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Where Barry Commoner is a star


Yes, I know my eyebags are terrible.  When I said I was exhausted, folks, I really meant it:  over the past nine weeks I’ve written four book chapters as well as one essay on the 2004 election and a paper on “Shame by Association,” and during my recent travels I also read twenty-something applications for fellowships and six essays for a special issue I’m supposed to be editing.  Oh yeah, and I took a day and a half to go over the copyedited version of an essay that’s forthcoming in PMLA.  And, of course, I’ve had all this computer and blog trouble in the past two weeks.  So I’m sorry I look so haggard and dissipated, really I am.

But this is not about me, so get off my case.  This is about Barry Commoner, who has a sidewalk star in University City at the outskirts of St. Louis, and it’s about St. Louis itself.  And the story goes like this.

I met Nick for dinner last Sunday night.  He told me about an Ethiopian restaurant he’d been to a few times (this is a good sign, I thought– my kid the college student is recommending local Ethiopian restaurants to me), so I picked him up at his dorm at 6, conducted the traditional father-son knife-fight, and took him to the Red Sea.  After dinner we walked around a bit, and he said something about not realizing how many amazing people had been associated with St. Louis over the years– not just Scott Joplin, Miles Davis or Chuck Berry, whose bar (Blueberry Hill) was across the street, but even people like T. S. Eliot.  “Oh, jeez, don’t get me started,” I said, thinking (at the time) that I knew a thing or two about famous people from St. Louis.  “I love to tweak the Eliot fans by referring to their guy as the best poet ever to come out of Missouri, when of course he spent his whole life pretending he’d been born and raised in the Norcesterwich district of Cheltenhamfordshire.” We walked up and down the avenue, with Nick providing glosses on the local establishments– the Thai pizza place and the nightclub where Modest Mouse played before they became alt.darlings– and me providing glosses on the people enshrined in St. Louis’s “Walk of Fame.” “T. S. Eliot is the least of it,” I said. “I want to see if they have a star for William S. Burroughs, who– this is something you should know, son– was the heir of the Burroughs fortune, a fortune made in the ‘calculators’ of the early twentieth century, back when the amazing mechanical ‘adding machine’ was the iPod of the day.  Now, that would rock.” But before I could go on about William S. Burroughs, I was brought up short by Dick Gregory’s star. Dick Gregory!  Mother of Moloch, I wasn’t surprised by Redd Foxx’s star– on the contrary, I told Nick about Foxx’s brief appearance in The Autobiography of Malcolm X and mentioned casually that most people don’t know how black a city St. Louis is and how important it is to African-American history, whereupon Nick said, “oh, tell me about it” and proceeded to narrate the story of the days last fall he spent canvassing for Kerry up and down St. Louis in precincts where, as he put it, “the only white guy I saw all day was me”– but I was strangely struck by Dick Gregory’s star.  “Nick, my son,” I said (no, I didn’t really say “Nick, my son,” any more than I said “this is something you should know, son”), “let me tell you who Dick Gregory is, apart from the bio on this plaque.  He’s somewhere on the long black comedy train between Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor, and he ran for President in 1968– ” at which point I realized that the plaque actually mentioned his Presidential bid– “and my parents, your grandparents, voted for him.”

Now, I should explain that Nick and I have had a good number of conversations over the past five years about the many and varied foolishnesses of the Naderites, but (despite what some preening, Pseudo-Neo-Bolshevist affective leftists have said about me over the past few years) I’ve never once pretended that the left wing of the Democratic Party represents the left wing of the possible.  How could I?  In November 1968 there seemed no way for a conscientious progressive to vote for Humphrey, so my parents, being conscientious progressives, cast their ultimately meaningless but deeply affective votes for Dick Gregory.  Who, of course, has since become a wingnut with a special nutritional/ weight-loss program, and when Nick asked about his transformation (as opposed to that of David Horowitz, say), I had to admit that I had no idea what in the world had happened to poor Mr. Gregory in the intervening years, but that one of my college friends once proposed that the CIA had approached Gregory in the mid-1970s and offered him a choice between (a) becoming a bizarre right-wing hawker of health and diet foods and (b) being mysteriously shot outside a motel.

We turned and walked east along Delmar Boulevard, passing the stars of Josephine Baker, Dred and Harriet Scott, Agnes Moorehead, and Lou Brock, among many others.  Gradually, step by step, we were Discovering the St. Louis Network.

And as we talked, I remembered all the reasons I’m so fond of St. Louis, and why I’m glad Nick is going to college there, and even more glad that he’s not staying on the carefully manicured lawns of Wash. U., but actually getting out and canvassing the city– not just for John Kerry (or Chuck Berry), but as part of his architecture program, one course of which required him to propose and design an urban-renewal project for a section of the urb that needs serious renewing.  These days, though, my fondness for St. Louis is tinged by pity, and pity is among the cheapest and most insulting of emotions.  May’s Department Stores, the third largest public company in town, is folding its tent; American Airlines, having ingested the sorry remains of TWA, has cut its St. Louis flights by fifty percent, leaving behind a giant sucking sound at Lambert International Airport; and the historic downtown area– which has, alas, fallen prey to the kind of fools who think you can revive a downtown area by building more stadiums and parking lots, and who don’t realize that after the Blues and Rams games let out, everyone heads straight to their cars because there isn’t a single index of ordinary life (like grocery stores) within ten miles– is a study in depression, economic and affective.

And yet St. Louis is so rich, historically richer than many larger American cities and certainly most midwestern cities of any size.  It’s vastly older than Chicago or parvenus like Minneapolis or Denver; its blues history links it to New Orleans, Memphis, and Kansas City, while its frontier history– the justification for that ethereal arch– links it all the way back to the frigging Louisiana Purchase.  St. Louis is one of the most extraordinary urban palimpsests I’ve ever seen: it’s a sleepy, depressed-or-devastated Midwestern town covering a formerly hopping rhythm-and-blues town (Tina Turner gets a star, too, not far from Chuck Berry’s) covering an old, segregated Southern town (the Blues must be the only hockey team to be named after a W. C. Handy song) covering an early-nineteenth-century river town and inland installation of what Paul Gilroy famously called the “Black Atlantic.” And, of course, it’s still the best baseball town in the country, dating all the way back to the days when it represented the westernmost reach of the major leagues.  There’s old money in St. Louis that was already old and decrepit when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow started that fire in Chicago in 1871– and I say this fully aware that upstart Chicago has since become vastly more dense and more interesting:  I lived for twelve years in Champaign, Illinois, and while I knew hundreds of faculty and students who routinely made the two-and-a-half hour trip to Chicago, I knew almost no one who made the two-and-three-quarters-hour trip to poor old St. Louis.  In fact, I knew almost no one who was aware that St. Louis has an entire district-- “the Hill"-- dotted with great (and, yeah, a couple less-than-great) Italian restaurants in the middle of a modest residential neighborhood.  But think back a hundred years, when St. Louis was still a world city– the kind of city that could host the 1904 Olympics (though some Chicagoans prefer to say “steal” rather than “host"), the kind of city about which you could exhort your friend Louis to meet you at the World’s Fair.  And then think about the reasons that some cities become “world cities” while others sink slowly into the swamp. 

St. Louis is also, for those of you keeping score at home, the city in which modernism finally died in 1972.  Don’t take my word for it– it was Robert Venturi’s call thirty years ago, when the Pruitt-Igoe housing project was demolished, we all began Learning from Las Vegas instead, and postmodernism was born.  But even still, you can experience late modernism by going to the Arch and being shuttled to the apex of the structure in little white spherical pods that (in this inevitably neo- era) will surely make you think of Austin Powers, which in turn will make you think of that Eero Saarinen mid-sixties era in which people apparently believed that the 1960s would look just like the 1950s, only Even More Modern (think Jetsons, early James Bond, JFK International– also designed by Saarinen– or the first hour of Catch Me if You Can).  And you can still experience the failures of postmodernism, too, by visiting the site of Pruitt-Igoe and realizing to your horror that the city has left the area to fall into decay and desuetude for over thirty years.

So Nick and I were thinking about all these things and more when we suddenly came across Barry Commoner’s star.  “Holy,” I said, far too loudly, “shit.” Barry Effing Commoner!  As if we hadn’t just conducted a postprandial discussion of futile fifth-party voting twenty minutes earlier à propos of Dick Gregory!  “Blessed Brother of Ba’al,” I said to my firstborn, “this Delmar Boulevard is like a goddamn Cavalcade of Alterity.  First we run across my parents’ eff-you, rock-throwing vote in ‘68, then we run across my eff-you, rock-throwing vote in ‘80, the very first vote I ever cast.  Bless St. Louis for enshrining Barry Commoner this way.  And bless St. Louis also for giving a star to William S. Burroughs, even if his plaque did call Naked Lunch ‘The Naked Lunch’ and give an erroneous publication date for it.  This is among the coolest minor things I have seen in all my travels across this dessicated and doomed planet, and I humbly request that you take a digital picture of me kneeling before Barry Commoner’s star, which I am not worthy to approach, what with my sallow complexion and my sorry eyebags and all.”

Thus, on Monday night, Nick snapped the picture you now see heading this post.  He’s a good kid, that Nick, and a regular tazmanian devil in a father-son knife fight.  Then after he took this pic outside the Tivoli, we went to see Pedro Almodóvar’s new film, Bad Education, so that we could have the experience of watching lots of consensual and non-consensual gay sex in multiple, overlapping narrative frames that ultimately call into question the very parameters of what we normally understand as “acting” and “directing.” We think American fathers and sons ought to have more of these formative bonding experiences, so that they can discuss Almodóvar’s oeuvre and his sympathetic representations of women (who are almost completely absent from this film, oddly enough) and the implications of violating traditional narrative frameworks of representation while (don’t read this if you don’t like spoilers) depicting priests who assault young boys and thereby lead them to become transvestites and heroin addicts, then strike up an affair with the boy’s younger brother and eventually plot with him to kill the older brother.  And we think American fathers and sons should do all this in the dense historical palimpsest that is St. Louis, in the Tivoli, just a few yards north of Barry Commoner’s star in the Walk of Fame.

Posted by on 03/04 at 07:47 AM
  1. over the past nine weeks I’ve written four book chapters...

    You’d look less haggard if you stopped all that other nonsense and just blogged more.

    Posted by NTodd  on  03/04  at  09:40 AM
  2. And then there the St. Louis Hegelians, which phrase, when I first read it, made me giggle a bit until I did more research.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  09:49 AM
  3. Sounds like a great time; my sister lives in St. Louis. And the walk of fame page is great-- where else could you get Albert King, Kate Chopin, and Harold Ramis together?

    Also check out the Chuck Berry documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll” for his reflections on growing up there, and getting to play his 60th birthday concert at the majestic Fox theater that turned him away as a black child from seeing “A Tale of Two Cities.”

    Posted by norbizness  on  03/04  at  10:13 AM
  4. At least the outfits are getting better.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  03/04  at  10:16 AM
  5. Lovely essay, Michael, and speaking as a native St. Louisan-turned-Chicagoan, thanks.  Just like you, my first f-you vote was cast in 1980 for Barry Commoner—and I hadn’t realized they’d given him a star on the Loop walk of fame.  That’s nice.  Next time you’re there, check out the South Grand stretch of Vietnamese restaurants, by the way.

    If Chicago can seem a study in the creative force of capital, St. Louis seems a study in its malevolence.  There’s more to it than that, much having to do with strucures of local government: but I go back to the Lou (as we natives sometimes call it) and the city seems pithed, great scoops taken out by the postwar defense industry (my dad worked for McDonnel-Douglas all his life), and others, who set up in the outlying suburban counties and gave whites and their money the excuse they needed to flee the interior.  St. Louis is a city of ruins, and its small islands of redevelopment that don’t look like they’ll ever merge into a fresh continent.  (But go to the wonderful Washington Street corridor, with its remnant garment-district building stock, or Lafayette Square and its lovely Victorian homes, if you want to see whatever hopeful signs of re-urbanization there are to be seen.) It’s a haunted place, and I’m pained by it every time I go back.

    Posted by Michael  on  03/04  at  10:21 AM
  6. Ah, yes, Michael, one of my heroes, too.  Barry Commoner would have made a fine secretary of the interior…

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  10:56 AM
  7. Definitely a lovely post - it’s nice when you give yourself a little room to run like that - and a worthy entry in Everybody Say “Tasmanian” Week as well.

    And another repressed memory from me: protesting at a Barry Commoner stump speech because of his running mate La Donna Harris’ ties to the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, a group working to mine and drill and extract oil and coal and uranium from reservations to line the pockets of Tribal Councils everywhere. To Commoner’s credit, though, Winona La Duke was the same age you and I were back then and thus patently unelectable, and Harris was apparently the next best thing.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/04  at  10:58 AM
  8. My first vote was for McGovern as a newly-minted, okay-we-let-ya-vote-now-get-on-the-bus-for-basic eighteen year old.  Which means my own eye bags are now permanent, and I’m even thinking of having them enhanced.  My third, oddly enough, was for--Barry Commoner, a “fug this” instead of an “eff you” vote being that it was my third different state as well and in none of them did my vote register anywhere except in the morning newspaper.  Otherwise I’d have voted for Carter.

    Posted by Doghouse Riley  on  03/04  at  11:01 AM
  9. Ah, La Donna Harris.  Yes, it was a good thing that Barry didn’t go with someone unelectable!  That’s just the kind of concession you have to make when you’re looking to pick up 234,000 votes nationwide.

    Thanks for the restaurant tip and the extended Chicago/ St.Louis contrast, Michael, and thanks to Jackmormon for the link to the St. Louis Hegelians, about whom I had never heard and whom I might have confused with the UHL franchise, the River Otters, who are right now the only hockey team in town.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  11:08 AM
  10. I enjoyed your St. Louis riff, but mostly your piece made me wish I had a son named Nick that I could carouse, knife-fight and sub-reference with.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  11:42 AM
  11. Michael, how could you not mention Stack O’ Lee & Lloyd Price?

    Sorry about the NHL; my beloved Red Wings aren’t going to knock the Blues (or anyone else) out of the playoffs again this year.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  11:45 AM
  12. These days, though, my fondness for St. Louis is tinged by pity, and pity is among the cheapest and most insulting of emotions.  May’s Department Stores, the third largest public company in town, is folding its tent...

    You think St. Louis has got it bad? May’s Department Store abandoned Leadville, my poor hometown, more than a century ago. So did the Unsinkable Molly Brown, that trollop.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  11:50 AM
  13. Michael, how could you not mention Stack O’ Lee

    Huey Newton wrote about Stack O Lee, and that just takes us back to Horowitz.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/04  at  11:51 AM
  14. Wow. Great essay, and very welcome right now- I’m pondering going to WashU Law, maybe even if i get in at a few of the higher ranked schools. A lot of my concern is cultural- I’m a lifelong Massachusetts liberal- and reading all this makes me a little more interested in the city.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  11:56 AM
  15. I’m pondering going to WashU Law

    Hey, my wife went to WashU (not Law)!  She has family in Creve Coeur, and last time we were there she took me on a campus tour.  And they’ve been calling and calling for money just this week.  Feh.

    Posted by NTodd  on  03/04  at  12:01 PM
  16. I will pass along the Barry Commoner picture to my good friend, Alan Beck, who studied those many years ago with him, and in fact just mentioned Commoner with great fondness the other day.  Alan runs the Center for the Human/Animal Bond at Purdue’s vet school.

    Posted by A. G.  on  03/04  at  12:13 PM
  17. That was beautiful, Michael. Thank you.



    Posted by Hanna  on  03/04  at  12:14 PM
  18. Did the Lou Brock plaque say anything about why he didn’t slide in Game 5 of the ‘68 series? As a Tigers fan by birth and a Cards fan by induction (the old man lives across the river in Edwardsville), Horton’s epic throw from left has assumed a whole new role in the father/son discourse.

    “What’s that, pop? You’re voting for Bush? Huh. I wonder why Lou Brock didn’t slide.”

    Posted by Paul  on  03/04  at  12:54 PM
  19. Actually, the cover and title page of the first edition of Naked Lunch, the Olympia Press edition, have it as “The Naked Lunch.” And the publication date isn’t far off. The Olympia Press edition first appeared in France circa 1959 with the first American edition appearing from Grove Press in 1962, though work began on assembling and printing the Grove edition in 1960 (based on a substantially different manuscript that produced a radically different text from the Olympia Press edition), with the first 10K copies of the book printed and bound in 1961. Due to the publisher being charged with providing obscene material (he also put out “Tropic of Cancer” in 1961) those copies did not hit the shelves until 1962. Grauerholz and Miles have a good on the history of the text in their otherwise questionable ‘restored text’ of Naked Lunch.

    So, do we get to hear about the conference? And yes, St. Louis is a great city. The Red Sea is a good restaurant no? You really should try the burgers at Blueberry Hill as well. They are quite tasty.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  01:05 PM
  20. When I attended Champaign, and they asked us to introduce ourselves, it generally broke down to 97% from Chicago suburbs, 2% from outside the midwest and >1% from St. Louis. It’s nice to know someone was thinking about us from time to time. Excellent post, it makes me sad I moved from there…

    If you do ever go back, walk down the street from Red Sea and try Riddle’s Penulimate, everything locally grown and one of the best, lower prices wine and beer selections in the City.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  01:22 PM
  21. Spot on, Michael. We used to say that we lived in a place of Northern charm and Southern efficiency and laugh at that Judy Garland line about imagining all that right here in St. Louis (on the grounds that we never could). But in looking back on it, there was something quite special about the melding of cultures that constituted the place. Faced with a hometown that has become a poster child for urban decay and failure, it is salutary to recall that St. Louis was a place where people tried to make their futures (sometimes even collectively) rather than flee away to far-flung suburbs. In the crumbling building of the West End, I can imagine my grandparents handing out pamphlets for socialism and the Ladies Garment Workers because they had dreams for St. Louis. Now, people seem to live in precincts where I went for overnight camp.

    Good to know that the Tivoli is still around. My formative movie experiences were there. Saw “Dr. Strangelove” and “Bonnie and Clyde” in the balcony. Guess the Varsity, which used to be up the street is gone.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  02:22 PM
  22. Wow, Michael.  You’ve really captured the essence of my hometown with this beautiful post.  I’m always trying to describe how cool and unique St. Louis is to my friends from the coasts who think it’s one of those drab, decayed cities somewhere between Topeka, KS and Jackson, MS.  I’m going to forward them this post.

    Also, I’m glad someone else gets all excited about the Walk of Fame, and St. Louis history in general.  It’s a strange mix of incongruous things down here, and that makes for lots of crazy happenings.

    Posted by Julie  on  03/04  at  02:53 PM
  23. Neat. Makes me regret not heading there for school, but maybe my own son (also a Nick) will knife fight with me in an interesting town. Miles Davis was from East St. Louis, though, I think.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  03:28 PM
  24. Hey, thanks for the Naked Lunch tip, Tom.  And sorry for not responding to your earlier question about the conference.  My paper was about the shaming rituals that went on in two episodes on the antiwar left in the runup to the war in Iraq-- one that I was involved in and one that I wasn’t.  Both episodes were thoroughly tangential to the main event; one had to do with Michael Lerner’s fraught relationship to ANSWER and his decision to go public with his dissatisfaction with the group the week before the Feb 15-16 rallies, the other had to do with Castro’s jailing of 75 Cuban dissidents and execution of three people who’d tried to hijack a passenger ferry and take it to the US.  I don’t want to relive all that Feb-Mar 2003 stuff on this humble blog, and I can’t post the paper itself because I accidentally deleted it in the course of transferring my files from one computer to the other (of course), but I can tell you that my argument was that the heated disputes over Lerner and Cuba involved shame by association rather than good old Stalinist guilt by association.  I think both sides engaged in shaming, both the side I was on and the side I wasn’t; and I think also that guilt by association stopped being a useful tactic in the Kosovo war, when the pro-war side got associated with Madeleine Albright, the New Republic, and the Kosovo Liberation Army, and the anti-war side got associated with Slobodan Milosevic, far-right Russian nationalists, and Congressional Republicans.  Basically, both sides played that one to a rhetorical tie, and this time around (in Feb-Mar 2003), the appeal was not to some idea that you (on the other side, whoever you are) are tinged with the guilt of the crimes of your associates, but that you (on the other side, whoever you are) should be ashamed of the people you’re defending or the uses to which your arguments can be put.  And that’s about as neutral and evenhanded as I can be about those episodes, by the way.

    Though I note, with some irony, that David Horowitz is still stuck in guilt-by-association mode.  But Rick Perlstein’s response to my Feb 25 post, about how people like Todd Gitlin shame Horowitz by example, was both brilliant and (for my purposes on Feb 26, when I presented my paper) quite useful.

    The rest of the papers on shame didn’t look or sound anything like mine-- they were more in the vein of the “gay shame v. gay pride” debates of the past seven or eight years, but the conference was still a fairly eclectic affair (as these things tend to be).

    Posted by Michael  on  03/04  at  04:08 PM
  25. How’d you like the injera, that spongy bread they eat? it was the only thing I didn’t like.

    Posted by Randy Paul  on  03/04  at  04:22 PM
  26. Before I get out my dictionary to re-read this post, (I am proud to say I knew ‘palimpsests’, but I think it overwrote my PIN number and one of my nieces names when I learned it) can you answer me this:

    In a father-son knife fight, do the father and son fight each other, or do they take on other father-son pairs?

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  04:29 PM
  27. Before I get out my dictionary to re-read this post, (I am proud to say I knew ‘palimpsests’, but I think it overwrote my PIN number and one of my nieces names when I learned it)

    It probably just covered them up.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/04  at  04:44 PM
  28. IIRC the other great leftist Michael is also from St. Louis.  Michael Harrington of the DSOC/DSA apparently has not been discovered by the St. Louis Network yet. America’s last great Socialist, ignored by his hometown?

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  05:22 PM
  29. Hey, what night did you see Bad Education at the Tivoli? I saw it last Friday night myself. We could have been at the same show.

    To answer Dan Borus’ question re: the Varsity Theatre, it closed up back in 1988, but the building remains (along with the marquee) and houses the very excellent record store Vintage Vinyl, for which I work (in the interests of full disclosure). My wife, by the way, is an employee of May Co. who will lose her job soon enough.

    I’ve passed this blog entry along to a number of St. Louis friends. It’s some of the best writing on this town I’ve ever seen.

    Posted by Steve Pick  on  03/04  at  06:26 PM
  30. :: Michael Harrington of the DSOC/DSA apparently has not been discovered by the St. Louis Network yet. America’s last great Socialist ::

    and coiner of the term “neoconservative"…

    Surely star-worthy.

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  06:30 PM
  31. Thanks for the great essay, and for dropping by my site.  I notice that nobody in this thread has mentioned (perhaps because its passe for natives) Franzen’s The Twenty-Seventh City, which, although a bit mannered and overwrought, was a very entertaining St. Louis-centered read.  A friend of mine, who is a native, holds that notwithstanding its problems the book does a pretty good job portraying St. Louis.

    I also notice that you’ve got a picture of yourself at The Gates.  In case you’re interested, I’ve been serializing my thoughts on the installation.

    Posted by Moon  on  03/04  at  07:40 PM
  32. What a touching, beautiful, well-written post. What a history class. Thanks Michael.

    Posted by Idelber  on  03/04  at  08:01 PM
  33. You didn’t slight Yogi Berra, did you?

    Posted by  on  03/04  at  08:12 PM
  34. As a fellow-travelling WUSTL parent and regular reader, this piece really resonated.  On my last visit (the weekend after the election) I found myself having a pretty good brunch at a place on Delmar (Brandt’s?), only to glance down at the sidewalk and see the star for one Charles A. Lindbergh.  Do they have one yet for Nelly?
    One more connection--to your beer post: the original Budweiser is brewed in Ceske Budejovice, CR, and gives Pilsener Urquell a pretty good run for its money.  Cheers--JF

    Posted by  on  03/05  at  01:22 AM
  35. “We think American fathers and sons ought to have more of these formative bonding experiences, so that they can discuss Almodóvar’s oeuvre and his sympathetic representations of women (who are almost completely absent from this film, oddly enough) and the implications of violating traditional narrative frameworks of representation while (don’t read this if you don’t like spoilers) depicting priests who assault young boys and thereby lead them to become transvestites and heroin addicts, then strike up an affair with the boy’s younger brother and eventually plot with him to kill the older brother.  And we think American fathers and sons should do all this in the dense historical palimpsest that is St. Louis, in the Tivoli, just a few yards north of Barry Commoner’s star in the Walk of Fame.”

    Been there, done that.

    Posted by  on  03/05  at  02:18 AM
  36. My wife and I spent a day in St. Louis a couple of years ago, and were very pleasantly surprised. Just walking around at random, we found an amazing used bookstore (A. Amitin), an arty cafe with excellent catfish, and the City Museum, which is neither a museum nor run by the city, and is an utterly wonderful example of what happens when you mix driven artists with cheap real estate.

    Posted by Tim Walters  on  03/05  at  02:33 AM
  37. I haven’t had feelings of “homesickness” for St. Louis for quite some time until I read this post.  I lived in St. Louis for four years at the end of the 90s, mostly in the area around the Loop, where your post takes place. 

    In my memory, it’s everything you described, both an extraordinary historical palimpsest and an vacated pitiful shell of a city.  But revisiting some of the places you and your commenters mentioned has brought back some wonderful memories: the Tivoli, Vintage Vinyl, the Red Sea (my wife used to live in the apartment above the restaurant), the City Museum.... 

    I was a volunteer on opening day of the City Museum and on many days thereafter.  It was a project conceived by sculptor Bob Cassilly, who led an effort to transform an abandoned building downtown into an extraordinary children’s museum, built largely of recycled, salvaged and donated materials.  I’ve never seen anything like it, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting St. Louis.

    Posted by zalm  on  03/05  at  04:09 AM
  38. I grew up in Peoria, Illinois in the 50s and 60s. Half of Peoria were Cub fans; half Cardinal fans and the debate was whether Brickhouse or Carey was the better announcer.

    I now live about 50 miles east of Kansas City. 

    Missouri is not only a border state North-South but east west.  St. Louis is the western most eastern city in the US; KC is the eastern most western city in the US.  Among other things, the Catholic Church is an important institution in St. Louis.  There is an important Catholic presence in KC, but it is not very visible in what it does.

    Of course, St. Louis does have a very important institution of higher education, Wash U..  KC in this regard is like Indianopolis or Denver.

    The Hill is a wonderful place to visit, but I haven’t really been to that great Italian restaurant.  The Botanical Gardens in St. Louis shold not be missed.

    I think that St. Louis has had the greatest loss of population of any major city in the US over the last century.  In fact, KC has a larger population than St. Louis; however, the metropolitan area of St. Louis is much larger.

    Posted by  on  03/05  at  01:57 PM
  39. I just looked up the City Museum online (http://www.citymuseum.org). They have stunning panoramas of the interior and exterior (find the school bus!), and, best of all, they have lofts for sale! I want one!

    Posted by Tim Walters  on  03/05  at  02:15 PM
  40. I forget to add an observation on one of the “coolest minor things” on this planet.

    In front of the British Columbia legislature is a small monument to the Canadians who fought in the MacKenzie Papineau Battalion in the Spanish Civil War.

    Is there any momunent in a public place for the Americans?

    Posted by  on  03/05  at  02:24 PM
  41. Michael, did you run across a star for Tennessee Williams? He’s buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. However, he may not have a star, since it is fairly well known that he hated the city and did *not* want to be buried there, but his brother saw fit to do so.
    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1111&pt=Tennessee Williams

    Posted by  on  03/05  at  02:25 PM
  42. Yep, we saw Tennessee Williams’s star (William Inge’s, too) but I didn’t know he’d asked not to be buried in St. Louis.  So much for his final wishes! 

    Nelly doesn’t have a star quite yet, but when I was in St. Louis last year (I seem to visit every year despite having moved east), I was picked up at the airport by an attorney who knows Nelly-- and Albert Pujols-- by way of the St. Louis Down Syndrome Association.  Which rocks, as it so happens.

    Gotta check out that City Museum next time.  Thanks for the tip!

    Posted by Michael  on  03/05  at  02:52 PM
  43. Cucumber slices, Michael.  Or sliced raw potatoes.  Sometimes used teabags help.

    St. Louis is wonderful and so is what you wrote about it!  Phenom art museum, too.  But best of all is the long, long, long bike trail west of St. L.  Unbelievable.  Highly recommended, even by car!


    Posted by PW  on  03/05  at  07:10 PM
  44. Blueberry Hill is actually owned by Joe Edwards who set up the Hall of Fame. He and some Wash U grads who founded Streetside brought back the area there about 30 years ago when it seemed pretty bombed out.  Strangely, the oldest part of Blueberry Hill was a dentist’s office.

    Chuck Berry just plays there once a month.

    If you really want to take you son to see some of the City try Crown Candy Kitchen in Old North Saint Louis and then make a quick trip over to the Scott Joplin House which is a State Historic site. From there, hit the Calvary Cemetery which has many famous graves including Sherman--who doesn’t even have a plaque on the site of his house, but one can be greeted at the house site by some very friendly dealers. The cemetery is good though and no business is being conducted while you visit.

    On the Ethiopian theme, one of the two best Italian restaurants in St. Louis (neither on the Hill) is run by Ethiopan brothers in the West End. 

    The recurring theme of St. Louis not being the destination is very true--I grew up in Normal which is exactly half way between and St. Louis had relatives to visit, but it wasn’t the place to go. Oddly, the Americana music scene is pretty damn amazing and better than most places--and its local roots were largely in the Loop and a few other areas.

    Posted by ArchPundit  on  03/05  at  10:19 PM
  45. "While growing up in the St. Louis he despised, Tom probably drank beer from the Anheuser-Busch brewery, longed to live in LaDue (a tony suburb), shopped at Scruggs-Vandervoort Department Store and visited Creve Coeur, a park still in operation. The park,located at Marine Avenue and Dorsett Road, means “heartbreak” but boasts 1200 acres of green space including areas for fishing, wildlife, a sand beach, twelve picnic sites and a lake.
    “Tennessee Williams wished to be cremated and his ashes scattered over the Caribbean Sea but when he died in 1983, his brother Dakin ignored his will and had him buried next to his mother in Calvary Cemetery. His name, along with William Inge, Ulysses S. Grant, Eugene Field, Charles Lindbergh and others, is on the St. Louis Walk of Fame at 6200 Delmar Boulevard.”
    From an article “Tennessee Williams’ St. Louis” at http://www.denvercenter.org/pdf/LovelySundayStudyGuide.pdf

    Posted by  on  03/05  at  10:58 PM
  46. Burroughs’ mother was talked into taking a lump sum for her Burroughs’ stock, so William wasn’t really set up for life. He got his last check in the 50’s in Tangier, IIRC.

    Good thing I read the thread before posting on the St. Louis Hegelians.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  03/06  at  03:42 PM
  47. As a recent Wash U grad, just wanted to second, or maybe third, since I only skimmed the comments, the recommendation for the City Museum.  Also, while Nelly doesn’t have a star yet, his bowling accomplishments are memorialized at Pin-Up Bowl a couple of blocks down Del Mar.  I believe his high score is a 272, but I might be wrong.  In general, this is a great post.  I hadn’t missed St. Louis much in the nine months I’ve been gone, but this post makes me want to go back.

    Posted by washerdreyer  on  03/07  at  01:07 AM
  48. I had no idea that there were so many St. Louis types here.  (I’ve been here since coming to Wash U 12 years ago.) The City Museum is recently updated and very cool: http://sarahlynn.blogspot.com/2005/02/st-louis-in-february.html

    But The Magic House is still better, even if it’s not downtown.  (http://www.themagichouse.net/)

    Posted by Sarahlynn Lester  on  03/07  at  02:02 AM
  49. I loved this post about St. Louis.  I lived and reared my son in Park View, on Washington, the street just south of Delmar, parallel with the Loop.  Your post was like a tour of my old neighborhood.  Did you notice Fannie Hurst’s star?  I’ve just published (with the Feminist Press) a collection of her short stories.  While living in St. Louis, I had fun hunting down all the places she and her family had lived.  She was a member of the first class to matriculate on the current Washington U. campus when there was only one building, the one that is now the administration bldg, which had been the bldg from which the 1904 World’s Fair was administered. 

    I assume you will be going back to visit your son again.  Check out the amazing outdoor sculpture garden, Laurmier (I can’t quite remember)and the New Cathedral on Lindell, right around the corner from the last house Kate Chopin lived in. And if you go in spring, note the crocuses on the lawns on the north side of Washington beginning at Limit.  I first planted them in our lawn in 1974, planted more each year, and each year the westering wind spread them to lawn after laawn after lawn.

    And walk down the Limit walkway towards the University and if you’re lucky you will see the incredible display of irises behind Bill Gass’s garage.

    And the daffodils that cover the grassy hillsides of the green spaces along I-64 through the city will make you think of Wordsworth no matter how much you try to avoid it.

    Posted by  on  03/07  at  04:41 AM
  50. Regarding Mr Gregory and the mid 70s’.

    Right around that time Mr Gregory had somehow gotten
    a copy of the Zapruder tape. And he showed it on air
    in Los Angeles (KCET I think). I’m pretty sure it was the first and only time it was aired on TV.
    I watched the whole thing--stunning.

    Shortly after that, Mr. Gregory made less and less
    appearances of the TV.

    Posted by  on  03/07  at  09:38 PM
  51. from a dear friend in St. Louis, who had, like my own father’s family, grown up on the east side of the river:

    I know the walk well.  It amazes me just how far the St Louis border reaches for that walk.....when in reality the city is a tight little square with very sharp and defined edges. You know the routine - artist, musician,writer is the scourge of the hometown ruling class. Leaves and finds acceptance by the rest of the world. Yaaaa we love her/him. Some have to die to get there on that walk. Is Bob Costas still alive......
    When I “walk the walk” with a local - I pick out names they have no clue about . No one really reads Burroughs anymore do they ? Grant Green .... “uh do you mean Gen. Grant?"… Albert King ...."uh you mean B.B don’t
    you?”...Oliver Nelson, “uh we know Ozzie Nelson” and on and on.
    Like when Miles passed on it was page 13 news here. He lived across the river in another state as did A.K. and a gang of others. Die, get famous, pass through the area, and they will claim you… I will say that the neighborhood where the walk resides is the hippest area for miles and miles. Hippest being a relative term - much like a ski area - what might be difficult here, probably is intermediate else where… Now the Mark Twain Freeway has been changed to Mark McGuire Freeway- he didn’t even live here when he played here.....I’m gonna go look for his star today…

    Posted by  on  03/08  at  12:05 PM
  52. ”...Unsinkable Molly Brown, that trollop.”

    Bitch was from St. Louis…

    Brava, Michael (IIMBSB), BRAVA…

    Left my Eldest right there on Delmar in ‘85...He and his Buddy were the first two graduates of St. Louis Metro (AKA Hippie) High School who didn’t go on to college…

    Dave spent the next five years waiting tables and “managing” (Read swamping the place out after the Rocky Horror show) the Varsity theater ‘til it morphed into a drug store…

    Meanwhile me & the Hillbilly fled south to Memphis...Where I find myself stuck with them Mobile Blues, one more time…

    Good to know that St. Louis is still there to be appreciated...And that someone’s doing a good job of it…

    Posted by  on  03/10  at  10:00 AM
  53. There is a very unusual feature about St. Louis that may account for some of its social distortions:

    St. Louis the City is not part of St. Louis the County.  St. Louis County surrounds the City of St. Louis, and by law the City cannot grow.

    St. Louis the City cannot grow the way that other cities can, reaching out to incorporate tax-base developments that feed off the existence of the city in the first place.  This is part of the reason you get so much of the retail and business establishment moving out into the County, first to North and South County, now out to the West and beyond.  They can escape the taxes of the city, and all the urban problems, which then get worse with no way to get healthy.

    The only other city in America in this position is Baltimore, a city St. Louis has much in common with:  old, Catholic, segregated, in many ways decaying, but still with a lot of great neighborhoods.

    Posted by  on  03/11  at  02:59 PM
  54. Thanks for sharing this post....

    Posted by amberen  on  04/02  at  06:12 AM
  55. Great Article to read! Thanks for sharing it.

    Posted by Sensa  on  04/12  at  06:14 AM





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