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 talks about music, his speech mimics his dancing. It rises and falls in rapid staccato lines, building toward a breathless crescendo: It's like this, man -- Beatle Bob is searching for the eternal groove. Do you know what I mean? He's out there, man, way over the edge, constantly moving through rock and blues, pop and folk, jazz and R&B, soul and funk, country and punk. Like, what else is there, man? I mean, really. Do you know?

But when the subject turns to his personal life, Bob hesitates. The conversation downshifts to 3/4 time, and Beatle Bob begins waltzing around questions pertaining to his family and work. Where does he live? Where does he work? Are any of these rumors about him true? His explanations are vague and incomplete, and after he finishes, there's an awkward silence before the conservation reverts to its musical theme.

Left to his own devices, Beatle Bob somehow manages to frequent local clubs every night and travel to distant cities several times a year. How he has enough money and time to do this remains a mystery. Even someone in his top physical condition would have difficulty working all day and dancing all night. The riddle is made more perplexing in that Beatle Bob doesn't drive, so he must depend on public transportation or the generosity of others to reach each musical event. Despite this dependence, few people know where he lives or how he earns his income.

When asked about his job, he says he worked in the past at his old school, Mount Providence, in a program for the homeless called Room at the Inn. He adds that he is involved in plans to reopen the Victory Center, an urban-outreach facility. But he never says exactly where he works now. He does have a degree in social work. His employment record, however, indicates that he worked as a loader for United Parcel Service from 1983 until 1997, when his status was listed as "separated/part-time."

His separation date is within a few months of the last time he missed a day of dancing. On that date -- Christmas Eve 1996 -- he visited Sister Aurelia, his former teacher. The retired nun now lives in the convent at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Granite City, Ill. Beatle Bob visits her every Christmas Eve, going to Mass with the nuns and staying for dinner, she says. He also comes to see her on her birthday and brings a cake. Beatle Bob sends her postcards whenever he travels.

Beatle Bob, who never married, stays in contact with others in the same way. He maintains ties with his grade-school classmates by phone and sends them a newsletter once or twice a year. He sends birthday gifts to the children of his friend Zachow, who is now a commercial artist in Dallas. He mails Nanci O'Dea, an executive of SFX Entertainment, news clippings from around the country in which he has been featured.

O'Dea, who formerly worked at the RFT, is a strong supporter of Beatle Bob's and reserves her criticism for his detractors. "I think St. Louisans don't embrace their own," she says. "They have a negative attitude about where they live and the people around them. The truth is, we should be celebrating those things instead of being so hypercritical. Beatle Bob has done nothing but promote the music community of this marketplace to people all over the country. Everywhere he goes, he does nothing but promote the good side of St. Louis. He doesn't get anything for it, except that he's a character. I wish we had more of those, not less. In my opinion, he's just who he says he is, and he doesn't have anything to hide from anybody."

But Beatle Bob seems less communicative with people the closer he gets to home. The phone number that O'Dea has for him has been disconnected. The number he currently uses is unpublished. His calls are normally screened through an answering machine. When he accepts a ride from someone, he usually asks to be picked up or dropped off in a public place -- a street corner or a restaurant. He uses a post-office box as his mailing address. Asked where he now resides, he says he lives in Overland.

This much is known: After his grandmother died, Beatle Bob bought her house on Ponce Avenue in 1994, according to Federal Housing Authority records. The government foreclosed on the mortgage in 1998. Beatle Bob told a friend that the house burned down. He tells a reporter that he rented the house to a cousin, who flooded the basement, prompting him to relinquish the property.

Beatle Bob attributes much of the negative attention he gets to the fact that he dances alone. "I've never done the solo-dance thing to get attention from either the audience or the band," he says. "(If) you're out there dancing by yourself, for some reason it gets more people's attention than if a whole crowd is doing it. As a teenager, I always danced with partners, even in early college days. I've danced with girls before. If I would be out there with a partner, a girl, probably nothing would be said. Just us two -- dressed in the same clothes -- doing the same dance moves. I'll bet you that those people who are doing the detracting wouldn't say a word. So what's the difference?" he asks. "Think about it."

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