Song of the STL

On Saturday, September 4, we tuned in to local musical frequencies in their vast and varied incarnations. What we heard, all day and all night:

There's so much music floating through the air in St. Louis, every second of every day, that the natural impulse of your brain is to tune it out. A burst of a song hurled from the rolled-down window of a passing car, the chime of an opening door, a cell phone's crunk ring tone -- the sound surrounds us until we push it back to a burble. We close our ears.

This past Saturday, September 4, a squad of writers opened their ears to the music of St. Louis, wherever and whenever it was hiding. Hour by hour, from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 a.m., from west county to Washington Avenue to Sauget, like six-year-olds at a piano lesson, we took note.

Of the yoga instructor's soothing sonic backdrop. Of Bosnian folk melodies, Japanese drummers and bluesmen at work. We heard the busker's hustle and, ringingly, the many-splendored soundtrack to the Saturday-night mating dance.

Listen too, and you might hear. -- Jordan Harper

8:40 a.m.
Schnucks on Lindell Boulevard
St. Louis

Schnucks plays the same music at the same time at all its stores, whether you shop at the tony Ladue location or the less glamorous one on Lindell Boulevard at Sarah Street.

You were there when I neeeeeeeded you
You were there when the sky split wide, wide open!

Do the chicken-apple-sausage yuppies and the High Life Lighters really have the same taste in music? Does it matter? From Steely Dan to Bonnie Raitt, the songs spin past, on the periphery of recognition. -- Ben Westhoff

9:47 a.m.
Teipen Performing Arts Studio
University City

Sleepy-eyed Madeleine Chilton's tiny hands are moving gingerly up and down the ivories, and the tiny performance room fills with the bright wash of C and G chords. These six-and-a-half-year-old fingers, some flecked with the final vestiges of red nail polish, are mastering "Lightly Row."

While the child's mother waits proudly in the lobby, Madeleine's teacher, George Tesson, offers purring encouragement. Madeleine, her eyes squinting with determination, stares down the sheet of music, a strange and wondrous language to a child, and tackles "The Donkey," confronting the awkward task of playing quarter notes with the right hand, whole notes with the left.

Not bad, Madeleine, not bad. The tinkling music, generations old, rushes out to say hello. -- Ellis E. Conklin

10:53 a.m.
Grand Basin, Forest Park
St. Louis

"I'm gonna make you guys shake," capoeira instructor Borracha-Porto announces to the group of students standing around him.

A drum master begins pounding away on her waist-high atabaque drum, and the sound resonates across the lake up to the top of Art Hill. Borracha-Porto picks up a tall piece of arched wood. A wire runs from top to bottom; half an emptied gourd is secured at one of its ends. He begins to strike the wire with a small stick, and an uncanny hollow plunking sound issues from the instrument, called a berimbau.

A circle has formed with Borracha-Porto, the drum master and two other berimbau players at the head. Two students crouch in front of the musicians, then cartwheel into the center of the circle to face off in a highly choreographed bout.

Developed in Brazil as a form of martial art, capoeira morphed when police began to crack down on its practice. "The police would not let [the people] practice capoeira. Therefore, to disguise this practice as a dance to be allowed, they would sing and pretend to dance," Borracha-Porto explains. "Now there is no capoeira without song."

On the sidelines, the students sing responses to the drum master's calls. Borracha-Porto passes his berimbau to one of them and enters the circle himself. The tempo quickens; he aerials away from his opponent. A series of flips, kicks and strikes, and then the fight is over.

Students gather around, glistening with sweat. Borracha-Porto outlines the next exercise. "Oh, I told you I was gonna make you guys shake, right?" -- Andrea Noble

11:35 a.m.
Japanese Festival, Missouri Botanical Garden
St. Louis

Lola Wong lunges forward, smiling in anticipation as Pam Okano begins hammering her birch drumsticks into the cowhide that is stretched taut across her barrel-shape drum. With a yelp, Lola swings her stick backward and strikes the large drum before her. As the other members of Hinode Taiko drummers join the percussion procession, the sound of rolling thunder crashes through the towering trees and manicured landscape of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Lola's blue- and purple-streaked piggy tails bounce when she drops to her knees and looks up to the sun. The three male drummers in the back row dance around her and the other two women in the front before they all trade places and fiercely pound out the beat of galloping horses. The grass, the flowers, the music. Everything is alive today. -- Shelley Smithson

12:00 noon
Big Bend Yoga Center
Webster Groves

For the first few minutes of a yoga session, it's better to listen to the crickets and tree frogs making a beautiful racket in the forest just beyond the screen of the Big Bend Yoga Center. The students can hear them clear as a bell in the center's practice room, a converted garage equipped with rubber floors, plenty of natural light and a sound system.

Instructor Debra Simpson prefers subtle sounds for her hour-and-a-half-long classes, gentle, unobtrusive chants, world-music instrumentals and new-age soundscapes. Other instructors are strict about silence and the necessity of stillness, but Simpson believes music adds a level of relaxation and serves as a focus point when the mind starts to wander.

Here, at noon, the students are listening to what sounds like a quiet Peter Gabriel instrumental while working the final relaxation pose: lying flat on their backs, legs and arms totally at ease, mind at rest. So quiet is the music that the crickets and frogs overtake it. All is calm. Then Simpson strikes a little bell thrice: ting, ting, ting.

The final tone echoes through the room for what seems like an eternity. Somewhere out there, it's still ringing. -- Randall Roberts

12:39 p.m.
Apple Store, West County Center
Des Peres

Kim, an eighteen-year-old with a blond ponytail, and nineteen-year-old Rachel, whose dark hair is modeled after Ashlee Simpson, met for the first time a mere ten minutes ago, but already they're operating together like old chums. In the antiseptic white hipness of St. Louis' Apple Store, they share a common goal: a lavender mini-iPod. They've joined forces to conquer their credit card-holding parents.

"And you can play it in your car," Kim explains.

"But I've got CDs for my car," her mom rebuts.

"Yeah, but thieves can steal your CDs. They won't see this."

"Just hide your CDs!"

"But you can't keep as many CDs in your car as fit on this," Rachel puts in. "This holds 1,000 songs."

A sales clerk approaches.

"Does anyone have any questions?" he asks.

"No, she's doing just fine on her own," says Kim's mom. -- Jordan Harper

2:00 p.m.
Backyard barbecue
St. Louis

This barbecue has everything you'd expect: washers (homemade boxes!), beer (High Life!) and bags of meat (the host's a butcher!). And music, wafting out of the garage like so much smoke: Zeppelin follows Bowie and Public Enemy. "Roam" by the B-52's, Nelly's "Ride Wit Me."

The Clash gives way to the Darkness; Tight Pants Syndrome provides local flavor.

A trip indoors brings respite from the heat: a kitchen full of food and a TV pimping Haircut 100 on VH1's Bands Reunited.

"Fantastic Day," indeed. -- Mia York

3:37 p.m.
Greek Festival, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
St. Louis

A troupe of young girls transforms from a line into a circle, sashaying across the stage to the fast-paced tune of "Zorba the Greek."

Two-year-old Isabella Robinson, in her mother's lap, wriggles and claps.

"I have a feeling when she's old enough she'll be joining them," confides her mother, Nadina.

Isabella giggles. She thinks the girls, outfitted in their white shirts, black pants, caps and red sashes, look like pirates.

The audience in the auditorium claps thunderously in time to the girls' moving feet. Faster and faster they dance, winding into a tight spiral. Finally they can't compress any further. A final unison stamp of feet and the caps rocket into the air. -- Noble

3:40 p.m.
Singing telegram
Arcelia's Mexican restaurant, Lafayette Square
St. Louis

In bursts Johnny Rose, clutching a thicket of balloons as black as the tuxedo he often wears. A wide, embarrassed grin creases the face of Steve Jeager, who on this day, his 40th birthday, must endure the playful torment of a singing telegram. Jeager's family has come from everywhere to be here, and they stand smiling alongside his girlfriend, the architect of this wicked merriment.

To the 80-year-old tune of "It Had to Be You," Rose holds forth in song, his syrupy tenor rising above the din of clanking margaritas.

You used to be young, but now you are old
You used to look good, you used to have fun
Your hair's turning gray. Look, you're wrinkled and old
What happened to youth -- to tell the truth, I know this is cold
You're over the hill, you know that you've gone -- way over the hill

The singing telegram has been delivered, and the dining room is filled with laughter and the happiness wrung from a song husbands might still sing to their wives. -- Conklin

4:46 p.m.
Intersection of Vandeventer and Tower Grove avenues
St. Louis

A van idles at a stoplight, a man at the wheel. A woman strolls slowly down the sidewalk, head held high.

The man turns up his stereo, leans out the window, mouths the lyrics:

Some people want diamond rings
Some just want everything
Everything means nothing if I ain't got you

The woman lifts her head a little higher, grins. The light turns green. -- Noble

4:54 p.m.
In front of Busch Stadium
St. Louis

A steady stream of red-shirted fans marches across Stadium Plaza toward the short staircase leading up to the stadium. At the foot of the stairs Andre sits with his trumpet, blowing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Most of the fans hear just a snatch of the song as they trudge past, and maybe drop a coin into his splayed case. Linger, though, and you hear Andre play the song through more than a hundred times.

A pause would deprive the passing crowd of their rightful snippet of the day's theme song -- and perhaps another coin missed. -- Harper

5:38 p.m.
Ham radio broadcast
University City

And the mixtape begat the iPod, and it was good. But not quite good enough for 30-year-old University City resident Simon Duffy. For the point of music is not to shut out the rest of the world, earplugs clogging Eustachian tubes, but to gather 'round people, wherever they roam. And so, so long as they're roaming within the Loop, a handful of Duffy's friends and neighbors can tune to 92.9 FM, where he has been programming a musical smorgasbord -- talk-free, commercial-free, 24-7 -- since last winter, right about the time his stripper wife left him to go lap dance in Hawaii.

A lifelong music enthusiast with absolutely no broadcast experience, Duffy researched ham radio on the Internet, then bought a Ramsey antenna online and installed it on the roof of his apartment building. The WinAmp on his PC takes care of his programming needs. He favors the cross-fade, blurring a droning dance beat into the opening chords of Tom Waits' "Please Call Me Baby," which in turn might bleed into Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft."

"I want to do the opposite of block programming," says the Scotland-born Duffy, sitting this afternoon in his living room opposite his milk-crated LP collection, the sounds of his own handiwork streaming out of the stereo. "Really expand people's ideas about music, throw 'em off a little bit. It's about diversity, which I think is good for this particular community. I consider it the birth of Loop radio."

He's already talked to some city-hall folks about making his the area's official radio station someday. But first he's looking to purchase some stronger broadcasting equipment.

"Right now I can kind of get it at the Schnucks down on Olive," Duffy says, "depending on which side of the building I'm standing on." -- Rose Martelli

6:04 p.m.
The Stadium Club, Busch Stadium
St. Louis

Those with sufficient funds can escape the heat and watch the game in air-conditioned comfort perched over left field, equipped with steamed shrimp and a cool Bud. It's crowded and loud, but when the U. City High choir takes the field for "The Star-Spangled Banner," the club grows quiet.

We're a competitive people, which explains our torturous national anthem. Most of us just mumble along, waiting to see if the artist in the spotlight can hit that high-C "free." And like a crowd at a jazz performance, if all has gone well we tend to start applauding before "the home of the brave."

The U. City kids pull it off in style, reaching up for the note, grabbing it and holding it aloft. In the Stadium Club, the red-shirted men undoff their caps and order another beer. -- Harper

7:34 p.m.
Money Groove slot machine

The Casino Queen
East St. Louis, Illinois

Click. Bing! Click. Bing! Click. Bing-bing-bing! Click. Bing!

Four minutes and ten dollars later, the song is over. -- Harper

8:00 p.m.
Somewhere in horse country
Kentucky-Illinois border

Jimmy Zook enters southern Illinois via I-64 westbound, his Dodge Ram dualie towing precious cargo in its long trailer. A horse trainer by trade, Zook is transporting his barn's prize filly, Wildwood Royal, home after an impressive second-place finish in a $75,000 turf handicap at Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky.

As daylight gives way to pitch black, Zook's dial is set squarely on 95 FM, classic country out of Evansville, Indiana. Glen Campbell sings "Rhinestone Cowboy"; Alabama, "High Cotton." "The Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time," asserts Mickey Gilley.

"That's what I call a good belt-polishin' song," says the stocky Zook, a Belleville resident who grew up in itty-bitty Okawville, Illinois (population 1,000), as Ricky Shelton delivers a ballad intended to set the randy mind a-wanderin'. "You press up close against your partner's blue jeans, and your belt buckle gets a-polishing."

But not until Haggard's "Mama's Hungry Eyes" comes on 30 miles outside Mt. Vernon does the talkative Zook cease speaking and crank the volume on the Ram's stereo. The ballad, a tearjerker about a father unable to provide his beloved wife with the finer things in life, resonates with Zook, whose hard-working daddy died at age 39, after a bout with cancer. The teenage Zook took up the blacksmith trade and began shoeing horses on the Fairmount Park backstretch, eventually graduating to full-fledged trainer for the track's owner, William Stiritz. His cargo, a feisty four-year-old chestnut filly, will help assure that the mama of Zook's nine-year-old son, Lucas, will not suffer the fate of Haggard's muse. That peace of mind appears to be enough to carry Zook through the cheese of Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich once the Evansville station cuts out and he's forced to turn the dial to 93.7, the Bull. Giddyup. -- Mike Seely

8:02 p.m.
Big Muddy Blues Festival
Laclede's Landing
St. Louis

As we look downhill from First Street, the three members of the Holmes Brothers may appear small against the backdrop of the Big Muddy Blues Festival's spacious main stage, but the crowd is with them in a big way. As he sings "We had a good time tonight" over a two-step beat that sounds more gospel or country than blues, guitarist Wendell Holmes has a whole hillside full of people clapping, bobbing their heads, tapping their feet and singing along.

With four stages spread out across Laclede's Landing, it's hard to get a fix on exactly how many people are here, but it's got to be several thousand. Around the corner, the intersection of Second Street and Morgan is packed shoulder to shoulder as the Rich McDonough Band rocks up a version of the Rufus Thomas chestnut "Walking the Dog," and down the way another sizable group is assembling near the Embassy Suites hotel awaiting the performance of Kim Massie.

Back on the main stage, St. Louis Blues Society president John May praises the Holmes Brothers' just-ended performance, then announces that guitarist John Mooney, who's scheduled to perform at the festival on Sunday night, can't make it out of Florida because the airports are closed.

"Stuck in a hurricane," says May. "Sounds like the title of a blues song." -- Dean C. Minderman

8:45 p.m.
Kung Jeon

From the moment you walk through the heavy wooden door into the dark, windowless bar, it's apparent you've stepped into another dimension from the Hazelwood you just left. Here it's karaoke, Korean-style, and you better have come to sing. Our hostess, owner Suzie Chang, may have set the standard for the rest of the evening with her rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop" in Korean.

As a sad Korean synth-pop melody fills the room after Chang's confidently spirited performance, her feisty Aunt Imo (who backs up nearly every singer with a tambourine) translates: "This song about a bluebird who lost his way back to the big tree. He's crying and crying. Maybe he can't find his mommy." -- John Goddard

10:17 p.m.
The Heights Piano Bar
St. Louis

Applause babbles forth from the swung-open front door of the Heights, lighting an otherwise dark corner of South Jefferson. Inside, a gaggle of gay men, conglomerating mostly in twos and threes, talk and dish until piano man Ron Bryant, casually dressed in T-shirt, jeans, and unbuttoned short-sleeve shirt, decides on the next ditty he'll play. This is the way it goes seven nights a week at the Heights, where Bryant is one of three regular players: a little singing, a little joking, a little drinking, a little more singing.

Bryant tickles out the opening bars of "Where the Boys Are." As if responding call-and-answer-style to the song's titular question, all nineteen patrons (it's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday...) bellow the lyrics in exuberant, off-key unison, the hodgepodge choir serving as testament to the pied-piper pull of a classic piano bar in all its corny glory.

Where the boys are, where the boys are
Someone waits for me

-- Martelli

11:14 p.m.
Radio Cherokee
St. Louis

Enveloped by heat, humidity, smoke and wood paneling, a sweltering crowd is stuck together to watch local boys Grand Ulena perform.

But the guys aren't playing; they're listening. The trio sways back and forth to the'70s sounds of St. Louis saxophonist Julius Hemphill playing over the PA. Bassist Darin Gray's eyes roll back into his head, and within a millisecond the heat in the room escalates to white hot as Grand Ulena detonates into one of its patented elastic explosions of noise. Drummer Danny McClain is all over the place, clobbering his drums so fiercely that he almost falls over them. Guitarist Chris Trull's ever-present grin remains steady even while launching serrated guitar salvos. Listening deeply, Grand Ulena makes the music its own. -- Guy Gray

11:20 p.m.
St. Louis

The teens look like south-city teens, the girls with their half-belly shirts, the guys with their close-cropped hair. But they aren't dancing butts to nuts, half-humping on the dance floor. They're holding hands in a semicircle, lifting and lowering their arms, occasionally letting out a high-pitched yip along with the music: the Atlantic Band, one man playing keyboards and singing, the other crooning into a wireless mic in the middle of the crowd.

It's traditional Bosnian folk music, albeit with the inescapable disco overtones that the keyboard and drum machine bring. But even with the cheesy touch of the synth tones, it's authentic enough for Pyramid owner and Bosnian native Dennis Kostic.

Later on tonight he'll be spinning hip-hop and techno on this same dance floor, and these same teens will be rutting in pairs. But for now it feels like a family reunion. -- Harper

11:30 p.m.
The Spotlight
St. Louis

Eleven p.m. at a three-a.m. north-side dance club is a little early, but the upside is you get a ringside seat. You and the other 50-odd early birds can sit at a stool in this room that holds maybe 1,500 and stare at the empty dance floor, get a good couple of Hennessys coursing through your system.

This evening's emcee, Mo-Shay, is sitting on the bar in her hot-pink dress with a cordless mic in her hand. Hip-hop station Q-95.5 FM broadcasts live to the St. Louis area, and Mo-Shay's busy coercing the Natural Bridge cruisers to head north.

DJ Boo, one of the city's best, drops Usher's "Yeah!" and two ladies breach the invisible wall to become the evening's first on the dance floor. The men watch. "Ladies!" Mo-Shay screams into the night, "the ratio is about eight-to-one guys to girls here. They all looking at me, staring at me. I'm gonna need a little help. Come on over. It's free until midnight."

By 11:30 the club's filling, and DJ Boo is dropping the bombs. Chingy's "Right Thurr," Terror Squad's "Lean Back," Lil' Flip's "Sunshine." Slowly the dance floor fills, and movement starts to consume the 300, which will continue to multiply, then turn crazy as the beat gets transformed into movement. When Boo drops Petey Pablo's "Freek-A-Leek," the crowd locks into a universal springboard beat, and the booties start poppin'.

24, 34, 46, good and thick
And once you get it she'll work wit it
Pretty face and some cute lips, earring in her tongue
And she know what to do wit it

Midnight on the north side, and we're just getting started. -- Roberts

12:08 midnight
The Way Out Club
St. Louis

Saw Is Family lead singer Louie Guise is dressed in full black robes, white face paint, a long straight black wig and a Viking helmet. The drummer's wig is green. The bassist sports red-and-black-striped sleeves -- and no shirt. If you saw them coming out of a dark alley, you'd either run for your life or laugh.

No matter what they look like, the members of St. Louis' own Saw Is Family bring serious rock, a loud and nasty amalgam of punk and metal that explodes out of the speakers. It would knock the crowd on their asses, if all but one of them wasn't already sitting down. As the Saw Is Family kicks ass as though the throngs of Budokan are screaming at their feet, the crowd watches as if The Importance of Being Earnest were unfolding before them onstage.

"Okay," Guise says when the song is over. "Now we're going to play some punk rock!" -- Harper

1:46 a.m.
The Rocket Bar
St. Louis

Though the Rocket Bar's anything but a meat market, there's no denying the sex in the air when the clock ticks past 1:30 a.m. As folks in ironic tees and black-rimmed glasses swill Pabst and shoot Jäger, the jukebox betrays the fact that at least one denizen has lovin' on the brain. When the Pixies' "Gigantic," an ode to a well-proportioned fella, drops off, it's replaced by the electro-chanteuse Peaches, semi-chanting over a primitive beat:

Sucking on my titties like you're wanting me

Calling me all the time like Blondie
Check out my Chrissie behind
It's fine all of the time

Cymbal crashes fill the air. A girl with cat-eye glasses and a Sonic Youth T-shirt with the sleeves cut off to reveal her tattooed biceps bounces, mouths the words as the chorus hits:

Fuck the pain away
Fuck the pain away
Fuck the pain away

-- Harper

2:11 a.m.
St. Louis

The front room at Velvet is packed with throngs grooving to DJ Charlie Chan. The main dance floor isn't as crowded, but there's still action to be had. And in the back of the club stands Darryl, the archetypical big broad bouncer, separating the common folk from the VIP room filled with... absolutely no one.

"Well, nobody reserved it tonight." Darryl explains. "And so we thought we'd keep it clean for [Sunday night's] Beat Fest." -- Harper

3:03 a.m.
KDHX (88.1 FM) studios
St. Louis

Lee Whitfield is acting fast. The Kyuss song is almost done, and the last thing community radio wants is dead air. But Whitfield gets some CDs in the player and gets his cans on his head before silence fills the room and the airwaves.

He runs through the previous few songs for his listeners and promises AC/DC and Fu Manchu in the near future.

"And for you Seattle-heads out there, it's time to break out your heroin. A big R.I.P. to Layne Staley, he's not with us anymore, but here he is for you rockers and rollers."

Cue Alice in Chains. -- Harper

3:06 a.m.
Larry Flynt's Hustler Club
Washington Park, Illinois

She mounts the pole, hangs upside down by her knees, naked except for four-inch heels, making a strong case for adding a stripper pole to the gymnastics all-around at the 2008 Summer Olympics. It's not gold she's after tonight, of course, but rather the green, grinding her chest-flesh against willing heads in time to the Beastie Boys' "Hey Ladies."

As Brandy or Candy or Jade gathers her sweaty singles and heads offstage, a patron offers a critique to his buddies. "That was OK, but what they need is some real booty music, like some Lil Jon or something. Old school, new school, whatever, something to get down to."

His friends all nod in agreement. -- Erik Alan Carlson

4:09 a.m.
Wal-Mart on South Kirkwood Road

You gotta hand it to this fine country: If you're cruising down Interstate 44 at four ayem and some community-radio DJ gets Alice in Chains stuck in your mind, you can pull off the Lindbergh exit, stop right at the front door of Wal-Mart and, for less than $10, pick yourself up a copy of the Seattle band's greatest hits. Even better, while you're at it you can grab a DVD of Purple Rain and the total still won't hit $20. Hell, if you want, you can pick up a drum kit, bass and electric guitar and start your own Prince/AIC cover band.

God bless America! -- Harper

4:35 a.m.
The Coffee Cartel in the Central West End
St. Louis

The Coffee Cartel is empty, which is a good thing. Employees John Donahoe and Greg Luckye have something more important to do right now than serve java: Settle on a satellite radio station for the café.

"I like the '80s," says Luckye. "But we had it on super hits of the '70s."

"Yeah, for like a minute," says Donahoe. "It was on something ridiculously sucky with a Casio background."

"It might have been 'Endless Love,'" admits Luckye. "Better than Led Zeppelin."

"How can you think that's better than Led Zeppelin?"

"I hate classic rock."

"How can you hate classic rock?"

For now, they're living with alternative rock, which is piping out the mellow tones of Coldplay's "Yellow."

"It's the station that's least abrasive," Donahoe explains. -- Harper

4:57 a.m.
Sauget, Illinois

Spandex and skinny ties are de rigueur for That 80's Band, rocking the main stage. The crowd, however, is strictly hoosier chic. The band busts out everything from Devo's "Whip It" to Madonna's "Like a Virgin," but as the bar staff says, the crowd gets so drunk it doesn't matter who's on, or what they play. Shouts for Skynyrd emanate from the back, but they go ignored.

The singer, all frills and lace, leans into the mic. "We got a request earlier, and they thought we wouldn't know it, but we do," she says, "and it's OK, because we all do it from time to time." The opening riff of the Vapors' "Turning Japanese" blasts forth from the amps.

The song might be about solo sex, but the man dancing by himself in front of the stage doesn't care. Breaking the jerky rhythm of his white-man-holding-beer dance, he hoists his can in the air. His shouts echo the crowd's pleasure in hearing something -- anything -- vaguely familiar. -- Carlson

6:09 a.m.
Forest Park
St. Louis

It's a loud sort of quiet in Forest Park as the sun rises. It seems like dead air until you put your back against a tree and wait. First you note the backbeat of crickets, constant chirping rhythm. And then the birds, twittering and gossiping, fussing over their avian arguments and staking their claim with their song. They flit from tree to tree; some brush the water and leave a silently echoing wake behind them, while others nestle, head in crook of wing. Then a man on a bike comes pedaling down the road, yells out, "What a beautiful morning!" and ruins the whole damn thing. -- Harper

6:12 a.m.
Sauget, Illinois

This is where the party goes to die. Even in the plush VIP lounge the sense of desperation is palpable, everyone in search of the late-night hookup to the beat of DJ Gary Mac's nameless, faceless house music.

Those who haven't found a partner endure the last gasp before stumbling out alone into the spiteful early-morning sun. Those who have grasp the arms of their nameless, faceless fling. -- Carlson

7:46 a.m.
St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church
St. Louis

Associate Reverend Richard Chapman takes the pulpit to face the few dozen parishioners who've shaken off sleep to arrive in time for the early service at this north-side house of worship.

"This is a day that the Lord had made!" the reverend calls out. "If you're thankful that you're here this morning, say, 'Hallelujah!'"

The pews stir. Reading from their church bulletins, the small crowd joins the reverend in reciting the call to worship: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth sing praises."

If the Sandman is still among this flock, he's about to get a musical exorcism. With a blast of organ and the staccato tap-tap of a snare drum, the congregation bursts to life.

Singin' amen
Singin' amen
Singin' amen
Amen! Amen!

Now all are on their feet, singing and clapping. The music careers off the rafters, waking the neighbors. -- Chad Garrison

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