Something in the Way He Moves

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

Beatle Bob has been accused of using this method in the past. Last year, for instance, he got backstage passes to the New Orleans Jazz Fest by identifying himself with KDHX, the St. Louis community-radio station. This prompted Beverly Hacker, the station's manager, to write a letter to a New Orleans-based music publication, disavowing any association with him. "He tells clubs that he's one of our on-air programmers so that he can get free tickets," says Hacker. "I just find it very annoying that he does this affiliation with us when he hasn't put in the time."

When such questions arise, Beatle Bob usually attributes the problem to a misunderstanding, a simple mistake. The flap over last year's Jazz Fest is a good example: Beatle Bob informed the festival staff by fax that he was interested in doing a radio special for KDHX on New Orleans rhythm & blues and, as a part of his project, would need a backstage pass to conduct interviews. "Maybe I could have been more clear, but never did I use the words 'volunteer' or 'paid worker.' I have done several radio specials since the station opened up," he says, "long before Beverly was ever with the station."

Tony Renner, another KDHX staff member, recalls seeing Beatle Bob at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin last year, wearing a name tag that affiliated him with Jet Lag magazine, which hasn't been published in several years. Renner didn't say anything about the misrepresentation at the time because, he says, Beatle Bob "was introducing me to a very attractive young woman."

Beatle Bob's love of music is so great that he has been prohibited from entering more than one St. Louis record store. But retailers refuse to comment on the record about their allegations. Beatle Bob, who has no conviction records in either St. Louis or St. Louis County, maintains that the shoplifting accusations against him are false, the product of yet another misunderstanding. "One time I tried to exchange something at a store and there was an argument over the exchange," he says. "That's how it started."

Beatle Bob has made it his life's calling to circumvent the obstacles that the music establishment has placed in his way. He snubs authority and bends rules with a combination of guile and innocence. A central part of his ethos equates music with the purest form of unconditional liberty. By identifying himself as a member of the professional class who profit from the system, Beatle Bob is simply gaining some of the same advantages of his critics, who are themselves members of the music industry.

But the renegade dancer may soon be exploited as a commodity himself. There are plans afoot by MetroTix, the regional ticket agency, to set up beatlebob.com. The format of the Web site will be similar to a game board, on which a cartoon Beatle Bob will travel across the country, providing local and national concert news.

"We're going to market Bob," says Mark Reifsteck of MetroTix. "Bob's got enough of a following out there. People can come in and see what music he picks and what bands he thinks are hot. I think we're even going to start merchandising some stuff." Reifsteck envisions Beatle Bob T-shirts and a dancing Beatle Bob dashboard ornament, providing a revenue stream for both the company and Beatle Bob. "I've got some guys looking into it right now, as far as costs and stuff like that," says Reifsteck. Asked whether MetroTix will pay for Beatle Bob's expenses to attend the music-festival circuit, the ticket manager says this: "We're not paying for shit."

Last year at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, the bass guitarist for Royal Fingerbowl pulled out a gun and "shot" Beatle Bob three times for dancing onstage. The bass player claimed that Bob was distracting the audience from the band's artistry. After the mock assassination attempt, the musician was taken away in handcuffs and Beatle Bob was carried offstage on a stretcher. It's all part of Beatle Bob's self-deprecating traveling show. For several years, he has also been the master of ceremonies at the annual Sleazefest, held each August in Chapel Hill, N.C. The rowdy festival, which is hosted by the band Southern Culture on the Skids, includes a Beatle Bob dance contest. Beatle Bob is a mainstay, too, at the Poptopia event in Los Angeles, a conclave of power-pop bands. In addition, he makes an annual pilgrimage to the City Stages music festival in Birmingham, Ala., each June. He figures he attended 22 music festivals last year in 18 states.

When he manages to sit down long enough to reflect on his life, Beatle Bob orders decaffeinated coffee. His outfit, on this day, is subdued, by his standards: a maroon mock-turtleneck sweater and a brown blazer with gold buttons. A waning afternoon sun shines through the cafe window, revealing the lines in Bob's face but only a few gray hairs among his shaggy locks. His most descriptive memories of his past are exclusively associated with music: Bob Dylan's surprise appearance with the Band at the Mississippi River Festival; a killer performance by Jackie Wilson, the singer of "Lonely Teardrops," at the Tivoli Theatre in 1969; the palpitations that occurred when he encountered Tina Turner as a boy.

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