Something in the Way He Moves

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

When he got a little older, Matonis began to pursue his goal by hanging out in the lobby of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, patiently waiting to get autographs from the rock stars who entered and exited. He remembers brushes with such celebrities as Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Young Rascals and the Monkees. But even then he wasn't interested in just the big names. He kept close track of the bands around town, too. At local teen towns and high-school dances he grooved to the soul sounds of the Oliver Sain Revue and Marcel Strong and the Apostles. Other venues open to minors included the Rainy Daze and Cloud Nyne, where he would see groups such as the Aardvarks. "In those days, there were literally dozens and dozens and dozens of teen bands," he says.

After graduating from Mount Providence, Matonis attended Augustinian Academy, a Catholic high school in South St. Louis. His 1968 freshman yearbook photograph shows a skinny kid with horn-rimmed glasses and no sign of a Beatle haircut. In his junior year, he transferred to Southwest High School, where he played varsity football in the Public High League, and graduated in 1971.

What happened to Matonis over the course of the next few years is unclear. Ask him about his personal history, and he gives vague responses or answers with musically related anecdotes. Like many people his age, he reveled in a hedonistic subculture known for its excesses, but he says he never did drugs, never drank alcohol and never smoked tobacco. Academic records indicate that Matonis graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) with a degree in social work in 1983. In a story published in the UMSL student newspaper last fall, Matonis said that he graduated in 1977. He also told the newspaper that he had taken "a few years off between college and high school to travel the world."

"I don't care what people think," says Beatle Bob. "I just want to go out there and move. I love dancing and music."
Jennifer Silverberg
"I don't care what people think," says Beatle Bob. "I just want to go out there and move. I love dancing and music."
On any given night, Beatle Bob materializes, seemingly out of nowhere, and then vanishes.
Jennifer Silverberg
On any given night, Beatle Bob materializes, seemingly out of nowhere, and then vanishes.

Though Beatle Bob claims his nickname was divinely inspired by the wrath of Sister Celeste, he didn't begin using the handle full-time until 1980, when he started writing for Jet Lag, a fan magazine that covered the St. Louis music scene. At Jet Lag, his moniker was added to a list of concert and record reviewers who used bylines such as John the Mailman and Hash Brown. Beatle Bob's first article for the publication critiqued a performance by Jan and Dean, the '60s surf-music duo, who were then on a comeback tour.

By this point, Beatle Bob had already established his reputation as a solo dancer. "He was the same guy, only a little less fixed," says Steve Pick, the co-founder of Jet Lag. "It was the same principle -- the sharp dresser, the crazy dancer." Pick, now a music writer for The Riverfront Times, recalls a quintessential Beatle Bob anecdote from a 1983 concert. "There were maybe 500 people left in the (St. Louis) Arena, because James Brown didn't come out until like 2:30 in the morning," says Pick. "It was one of those seven-act bills, and there were delays between all the acts. Bob and I were the only two white guys left in the place. Bob was doing his thing right at the foot of the stage, and these drop-dead gorgeous women were standing right behind him. One of them tapped him on the shoulder to dance. He turned around and smiled at her and then turned (back) and danced by himself. Nowadays he will occasionally dance with somebody, but back then it was always alone."

Beatle Bob himself traces the origins of his singular dance style back to the late 1970s, when he had an epiphany of sorts. "The moment that really inspired me to dance alone was at a Dwight Twilley concert," he says. "All of us were standing close to the stage (when) my friend Paul Yamada started dancing like crazy."

The uninhibited behavior was uncharacteristic of his friend, who normally approached music in a scholarly way. Yamada, a graduate instructor, taught a course in rock & roll history at Washington University and worked as a clerk at Peaches, a record store on Hampton Avenue. Through him, Beatle Bob had discovered the Ramones, the seminal punk-rock band from New York. His friend had also exposed him to magazines that chronicled the nascent new-wave movement and books that delved into the country and blues roots of rock & roll. But it was Yamada's exhibition at the Twilley concert that inspired Beatle Bob the most. The serious student of music had suddenly lost his composure and entered into a rhythmic fit. "Paul was kind of shaped like a fireplug. He just started shaking back and forth," says Beatle Bob. If Yamada, a subdued academic, could be so unrestrained, Beatle Bob reasoned, he could, too. "That very night I started doing it. The funny thing is, Paul never danced again."

The genre of music that ignited Beatle Bob's footloose fancy is categorized as "power pop." In Twilley's case, the form combined Beatlesque harmonies set to a rockabilly beat. In the liner notes of his first album, Twilley credits "black-and-white magic" for the success of the project. The album cover includes three pentacles in the design, and an inside photograph shows the recording artist wearing a similar five-sided star, which is an occult symbol. The Tulsa, Okla., singer's only hit record, "I'm on Fire," which charted at No. 16 in 1975, includes this rather disturbing verse:

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