Concertgoer Wade Alberty supports saving the whales. He backed his presidential candidate, and he's all for the First Amendment and civil liberties. But Alberty draws the line when it comes to one thing: the ubiquitous Beatle Bob and his boxing-nun-like dance.
"I have no personal hatred of the man. It just seems like a lot of times he tries to steal the show," says Alberty, who first saw the Beatle seven years ago after moving to St. Louis from northeast Missouri. "It's great that he wants to get up front and dance. But there are people who are there to watch the show and don't really give a rat's ass about seeing him dance."
For those people, Alberty has created www.beatlebobsitdown.com, a Web site devoted to, well, getting Beatle Bob to sit down. So far the site has hosted more than 2,000 visitors. It also links to an online petition, which, Alberty boasts, carries signatures from seventy-one people in nine states and four countries.
For decades now, the Beatle's gaunt, velvet-suited figure has been a fixture on the St. Louis scene. Most nights he can be found gyrating in the front row and performing his signature jig, a series of baby kicks and punches he describes as "a mix of '60s styles." He's also known to mount the stage and dance -- a move that's anathema to scenesters like Alberty.
"I'd found him annoying for a while," Alberty says. But the tipping point came about a year ago, when the Beatle danced in front of a man who was videotaping a sparsely attended show at Off Broadway, a south-city music hall.
"The poor guy stopped taping and turned off his recorder," Alberty recalls. "There were only, like, twenty people at the show. He could have danced anywhere. But he chose to dance right in front of this guy. It was rude. Beatle Bob ruined the guy's tape."
Alberty is convinced he's not alone. To prove it, he's set up a section on his site where visitors can post Beatle Bob war stories. "There seems to be some unwritten rule that if Bob is there to dance, you gotta clear him some room," writes a poster named Mike, recounting his stage-side experiences at a crowded Elvis Costello show. "Everyone in front of him kept getting poked by his trademark hand moves. When there's no room Bob, get the hell out."
Other posters are less constructive. Witness Brett Clawson: "The next time you see Bob at a show and he's dancing in front of the band, hit him in the legs with a 2x4. 'Cause that's where he gets his super powers."
(Alberty cautions that he doesn't advocate violence; he just wants the Beatle to be more considerate.)
But while Beatle Bob, né Robert Matonis, may have a knack for pissing off his fellow St. Louisans, the mop-topped über-fan has made a national reputation for himself. He's garnered frequent mentions in such far-flung publications as the online magazine Salon.com and the daily Austin American-Statesman, and he's known to attend music festivals across the nation.
But it's not just the music writers who've taken a shine to the lanky Beatle. Many national acts are impressed with his devotion to live music and near-encyclopedic knowledge of pop.
"I remember being at a soundcheck at the Vic Theatre in Chicago for Noise Pop or one of those things," recalls Doug Gillard, former guitarist for now-defunct indie-rockers Guided by Voices. "I played a lick from some old Petula Clark song or something. He started singing the lines."
Gillard adds that he prefers knowing the Beatle "from a distance," recalling his old band's final show in Chicago: "[Beatle] Bob was there, emceeing the last night of the stint. There was a camera crew there setting up for the show, and [Beatle] Bob was there early at soundcheck, giving a lengthy interview. It was almost like it was a co-bill! At least he does what he does, and doesn't 'play an instrument,' or have his own band or CDs to push."
Local musicians are less accepting. "One Beatle Bob can and does spoil what could otherwise be an enjoyable evening of music," says Ultraman lead singer Tim Jamison, adding that he's sick of hearing stories about the Beatle and would rather "pretend he doesn't exist." "I think the best thing we could do is start a sort of sister-city program where we ship off our annoying scene dummy to another city in exchange for theirs. That way, at least it is a new annoyance."
At 52, the Beatle -- who claims he's seen more than 10,000 shows in his life and has gone out every night since Christmas Eve 1996 -- says he helps support himself writing for Sauce Magazine, a free tabloid. He adds that this month marks his inaugural column in the online version of the music magazine Paste.
The Beatle acknowledges that he's annoyed some scenesters over the years, but as he sees it, telling him to sit down is not just discriminatory -- it misses the point. "Why are they singling me out? I'm just out there to have fun," he says, attributing his concertgoing stamina to his strict vegetarian diet, a "touch of jogging" and shunning the body-beating trifecta of drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. "There are more important things to concentrate on. What bands do we want to hear? What clubs should we be paying attention to?"
He adds that if he had it his way, everyone would dance. "It's better for the band," says the Beatle, fresh from Chicago, where he hosted a few stages at this year's Lollapalooza. "Any band wants to see a big crowd, but [what] they also want to see is people dancing. If there were 100 people out there dancing, [my detractors] probably wouldn't say anything."
So what do the locals know that the rest of the nation doesn't?
"They don't have to see him at every freaking show," says Alberty. "At first there's a novelty to him. But by the thirtieth time you've seen him, it's just like, enough already."