Something in the Way He Moves

Beatle Bob has been on a one-man dance marathon, bop-bop-bopping all over town. But why?

"I don't care what people think," says Beatle Bob. "I really don't. I don't care what the band thinks. I just want to go out there and move. I love dancing and music. If it moves me, I'm going to move. If the band's playing a really groovy dance style, hey, man, let's go for it. Let it all hang out. Let your hair down. Let's go for it, man! If I wait for other people to hit the dance floor, though, a lot of sets I'm going to be sitting a long time. I'm not going to wait for other people to get out there first. I would rather see a lot of people on the dance floor with me, (but) if you don't want to do it, don't knock me for it."

Robert Matonis was born in St. Louis on Jan 12, 1953. His parents divorced when he was young, and he spent much of his childhood shuttling between his mother's South Side home, his grandparents' house in the Baden neighborhood and Mount Providence, an all-boys boarding school in North County.

Matonis' most vivid early memory of music goes back to a party held by one of his uncle's friends in 1960, when he was 7 years old.

Robert Matonis, a.k.a. Beatle Bob, as a freshman at Augustinian Academy in 1968
Robert Matonis, a.k.a. Beatle Bob, as a freshman at Augustinian Academy in 1968
Beatle Bob's 1971 yearbook photo from Southwest High School
Beatle Bob's 1971 yearbook photo from Southwest High School

"I couldn't go to this because it was more of a teen thing, your boyfriend-girlfriend type of thing," he recalls. "I remember sneaking up to the house. I literally crawled up there like a soldier, peering through the bushes. It was one of those parties with the Chinese lanterns outdoors. They were spinning records. The teenagers were doing all these wild dances. I'd seen kids dancing on TV, but this, wow, it was just so electrifying to watch it. These kids were having fun. I thought, 'Somehow I've just got to be a part of this. Somehow I've got to be connected to rock & roll.'"

Mount Providence closed in 1996, and the property is now part of the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus. From its founding in 1933, the institution had been operated by the Sisters of Divine Providence, an order of Roman Catholic nuns. Eighty-four-year-old Sister Aurelia Fechte, Matonis' eighth-grade teacher and the school's principal, remembers the youngster as a cooperative student who was always considerate of others. "We used to have Mass every morning in our chapel," she recalls. "One time he sang loud so he could protect his fellow students from being reprimanded for not singing. He made up for the whole bunch."

One of his transgressions, however, was the origin of the nickname by which he later became known. According to Matonis, the christening took place in sixth-grade geography class, when Sister Celeste spied him sneaking a peek at a Beatles fan magazine during class. The nun raced down the aisle, snatched the magazine from behind the boy's textbook and exclaimed: "That will be enough of that -- Beatle Bob!" The class erupted in laughter, and Matonis received a new identity.

At school, Matonis helped serve Mass in the Gothic Tudor chapel alongside fellow altar boy Ed Zachow. The two shared an interest in Pogo and Peanuts, two popular comic strips of the day. Zachow, an aspiring artist, drew sketches of his favorite cartoon characters for Matonis. The two boys, who became close friends between the sixth and eighth grades, also had a mutual affinity for music. "We started our first rock & roll newsletter," says Matonis. "This was, like, in 1966. It was called U.S. -- the United Saviors. He did the artwork; I did the writing. I still have a picture that he did of Paul McCartney."

Zachow occasionally visited the Matonis family residence. "(Bob) was always really into music," recalls Zachow. "When we were kids, I think he would try to get an album every weekend with his allowance." Matonis' mother then lived on Michigan Avenue near Cherokee Street. "That's where I discovered the Beatles," says Matonis. "I bought my first Beatle record at a music store, Southside Music, that still exists there. We had a Beatles museum in a friend of mine's basement. We'd charge people a quarter to get in."

When he was at home, Matonis found refuge listening to records in his room. Music, at this early stage in his life, had already become an escape, a way to temporarily remove himself from circumstances beyond his control. "My stepdad was just a very brutal person," he says. "Rock & roll music was my own little world where I could get away from a lot of stuff." Not surprisingly, one of his favorite songs from that time was "In My Room," by the Beach Boys:

There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
In my room...
In this world, I lock out all my troubles and my fears....
Do my dreaming and my scheming, lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing, laugh at yesterday
Now it's dark and I'm alone, but I won't be afraid....
In my room...

"That song pretty much sums up my period there in the house," says Matonis.

Over the course of his childhood, Matonis also spent considerable time at the home of his maternal grandparents, who resided on Ponce Avenue in North St. Louis. During these stays, his Uncle Bill, who still lived at home, took him on outings, including a trip to the legendary Club Imperial to see the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

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