Something in the Way He Moves

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

It is approaching midnight when Beatle Bob bounds down the stairs into the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill. Inside the University City club, tables and chairs are askew and beer bottles litter the floor. The pulsing music of Blue Mountain, an alternative-country/rock group, has driven the college-age crowd to its feet. They stand transfixed, eyes riveted on the stage, heads bobbing to the beat. It is the climax of the concert, the moment at which chaos and euphoria come closest to merging.

Once Bob's lanky silhouette is recognized, the crowd begins to cheer. Weaving his way through the packed house, Beatle Bob reaches the foot of the stage within seconds and begins whirling like a dervish, flinging his mop-top hair to and fro. The audience erupts into a frenzy, causing the musicians to play even harder. The Oxford, Miss.-based band then summons him onstage in the middle of its upbeat ode to former President Jimmy Carter. As guitarist Cary Hudson sings, Beatle Bob hunches his shoulders and sways his 6-foot-3-inch frame in a herky-jerky manner. The jangling, distorted guitar chords cause him to bop around like a marionette. There is nothing smooth about his spontaneous choreography. Except for his well-coiffed hair, everything about Beatle Bob is angular, including his dancing shoes. On this evening, he is dressed in a red-checked polyester sportjacket that could easily date back to the days of the OPEC oil embargo, when he first developed his solo dancing style.

Beatle Bob's style is an amalgam of 1960s pop dances and a few twists of his own. There is, of course, his trademark "bowling move," which involves sliding one foot behind the other while simultaneously executing a windmill arm sweep. As part of another motif, he will slow the pace and emulate a kung fu or tai chi artist. He uses the same techniques, with slight variations, to cavort to every conceivable musical variation. He could be shuffling to the sounds of a honky-tonk piano or a baroque string quartet. It would make no difference. Beatle Bob goes where the rhythm flows, be it a lowdown juke joint or a symphony hall; music is music and dance is dance and the two are one.

From the other side of the footlights, his concert appearances are deemed a symbol of success by fledgling and established bands alike. Musicians understand that Beatle Bob has the power to infuse a show with energy just by being there. His enthusiasm for music is rare for someone 47 years of age. "You get a feeling that Bob, in many ways, is the same human being he was when he was maybe 13," says Blue Mountain's Hudson. "I don't think he approaches it as a job, but he seems to approach it as a vocation. His real vocation in life is to dress up and go to shows, and who's to say that's wrong? It's his art. It's his self-expression. He's kind of a catalyst. (Instead) of waiting for somebody else to get it started, he just goes right up front and goes into his dance. It makes the rest of the crowd feel a whole lot better about coming up closer to the stage and starting to dance themselves. When you're the first person to get up front, you have to be willing to play the fool."

Many in the audience at Blueberry Hill weren't born when Robert E. Matonis embarked on this nonstop routine. For more than 20 years, he has been a source of perpetual motion in St. Louis nightclubs, forging a theatrical persona that eclipses many of the acts he goes to see. In the last three-and-half years, he hasn't missed a night prancing around town. Sometimes he pops in on two or three acts in a single evening. Over the last decade, music-festival appearances have helped spread his legend coast to coast. He is more prominently recognized on the national level than St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon and St. Louis County Executive George "Buzz" Westfall combined. In this sense, he is the unofficial ambassador of the city: Beatle Bob at the Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Beatle Bob at festivals in Toronto, Los Angeles and Austin. Beatle Bob captured on video by CNN. Beatle Bob posing for Interview magazine.

He has attained his unique identity not just by shunning conformity but by embracing popular culture to the extreme. He is a public spectacle, the uninvited actor who makes cameo appearances, the unpaid entertainer with a legion of admirers. Yet much of his life remains shrouded in mystery. Thousands of St. Louisans have viewed his antics, but few people know him outside the character he has created for himself. The vacuum has been filled with apocryphal tales spread mainly by insiders in the local music scene. Beatle Bob dances alone. This itself is enough to fuel rumors. He is the fan who, through sheer enthusiasm, can steal a show; the beguiling huckster who bypasses the box office and talks his way backstage; the rogue whose alleged pilfering has led some local record stores to bar his entry. On any given night he materializes, seemingly out of nowhere, and then vanishes, leaving a wake of speculation about where he lives and how he earns his living.

"I don't care what people think," says Beatle Bob. "I really don't. I don't care what the band thinks. I just want to go out there and move. I love dancing and music. If it moves me, I'm going to move. If the band's playing a really groovy dance style, hey, man, let's go for it. Let it all hang out. Let your hair down. Let's go for it, man! If I wait for other people to hit the dance floor, though, a lot of sets I'm going to be sitting a long time. I'm not going to wait for other people to get out there first. I would rather see a lot of people on the dance floor with me, (but) if you don't want to do it, don't knock me for it."

Robert Matonis was born in St. Louis on Jan 12, 1953. His parents divorced when he was young, and he spent much of his childhood shuttling between his mother's South Side home, his grandparents' house in the Baden neighborhood and Mount Providence, an all-boys boarding school in North County.

Matonis' most vivid early memory of music goes back to a party held by one of his uncle's friends in 1960, when he was 7 years old.

"I couldn't go to this because it was more of a teen thing, your boyfriend-girlfriend type of thing," he recalls. "I remember sneaking up to the house. I literally crawled up there like a soldier, peering through the bushes. It was one of those parties with the Chinese lanterns outdoors. They were spinning records. The teenagers were doing all these wild dances. I'd seen kids dancing on TV, but this, wow, it was just so electrifying to watch it. These kids were having fun. I thought, 'Somehow I've just got to be a part of this. Somehow I've got to be connected to rock & roll.'"

Mount Providence closed in 1996, and the property is now part of the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus. From its founding in 1933, the institution had been operated by the Sisters of Divine Providence, an order of Roman Catholic nuns. Eighty-four-year-old Sister Aurelia Fechte, Matonis' eighth-grade teacher and the school's principal, remembers the youngster as a cooperative student who was always considerate of others. "We used to have Mass every morning in our chapel," she recalls. "One time he sang loud so he could protect his fellow students from being reprimanded for not singing. He made up for the whole bunch."

One of his transgressions, however, was the origin of the nickname by which he later became known. According to Matonis, the christening took place in sixth-grade geography class, when Sister Celeste spied him sneaking a peek at a Beatles fan magazine during class. The nun raced down the aisle, snatched the magazine from behind the boy's textbook and exclaimed: "That will be enough of that -- Beatle Bob!" The class erupted in laughter, and Matonis received a new identity.

At school, Matonis helped serve Mass in the Gothic Tudor chapel alongside fellow altar boy Ed Zachow. The two shared an interest in Pogo and Peanuts, two popular comic strips of the day. Zachow, an aspiring artist, drew sketches of his favorite cartoon characters for Matonis. The two boys, who became close friends between the sixth and eighth grades, also had a mutual affinity for music. "We started our first rock & roll newsletter," says Matonis. "This was, like, in 1966. It was called U.S. -- the United Saviors. He did the artwork; I did the writing. I still have a picture that he did of Paul McCartney."

Zachow occasionally visited the Matonis family residence. "(Bob) was always really into music," recalls Zachow. "When we were kids, I think he would try to get an album every weekend with his allowance." Matonis' mother then lived on Michigan Avenue near Cherokee Street. "That's where I discovered the Beatles," says Matonis. "I bought my first Beatle record at a music store, Southside Music, that still exists there. We had a Beatles museum in a friend of mine's basement. We'd charge people a quarter to get in."

When he was at home, Matonis found refuge listening to records in his room. Music, at this early stage in his life, had already become an escape, a way to temporarily remove himself from circumstances beyond his control. "My stepdad was just a very brutal person," he says. "Rock & roll music was my own little world where I could get away from a lot of stuff." Not surprisingly, one of his favorite songs from that time was "In My Room," by the Beach Boys:

There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
In my room...
In this world, I lock out all my troubles and my fears....
Do my dreaming and my scheming, lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing, laugh at yesterday
Now it's dark and I'm alone, but I won't be afraid....
In my room...

"That song pretty much sums up my period there in the house," says Matonis.

Over the course of his childhood, Matonis also spent considerable time at the home of his maternal grandparents, who resided on Ponce Avenue in North St. Louis. During these stays, his Uncle Bill, who still lived at home, took him on outings, including a trip to the legendary Club Imperial to see the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

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."

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:

I remember the feeling that I could be free
Now I know it could never be me,
Because I'm on fire
Got myself on fire...

Twilley's performance at Mississippi Nights, on Laclede's Landing, was part of a burgeoning club scene that was beginning to flourish across the city. The emergence of new venues provided Beatle Bob with an expanding dance floor. Cicero's, in the University City Loop, started booking bands in 1983. Off Broadway, a South Side club, opened up in 1984. The Hi-Pointe Cafe arrived in 1986. With each new club, the diversity grew: Punk, zydeco, reggae, folk, blues and, eventually, alternative rock all were given new outlets. Roots music such as this rarely had received any radio play before the advent of community-radio station KDHX (88.1 FM), which didn't start broadcasting until 1987. Instead, the commercial stations saturated the airwaves with banality. For every Police or Clash song that made the charts, there were dozens of sappy tunes by Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers, Donna Summer, and the Captain and Tennille. "They started playing stuff that was not rock & roll," says Beatle Bob, "things that were too orchestrated. It had no meaning whatsoever."

Beatle Bob was not alone in his view. As disdain for the status quo grew, legions of young people simply tuned out commercial radio. Some of the disaffected took an interest in traditional and acoustic music such as bluegrass. Others consciously rejected the music industry's offerings by devoting their attention to local garage bands and the punk-rock scene. The latter genre consisted of angst-driven lyrics and thrashing three-chord guitar progressions played at ear-splitting volumes. Borne of postindustrial nihilism, the elementary compositions were played so fast that they often provoked a convulsive response in those who attempted to dance to the music. The simplest method of keeping up with the beat was a dance step called the Pogo, which required nothing more than aerobic stamina and the ability to jump up and down. Dancers who attempted any lateral movements were limited to clipped motions that resembled a spasmodic jitterbug. During the mid- and late 1970s, Beatle Bob spent time with a small following that had developed around local punk bands that often performed at South Side bowling alleys and VFW halls. It was under the influence of these obscure and short-lived ensembles that he honed his dance moves.

This is where he served his apprenticeship. This is where Beatle Bob received his minstrel degree, his doctorate of dance. Behind the pop-culture mask, he is a shaman who can conjure up a primordial spirit world long suppressed. Before the Moon Walk or the Funky Chicken, the Charleston or the Eagle Rock, there were other dances with more exotic names: the calenda, the chica, the juba, the jumba, the counjaille. They originated in West Africa and came here with the slaves. Over time, these rhythms have been integrated into modern Western music. Beatle Bob, by his own admission, has been captivated by these beats since childhood. Eventually, moving to these rhythms became an emotional and physical imperative.

"It's a combination of different styles," he says of his dancing. " It's just a mixture of stuff. It's really not one move. I really can't program it ahead of time." It is a dance with no program. A dance with no partner. A dance with no name. The Twist, the Hully-Gully, the Mashed Potato and the Pony, too. Anarchy in motion. A one-man costume party. Archaic and timeless at once. It's whatever he wants it to be. Beatle Bob is doing his thing. And it has now been well over 1,100 days since he has taken a hiatus. By his own count, the last time he sat out was Christmas Eve 1996. In essence, Beatle Bob is participating in a marathon of his own invention and claims to be chronicling his progress in a dance diary, noting each performance he attends in a spiral-bound notebook. For many Beatle Bob watchers, it is an obsession that defies explanation. They wonder whether something other than his genuine love of music is motivating him to continue pursuing his uninterrupted dancing streak.

"He is devoted to it way beyond anything I've ever seen," says Pick. "At the point where you go three years without missing a night, somewhere in there you stop actually caring what you're seeing very much. Somewhere along the line it became more important for him to actually be there than it was to experience whatever music was giving him.

"Although I suspect that whatever joy he gets in life comes from the dancing."

On one of his flings, Beatle Bob attends the Gateway City Bluegrass Music Festival at the Henry VIII Hotel on North Lindbergh Boulevard. He has been going to the annual event for several years now. During breaks in the entertainment, he eagerly seeks out the performers to have his photograph taken with them. He does the same thing wherever he goes. Among all the cowboy hats and denim, he seems to stand out more than usual, but it doesn't appear to make him feel self-conscious. He mingles and makes small talk with acquaintances. The lobby of the hotel is crowded with amateur musicians playing fiddles and mandolins. At the ticket table, he announces that he is a correspondent for Night Times, a music magazine, and receives complimentary tickets for himself and a guest. Beatle Bob the dancer has assumed the role of journalist. As a member of the "free" press, he walks to the front row and sits down. By the third act, he can no longer contain himself. The Lewis Family, a gospel group, is performing. The women wear purple gowns that resemble choir robes. Next to them, an old man, stoop-shouldered and carrying a cane, sings feebly through a microphone as a frantic five-string-banjo player picks out the melody. And there is Beatle Bob, on the far side of the stage, bop-bop-bopping along. Although he has positioned himself far to the side of the stage, behind the bank of speakers, the festival organizer finally asks him to sit down. Despite the rebuke, Beatle Bob has scored another free dance session. Night Times magazine no longer exists. But as a "correspondent" for the defunct publication, he has saved $50.

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 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.

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."

Sometimes Beatle Bob is seen walking early in the morning in the U. City Loop, wearing a heavy winter parka and carrying a black duffel bag. In the afternoon, he can be found studying the RFT's "Calendar" section at the St. Louis Bread Company, circling the week's musical offerings like so many long shots on a dog-eared racing form.

On the night of the Blue Mountain concert at Blueberry Hill, Beatle Bob asks to be picked up at the Hi-Pointe Cafe. When he isn't there at the appointed time, the driver circles the block and finds him coming out from behind a Dumpster parked at the back of the Cheshire Inn. Early the next morning, after an exhausting night of dancing, he declines a ride home, saying that he is scheduled to meet a friend up the street at Cicero's. But the lights have already been dimmed at the restaurant, and the busboys are mopping the floor. Within moments, Beatle Bob has disappeared into the night.