the band, thought they were incredible musicians, and even kind of thought of them as family, I just didn’t like their music.

Fran was the guy who dragged his guitar out at every party. He was never self-conscious, he just loved music.

Fran and Sue were on the Jerry Springer show. It was hilarious. Sue ambushed him. She had her friends and even some of Fran’s family condemning him. Fran refused to marry Sue, even after Wolfgang. After everyone on the panel condemned him as a jerk, Jerry introduced Fran to the studio audience. He was met with boos. I could see the sweat breaking out on his forehead.

I asked him why he would subject himself to that kind of public humiliation. He said, “Man, they put us up in an expensive hotel and gave us a limo!”

One of the best, and worst, things about Fran is that he refuses to be an adult. He’s always been his son’s best friend. He always hung out with Wolfgang’s friends.

One day the neighborhood kids banged on my door. “Mr. Udell, Fran’s hurt, you have to come!”

I followed them back into the woods where they had an elaborate bike trail carved into the terrain. Fran had jumped one of the hills on a dirt bike. He was supposed to come down another hill, but he missed. He lay there with a broken shoulder. He was in terrible pain but laughing. “You have to carry me outta here!” he said.

Kim and I witnessed Sue and Fran’s marriage at the St. Charles City Hall. I remember going to work drunk on Champagne after a small celebration in their home. I wanted to write Jerry Springer with the update.

When Kim and I split, Fran kept me distracted at several bars. I can’t begin to describe the variety of interesting people who love Fran. I’ll have to go into more detail later.

Fran and I are hanging at his pool in St. Charles. This is probably around 2002.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I was talking to my friend William Stage a few months ago about a web site I want to start about the characters of the Soulard neighborhood. I’ve been lucky to know a lot of genuinely fascinating characters from several neighborhoods in St. Louis, but Soulard seems like a good place to start. I figure I could tell my stories and everyone else could jump in with theirs.

Unfortunately, I haven’t really had the time to devote to every project I have in my head. It has something to do with sheer exhaustion, my blogs, music, spending every waking moment working to pay child support and rent and all the other distractions we all suffer.

I was growing up in Soulard right when it was time for me to move away from home. It was the early seventies and I wouldn’t meet the great characters of the neighborhood until the early eighties.

Everyone remembers the first Mardi Gras parade from the late seventies having started from one of the bars. I remember one way before that consisting of the volunteer fire department, our alderman, a high school marching band and an antique car. Instead of beads they threw candy. The crowd was made up entirely of kids.

A lot of great St. Louisans came out of the neighborhood and I’m determined to complete the project some day. If you can think of anyone who should be included, please mention them in my comments section.

I’m thinking: Ollie Matheus, Zeno (the first Poet Laureate of Soulard), Uncle Bill (our current Poet Laureate), Nondus, Johnny Rio (the Sheriff of Soulard), Sharon Cody Smith, Chuck Auger, Nancy Theodoro, Tom Hall, David Classe (our great and prolific Painter), Mark O’Shaughnessy (owner of Heatbreak Hotel/BBs Jazz, Blues and Soups – where my band played in the 70s-80s) the women of The Soulard Ladies Auxiliary (they never understood why I laughed at the patch they wore “SLA”), and especially the Mayor of Soulard, Bob Burkhardt.

Burkhardt and Rio made their living picking. They should have had that TV show. I can’t remember who, but one of them came across a pedal steel guitar and gave it to Stephen Martin and me for our studio. Bob gave me some kind of military ammo case that I still use for gear.

Burkhardt is probably the single most important music club owner in St. Louis. A few of the bars he created just off the top of my head were: Rusty Springs, Mississippi Nights, Muddy Waters, Downstreet, Burkhardts/Broadway Oyster Bar and Molly’s.

I started working at Burkhardts just as it was changing its name to the Broadway Oyster Bar. My friends Dennis and Donna Jean bought the bar from Bob and his sister Bonnie. Ollie would still own the building for several years. Somehow this turned them all into enemies.

I remember one night Bob showed up and was really drunk and nasty. Dennis told me to throw him out. Man, was that awkward. I really liked him. Burkhardt got quiet, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry man; I know it’s not you.”

A few years ago Bob was called up for jury duty. He was picked for a case involving a teenager and drugs. Bob told them he shouldn’t be on the jury because he believed drugs should be legal and he would be prejudiced. They picked him. I think this is the kind of luck Burhardt has had his whole life.

Dennis called me a few days ago to tell me Burkhardt’s sisters were throwing him a going away party. That will be today. When I brought up the fact that Bob and Dennis had been enemies for years, Dennis said, “Yeah, and it was all over money.” It would be great to see the two of them resolve their differences.

I don’t want to sound cryptic but Bob will be gone for a while.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Today is one of the great milestones in my life. As I sit writing, in the house my ex ended up with, my son is taking the ACT.

The whole process is totally irritating to him. I’ve been lucky that my wishes are important to him, but in this case, our egos are at a stalemate.

The fact that I dropped out of high school three months before graduation has not given me the moral high ground.

I’m not going to mention names because there might be legal implications.

I went to an alternative high school that was started by a man whose passion was to save inner city kids. His first school was a G.E.D. school but his second, the one I went to, was fully accredited.

I made it through one year of public high school before my counselor decided the alternative school might work out better. I had a problem with authority. I wasn’t in any way disruptive in class, I just had absolutely no respect for authority. I think it spooked them a little.

My son Dylan has total respect for authority – if it’s deserved. He seems to appreciate the experience and perspective of those who have gone before him. My ex is worried that he wants to follow my taste so closely, he’ll end up the same loser I am.

The alternative school seemed to be based entirely on two things: Paraphrasing and writing two critical analyses of books before graduating.

Paraphrasing what you were told showed you understood. It was training for writing. I think critically analyzing a book was the same thing taken to an extreme. I got sick of paraphrasing everything and never did learn how to write a critical analysis.

I turned one in, and my teacher asked, “What are you trying to get away with?” He was convinced I was capable of writing a good one. I really had no idea how to, and I couldn’t get anyone to show me how.

I must have had an attitude. They always thought I knew more than I did. One of my classes was examining a chapter from some book. In front of the class, I asked the teacher what fornication meant. She was convinced I knew perfectly well what it meant and I was just sh%t disturbing. I wasn’t.

The school focused on reading and writing. I read and learned about a lot of writers. I learned about photography and did a lot of work in the dark room. The only thing I learned about math was how to use a slide rule. It seems pretty arcane, especially considering calculators were just about to become available to the masses. (My son is probably using one right now).

School, in general, was becoming annoying to me. My entire life centered on my band. My girl friend, Pam, went to the same school. She told me the guy who ran the school was hitting on her. I was furious. For some reason, instead of confronting him, I walked away from the school just three months before graduating. In retrospect, I think I was looking for an excuse.

He was in the news a couple of years ago. He had been accused of molesting a minor at the school he works at now.

In the eighties, I decided I should have a diploma. I took the G.E.D. test. Part of it was a writing assignment. They asked me to write about my ambitions. I wrote an essay about my dream to become a dish washer. My friend Margaret Bianchetta asked, “Are you deliberately trying to sabotage your chances?”

I did very well with the test. I got a letter from the person who had to read my essay. He said, “It was very strange, but well written!” Margaret said, “Figures!”

Almost immediately, I went to the St. Louis University book store and bought a huge ACT study guide. I spent a lot of time with it but never took the test.

I was amazed at how little math I understood. My friend Benet’s wife was studying math in college at the time. We wrote letters to each other mathematically.

I learned, and just as quickly lost, a lot of math. My son is brilliant with math. He had to pull public service for a free college program called A+. We thought for sure he was going to tutor kids in math. He ended up baby sitting grade-schoolers. It seems talent is never recognized.

Wow, that thought just inspired an idea I have about my daughter’s acting career.

Dylan at Shakespeare in Forest Park last year.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Delay Tactics

In the very early eighties my band changed its name from Earwacks to Wax Theatricks. A few things marked the change. We began to focus more on song writing and less on arrangement, I cut my hair and Fojammi joined the band. I was going to write about Danny (Fojammi), but I’ll do that later.

During this time Carl Weingarten started hanging out at our shows. Carl and I were big fans of Brian Eno. We had a lot to talk about.

Carl talked me into recording an album with him and a dancer friend of his named Gale Ormiston. The music seemed a little too Eno and I decided go by the name Phil Neon. It was recorded in a small 8 track studio in Clayton. The studio was designed for commercials.

My girlfriend got backing for a play she wrote and was able to fund a film I made. I used the music for a sound track. I ended up liking the album. Instead of sounding like an Eno rip off, it sounded like a cheesy 50s Sci-fi sound track. The only thing that was missing was a theremin. The funny thing is, Danny and I both had theremins we had built from kits.

After that Carl told me he met a guy named Walter Whitney who had his own studio in Overland. He asked if I’d like to work with them. Walter had a 4 track Studer. I couldn’t conceive of working with so few tracks and declined. I was used to working with 16 tracks by then. Never mind the fact that Sgt. Pepper had been recorded on a 4 track.

Carl also met a gut named a guy named Reed Nesbit who named the group Delay Tactics. Reed was a bit of a local character who dresses impeccably. He looked straight out of the future.

This was at the end of my long hair period. I ran into Reed on the set of Escape from New York. We were both extras. They had obvious picked him for his futuristic “New Wave” look, and me for my “Grunge” look.

Danny and I were living together with our girlfriends in South St. Louis. One night he came home with Delay Tactics’ first record Out Pop Options. He put it on the stereo in the room between our bedrooms. I lay there drifting asleep and the song Chasing Moroder came on. I sat up in bed dumbstruck. “They did that on 4 tracks?”

I quickly weaseled my way back into Carl’s world and became good friends with Walter. Reed and Carl were having creative arguments at the time. I ended up on 2 or 3 pieces with Reed but never actually saw him. That material didn’t end up on the new album and Reed disappeared. It was released years later.

The album we released was called Any Questions?, and I think it’s the best sounding record I’ve ever been on. It was a very creative time for me.

We had Jimmy Mayer on bass. He was in PM and also Jimmy Buffet’s band. I’ve been very lucky to work with St. Louis’ 2 best Jazz bassists, Jimmy and Mark Foster. Joan Bouise did vocal work for us and I got to work with her on a very personal level.

A couple of labels were looking at us. Verve wanted to start a New Age division and talked about Delay Tactics being their first act. Windham Hill was a big New Age label at the time. They were interested but wanted us to tone it down a bit. Our response was, “F&*k Off!”

I was going gangbusters in Wax Theatricks and Delay Tactics at the same time. Our live shows were very different animals. I’d do a weekend with Wax Theatricks on stage at a bar with sweaty, stinking, dancing punk kids and bikers.

The next week a journalist form the L.A. Times would give a lecture on technology in contemporary Art at The St. Louis Art Museum and Delay Tactics was the example. That crowd drank wine and ate caviar.

We gave a private performance for the richer patrons of the museum. I remember a woman walked into our performance space as we played. She asked how I produced the sound I was producing as I produced it. I couldn’t believe her arrogance. I guess money gives you a sense of privilege.

I was on the top of the world. My girlfriend, Monica Reed, witnessed the whole thing. She’s had a great career. I’ll have to do a story or two about her soon.

These are links to a St. Louis Skyline TV show Delay Tactics did, a PBS documentary about us, and a piece from the Submergings LP I did with Carl and Gale Ormiston. The music for the dance piece by Suzanne Grace was originally for a Christmas song I was going to do for my mom. I got credit for guitar but I also played Gato and fretless bass. I was very proud of the bass part. Tracy lent me his for the part.

The pictures are from the first live Delay Tactics performance. It was somewhere in University City, but that’s all I remember. This was my favorite haircut. The other is the back cover from that first album with Carl and Gale.