Roots: Me, Chuck B. and St. Louie
Every time I fly back to St. Louis, I just know that at least one of the security guards I pass on my way to baggage claim will say “howdy” instead of “hello.” The thought always makes me giddy because it means I’m home. It means I’m finally back in the city that has its own cheese and loves baseball with irrevocable abandon. We’re a city that says “howdy.”
I think this pride — this intense, innate tenderness for my hometown — grew as I learned to love the world of folk music. As I got to know Bob Dylan, I started to understand the shatters in our windows, the murals in our parking lots, the aches in our streets. “Boots of Spanish Leather” broke my heart when I first heard it. Dylan poured it over me four years ago, and it made me want to leave the city more than ever. I thought it was my send-off. It was my sailboat to anywhere far from this town, far from this place full of people I didn’t relate to and an arch I found exceptionally underwhelming.
It’s impressive what going to college out-of-state can do.
I took St. Louis for granted. When I gave the city a pat on the back, she’d give me a bear-hug. I wanted Dylan to get me out, but he only ever tethered me more firmly back to her. So, I’ll send the Spanish boots.
Music was my first “in” with the city. I navigated through folk only to veer off towards old-school rock ‘n’ roll. Chuck Berry and I had “No Particular Place to Go,” so we went everywhere. He led me to Redding and Armstrong, who led me to Fitzgerald and Domino, who led me straight down to St. Louis. Berry was a hometown hero, and he used to regularly play at a restaurant downtown — Blueberry Hill. It was named after the song, and it’s nestled in between my favorite record store and the best root beer factory this side of the Mississippi.
Berry is one of the reasons I love St. Louis as much as I do. He radiated soul, and soul is what keeps our city going. St. Louis has lived through so much hate — especially over these past few years. We’re on a constant grind, but it’s soul — Berry’s soul, our soul, the city’s soul — that lets the light in.
“Oh Dear” is our liquid courage, the last call at our favorite bar. “The Way We Move” is our longest night out, the one we’re still finding our way back from, licking yesterday’s barbeque sauce off our fingers. “All Your Favorite Bands” is our city forever rooting for us, even when we forget how to root for her.
“Homecoming Heroes” is mine. It’s the Anheuser-Busch billboard, my favorite eagle perched along Highway 40, welcoming me back home after the nine-hour trip down from Ann Arbor. There’s “Darlin’,” who dances with me whenever I miss twirling through Forest Park, letting the early September mosquitoes eat me and not caring that they did. There’s “Family and Genus,” who hugs me when I need a hug from just that. There’s “Murder in the City,” who just makes me cry.
St. Louis. No other place I’ve loved has ever loved me back tenfold. No other place has ever flooded me with as much warmth. No other place has ever felt more like home.
“Timeless” was the first song I loved off the first album I worshipped from the first band I ever really thought I could die for. It’s also how I’d describe my city. She’s stunning and she’s wild and she has a resiliency in her that never ceases to stagger me. I’m adoring her forever.