Calling from Home

Singer/songwriter Bob Reuter gives voice to St. Louis' unique character

Reuter's songs, like his photographs, are generous but honest portraits, sympathetic without being sentimental. "Charlie Floyd," an aching coming-of-age ballad, was written as a birthday present for a former girlfriend's son: "He was 14 when I came into the picture, and he didn't care for me because I was his mom's boyfriend. I tried to stay open to him because I was raised by my mother, he was raised by his mother, and I had an idea what he was going through. When he graduated from high school and turned 18, I didn't have any money, but I wanted to give him something, so I wrote that song for him. It was just taking a shot; it was all I had. I could've made him a card, I guess, but I wasn't so good at that. I thought, 'Well, he might not like it now, but in 15 years he'll look back and think that was pretty cool, maybe.' But he liked it right away, and that was pretty thrilling."

"Those dreams still come every night/Like a scream locked up on the inside," Reuter sings with a stinging sweetness, channeling adolescent angst through middle-aged lungs. "When you're a young man and there's no older man around to give you an idea of what being a man is supposed to be, you tend to just grope and act out a cartoon caricature of what you think a man ought to be," he says. "That time around 17 or 18 is just so hard because you're part boy and you're part man, and you're trying to figure it all out, and you're trying to be as masculine as you can, and there's this chemical thing going on -- you're ready to explode. Merle Haggard once said that's why at 18 they either try to put young men in the army or in jail, because they don't know what else to do with them."

To his credit, Reuter doesn't pretend to know, either. Although his songs are mostly autobiographical, they never seem self-important in that tedious, worldly-wise way so common among the coffeehouse claque. Working in the earthy medium of everyday experience, he caresses the mundane until it gleams, illuminates. Like the short stories of Raymond Carver, which Reuter cites as an influence, these songs recount the sweaty epiphanies of working-class people, their unarticulated desires and disappointments, with compassion and a total lack of condescension.

Bob Reuter's songs recount the sweaty epiphanies of working-class people, their unarticulated desires and disappointments, with compassion and a total lack of condescension.
Amy Bautz
Bob Reuter's songs recount the sweaty epiphanies of working-class people, their unarticulated desires and disappointments, with compassion and a total lack of condescension.

"I think what I do stops short of romanticizing -- but just barely," Reuter remarks. "It's like when I take pictures of people in bars; I don't take pictures when they're falling down drunk. I take pictures of everything up to that. I don't like making fun of anybody -- people get enough of that in their lives. I like to elevate the everyday things, because there's beauty in that. I love those moments when somebody's in a bar and in their mind, they're like somebody from a movie -- I like to capture that, before they fall back into who they really are. Right when they're riding high, even if afterwards they fall on their face. I like those moments where people are almost living their dreams."

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