The Legend of Beatle BobNOVEMBER 15, 2008
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This weekend music fans in St. Louis will have a variety of concert options to choose from: Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three are playing at Off Broadway. The Alkaline Trio will rock the Pageant. Or if punk rock's not your thing you could check out the Rhythm Kings at Beale on Broadway. Odds are, Beatle Bob will be at one of those shows. If you're not from St. Louis, you probably don't know Beatle Bob. If you are from St. Louis, and you still don't know him, it probably means you're not getting out much. Beatle Bob, also known as Bob Matonis, has been to a concert every night for the last 11 years. Producer Adam Allington has our story.
I met Bob Matonis the same way almost everyone does. You're at a concert, maybe dancing, maybe hanging back, all of a sudden you notice a tall man in his mid-fifties sporting a mop-top haircut and loud jacket, performing the most awkward, yet intense version of the "white man dance" you've ever seen.
"Well it's a combination of a bunch of 60's dances like 'the Duck', a little bit of 'the Twist, a little bit of the 'Frug', the Locomotion'," notes Bob as if he were describing a secret family recipe.
"My signature move is I get my right leg and I twist it behind my left like a bowling move, like you're bowling and then I twirl my right hand to the side like you're rolling dice."
To most people, Beatle Bob's dance stylings look like an odd collection of jerks, pokes, twists and random punches-still, over the years his trademark shimmy and enthusiasm has made him the stuff of legend among touring musicians.
Guitarist Robert Schneider of the band Apples in Stereo says in a business that breeds pretension, its heartwarming to see someone respond so honestly to the music.
"He'll look at you while you're playing, if you do something cool he'll point at you," says Schneider. "And you're like…you thought you did something cool and there's Beatle Bob kind of affirming it, and it makes you feel good."
Bob has been out to at least one concert every night for the last 11 years, often hitting two or three different concerts per evening. To Bob the streak is very important, something he takes immense pride in.
"The last time I stayed home was Christmas Eve 1996, I have not missed a show since then, I've been out every night since then," says Bob.
One minute he's there, the next, poof, he's gone, which is quite a feat because Bob doesn't drive, relying instead on rides friends or public transport.
By most accounts, Bob started turning up around the St. Louis music scene in the 1980s and 90s. Eventually his colorful eccentricities and punishing concert schedule earned him the reputation of a tastemaker of sorts.
"When I first started playing and getting into the scene, we would actually try to find out where he was going," says Dennis Williams, the drummer in the St. Louis rockabilly band, the Trip Daddys.
"It was probably about 15 years ago, I played an old club down on the landing called Kennedy's. I'd heard about him, he's kind of like a legend…if he shows up at one of your shows than, you're cool basically," says Williams.
But if bands are feeling the love from Beatle Bob, the same is often not the case with his fellow concert-goers. Many people find Bob's erratic dancing and jumping up on stage more annoying than endearing…especially if he's at EVERY show you go to.
Wade Alberty launched the protest website beatlebobsitdown.com, where people can vent and share their stories of Bob frustration. Alberty says Bob's antics, while endearing at first, just get old after a while. Bob is totally that guy who will stand up at a concert when everyone else has agreed to sit.
"I just don't know what necessarily he brings to a show, just besides his presence," says Alberty. "I've heard bands say, if Beatle Bob shows up at your show it means it's a great show. I don't necessarily agree with that. In some ways it also seems like he is just seeking the spotlight."
Like any artist with true dedication to craft, Bob says he can't be bothered with other people's hang-ups.
"My whole philosophy is just go out there and have fun, let it all hang out, let your hair down, shake to the beat of your own drummer," counters Bob. "I'm not going to wait for the dance floor to get packed or partially full to go out there. If you want to join me feel free, but if you don't that's fine too but don't knock the Beatle Bob rock."
A lot of people do knock the Beatle Bob rock, and not just for the incessant dancing. Bob rarely, if ever, pays to get into shows, and there's multiple stories of him stealing merchandize or CDs. He's actually been banned from several local clubs.
But not from the Way-Out Club, owner Bob Putnam says its people like Beatle Bob that are the glue that keep the St. Louis music scene together.
"That's what a lot of people forget. Bob is every band's, whether they realize it or not, number one fan," says Putnam.
Putnam has known Bob for more than 40 years. He's seen bands come and go, but Beatle Bob's contributions to the scene are still relevant today.
"It can be a band that would never be anything but an opening band, but if Bob is dancing in front them, he makes them feel like they're something real special. He knows their names and he remembers when he saw them last, and that's important," notes Putnam.
These days, it's not just St. Louis clubs where Bob is making his scene. During the summer, you'll often catch him introducing bands at festivals like SXSW, Lollapalooza or the New Orleans Jazz Festival
But the thing about Beatle Bob that separates him from all the hipsters I've ever known is that he really isn't in control. The tall tales, his monomaniacal intensity on the dance floor-it all seems like something he's compelled to do more than a choice.
Really, who cares if he gets into shows for free or if he dances like crazy? Being Beatle Bob is the space where Bob Matonis feels normal, like he belongs.