Paul Flemming

Writing on Two Wheels

Writing on Two Wheels
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Venite, adoremus (So long, Robert E.)

A few words, to start, from Guy Clark:

That picture hangin' on the wall
Was painted by a friend
He gave it to me all down and out
When he owed me ten
Now it doesn't look like much I guess
But it's all that's left of him
And it sure is nice from right over here
When the light's a little dim

Here's that picture hangin' on my wall:


 Robert gave me this painting in 1984. We were both living in Columbia, Missouri, at the time. I'd typed some of his poems for a book he was putting together and he repaid me with this painting. The animal that looks an awful lot like a cow is, in Robert's story, a headless moose. The headless baby is fantastic. The baby and the moose are just hanging on the beach. More perilous is the flight of the headless bird, but perhaps that's just a vision of poor, drunk Joe, passed out beneath the palm trees.

Below is one of the paintings Robert did for me after I'd come back to Springfield as an adult. Then I'd become a paying customer -- or, rather, a frequent mark when Robert had paintings languishing -- between trips to Ducks games (where Robert sang "Take Me Out to The Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch after management declined his offer to perform the national anthem) and chatting at the late, lamented Moon City Cafe, where I was often a non-paying customer.


 Reproduced below is the first page of Robert's story painting that accompanied this piece commemorating the News-Leader's new German-made press. Perhaps the manufacturer accounts for the "man wearing a green coat and Red Pants and Holding a Hot Dog in His Hand (who) looked a little like Adolph Hitler World War Two DICTATOR." But it's not Adolph Hitler. "The man's name was Hubert."


 Alongside the Robert E. paintings hanging on my wall is this fantastic portrait shot by my buddy Andy Lavalley. Ozark Camera was one of the stops on Robert's perambulations through downtown Springfield (Moon City, SBJ, Ozark Camera, Lou Whitney's studio, repeat as necessary) and Andy took this shot there, upstairs I believe. Give Andy a call and ask him about a road trip with Robert to Jeff City and marching onto the floor of the Missouri Senate to deliver a painting to (and demand payment from) a certain current Greene County commissioner.


I've always been so pleased with the work of Robert that I'm lucky enough to have, especially that first painting he gave me in Columbia. That remains true. A painting Robert did for Dennis Radford-Kapp always intrigued me. Dennis is pictured in the painting and it really captures him, or at least how he captained the ship of Moon City. You can see it in this link at the News-Leader site. Robert's taking a gander at a 2007 show.

I was covetous of one piece of Robert's work. He painted an old bomb -- Robert called it a mizzle -- that stood about five feet tall. It included portraits of JFK and Fidel Castro, marking the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was just a fantastic piece. I have some thought that Bucky Bowman bought it. Whatever, I couldn't afford what Robert was asking for it.


Finally, though I'd like to go on and on, here's a cut from a Christmas album Robert recorded, accompanied by Kelly Brown on the piano. Go to this link and click on the title to hear the song. Isn't his voice lovely? The carol seems appropriate. Cantet nunc aula caelestium. Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above.

You are missed, Robert. The people you touched, the light you shined, lives on. Go Cardinals!


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