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  • South St. Louis Breakdown

    Posted on August 8th, 2013 Toby Weiss 11 comments

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    Since February 1993, viagra 100mg I have lived in South St. Louis. In May 1999, approved I bought a house between the Bevo and Holly Hills neighborhood, where I remain. It’s a Mayberry kind of neighborhood with many residents who’ve lived here more than 40 years; a short, out-of-the-way, one way street, so it’s rather quiet.

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    Until I switched to paying for lawn mowing, I was the moron on the block with embarrassingly tall grass. I balanced that by being the alley sheriff, picking up never-ending trash that eschewed dumpsters, calling the non-emergency number when things I couldn’t fix went awry. A salvaging neighbor has caused me 2 flat tires from the screws he leaves in the alley between our garages. But it was easy to shake off because the joy far outweighed the annoying.

    south side breakdown 03

    In Spring 2011, our block experienced a series of home break-ins and a front porch mugging at gun point. I could move or fight back. I bought a home alarm system and joined the Bevo Neighborhood Stabilization team that sprung up in the wake of similar problems all around us. It worked impressively well for pushing back the crime in our immediate area.

    But the last two summers have been wearisome. July 4th fireworks go from mid-June to the end of July. The morning of July 5th is war torn, with bomb shards smeared on the streets and smoke hanging in the air. The rest of the time, it’s gun shots in the distance, or sometimes so close you feel a slight vibration. A bullet hole in my roof caused a drastic water leak. Some of those bullets recently killed the clerk at the 7-11 right down the street.

    My end of the alley has become a pain in the ass. There’s constant dumpster issues, and people forget to mow/whack the patch of grass between their back fence and the paved alley. It looks like the cover of R.E.M.’s Murmur. I’m tired of alley sheriff duties; if they don’t care, why the hell should I?

    south side breakdown 04

    This year, some family moved to South St. Louis County, so I’ve been slowly exploring the nooks and closed crannies of the place where Catholic South Siders fled to in the 1950s and 60s. It’s an odd place – they keep quiet, they keep clean and they spend all their time indoors. You seldom see anyone out on their perfect lawns or walking their peaceful streets. It looks like a movie set before the morning crew arrives.

    south side breakdown 05

    It was heaven to spend a good portion of this 4th of July holiday swimming in a backyard pool in SoCo. The lack of rat-a-tat-tat firecrackers was soothing, the lack of trash a treat. But even before this Zen sabbatical, I had been feeling the stirrings of packing up and moving out of the South Side. Even though it felt like a betrayal, I couldn’t stop feeling it. Why is all this wearing me down now? We had been through much worse in previous years, but now I want to retreat?

    June 2013, The Blind Eyes released an EP, which instantly became my summer soundtrack. They are consistently tight, joyous and impressive to my ears. “Armour” is the lead-off track, and after having rocked with it for several spins, I finally listened to the words. And it made me cry. The Blind Eyes had precisely diagnosed my broken South Side spirit. They’d felt it, too.

    Here’s the song “Armor” – give it a listen. And here are the transcribed lyrics, some of which I know are wrong, but it hopefully won’t diminish the gist:

    Not a second thought when you hear the sound
    Of shots ringing out when the sun goes down
    Took a little while but we finally learned
    A way to fiddle on while the city burned

    Pass it off so we can sleep when we lay down at night
    Armored with the thoughts of everything will be alright

    Used to shake it up nearly every day
    With those who’ve figured out how to keep the beasts away
    Building up a wall but it tumbled down
    Never telling when it’s gonna come around

    Pass it off so we can sleep when we lay down at night
    Armored with the thoughts of everything will be alright

    It’s hard to let it go
    But let it go

    south side breakdown 06

    The song conjures images of the arson in Benton Park and dead bodies across the entire city. And I cried some more. The Blind Eyes’ music gives the song a bittersweet optimism. Previously, they celebrated my fellow City Dwellers with 2011’s “Hold Down the Fort,” which felt like a rallying cry as we battled demolitions and burglars.

    But the personal reveal from “Armour” is that my armor is rusting thin. Instead of bolstering my spirits, this song is like a tearful hug to try and keep me from bolting.

    And then on August 3, 2013, the King of South St. Louis – Bob Reuter – died. He literally dropped off the planet, leaving a huge hole in the soul of the South Side. Reuter was a photographic mentor, schooling me about black & white printing and his life during late hours in the Forest Park Community College darkroom. He captured South Side people, I captured its buildings, so there was a common ground, a common passion for a specific place.

    I keep picturing his camera, inadvertently abandoned and still, and can’t bring myself to even look at my camera bag, much less go out and continue documenting why this place has such a strong hold on so many of us. Reuter never let anything keep him from his quest to tell stories, to live free. He had the armor to protect his creative spirit. His passing is still too raw to inspire me past this current weakness of spirit.

    It’s not like I have the financial means to move, or even a solid plan. It’s just a restlessness and uncertainty, like a wife wondering if there’s a more meaningful life to be had away from her husband, and she’s two steps away from an emotional affair with a co-worker. In this case, my “emotional affair” would be South St. Louis County.

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    Having these thoughts constantly looping through my heads fills me with guilt and regret, because I can’t help loving the South Side even when it’s callous toward me and brutal to those in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    So tonight, I will once again turn on the bedroom fan for white noise to drown out the yelling, the souped-up cars roaring down the street, and the gun shots…

    Pass it off so we can sleep when we lay down at night
    Armored with the thoughts of everything will be alright

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  • Architecture Rock, St. Louis Style

    Posted on August 20th, 2009 Toby Weiss 9 comments

    Finn’s Motel and The Blind Eyes are two St. Louis rock bands that have something in common that makes this building geek deeply happy: a propulsive, uplifting song specifically about architecture.

    finns-motelJoe Thebeau was responsible for one of the very best albums of 2006, Escape Velocity.  It is an engrossing and far-reaching concept album about being a 40-year old family man and corporate drone who can’t escape the feeling that there’s something else waiting for him just beyond the horizon; how do you get to that place and what happens once you do?

    Among the 17 songs that tell the tale is a piece that addresses the Gateway Arch as a metaphor for high and/or dashed expectations, “Eero Saarinen”:

    Eero
    Arching
    Westward over my city
    Stainless and brilliant
    Eero
    Arching
    Skyward into the universe
    Expanding
    Expansive possibilities
    The kind of vision I can look up to
    Arching over
    Into a future we couldn’t hope to
    Live up to
    Eero

    Listen to the song “Eero Saarinen” by Finn’s Motel.

    arch-sketch

    For the sake of full disclosure, Joe Thebeau asked me to sing with him on the song, but trust that it has nothing to do with why I love it.  It’s definitely a case of him inviting me because I loved the simple and emotional geometry of his sentiment.  It made me look at the Arch – something most of us in this city tend to take for granted – in a whole new and personal way, which was also reflected in the CD cover shot and other photos of the Arch he sent me out to capture.

    Atop that, the song just frickin’ rocks! It’s 1:32 minutes of rapid heart beat and laser point precision.  Architecture has been described as frozen music, and I’d always “heard” the Arch as a wistful symphonic piece.  Thanks to Thebeau’s artistic vision, I will forever “hear” the Arch as the Red Bull energy required to be the eternal Gateway to the West.

    Finn’s Motel is playing at Off Broadway on Saturday, August 22, 2009. Do go check them out, and ask them to play this song.

    blind-eyes

    I have been listening to The Blind Eyes debut record for 7 days straight, and the brilliance of it multiplies with repetition.  During the first couple of listens – wherein I don’t pay attetion to lyrics, just overall sonics – I assumed from the chorus of “Brasil, 1957”  (“We could only make it on the plane, on a plane”) that the song was about The Mile High Club.

    On the third listen I finally heard:

    Moving westward up the river
    Steel and concrete to deliver
    Out of nothing springs a city
    Monument to modernity

    Holy crap, these guys are singing about the building of Brasilia, and by association, architect Oscar Niemeyer!  And – duh! – the T-shirt design (above) featuring Niemeyer’s National Congress building has way more significance than using it simply because Niemeyer is the coolest (and oldest) living architect.  Oh, and double duh, this also references/inspired the title of the record.

    Listen to the song “Brasil, 1957” by The Blind Eyes.

    national-congress-sketch

    I’m not normally this slow on the uptake, and in defense it should be pointed out: how often do we hear a song that concisely and poetically sums up the construction of a mid-century modern capitol?  Previous to this, never!

    The chorus of this ingenious song now takes on an extra layer of clever:  is it “plain” or “plane”?  Because both of them work.  The city of Brasilia was purposely built far inland on an empty plain.  Aerial views confirm that the city was purposely laid out in the shape of a plane.

    What inspired them to tackle this as a song topic?  Is one of them a fellow architecture geek?  Until answers appear, I’m just impressed and thankful that it – and the entire record – exists. And I’m so proud that two St. Louis bands decided that songs about architecture should rock mightily.

    Question

    Aside from these two towering St. Louis musical achievements, what other rock or pop songs are specifically about an architect or a building?  The only other song that comes to mind is “Alec Eiffel” by The Pixies.

    If you think of others, do let me know, and if enough of them exist, it could turn into the rare case of a second B.E.L.T. entry about architecture rock.

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