During my ninth summer three important things happened. I experienced my first funeral
(my grandfather), my first wedding (my brother and only sibling), and my first divorce (my parents). In one unsettling summer
I learned that people die, big brothers grow up and leave, and even parents might not be around for as long as we'd like.
In one summer my immediate family shrunk from four people to just two.
I mention this because it may have been important.
my friend across the street split one of his drumsticks and was going to throw the pair away, I asked if I could have them.
He said they weren't any good but gave them to me anyway. I used to play them on cardboard boxes or my mom's pots and pans
when she wasn't home. I think I had found a coping skill.
When we moved to the north end of New Bedford, MA, I spotted
a store at Weld's Square called "Chic's House of Drums". It was my first visit to a music store. It was magical...filled with
drums of every size and color. The guy behind the counter was very cool. He was that kind of grown-up who didn't 'talk down'
to a kid. He just talked to me like I was any musician who had walked into his store. He used hip terms like 'man' and 'dad'
and 'cat' and 'cool' and 'hip' when he talked. I didn't know anyone who talked like that. It was like being indoctrinated
into some club with it's own lingo. Pretty cool, man. ...Funny what we remember about people.
I fell in love with a
snare drum he had. A bunch of relatives chipped in and that snare drum was my next birthday present.
And so began
my life long friendship with Laurier 'Chic" Boucher.
My mother couldn't afford to send me for drum lessons but I would
go to his store once every week or two and would ask him 'subtle' questions about drumming like, "The other day I heard a
drummer do this thing that went, 'Brap-a-pap-a dada...dadat'. How do they do that anyway?' And Chic would grab a pair of sticks
and show me. He never pressured me to get my mom to spring for lessons. He just showed me. No strings attached.
came the late 60's. The hippy era. Vietnam and pop art and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. I played a whole drum kit by now. Chic had
moved "The House of Drums" to downtown and started wearing John Lennon shades and longer hair. For me, Chic only got cooler.
He gave me discounts on everything I bought from him and shared his experiences as a jazz drummer. He gave me a copy of a
45 RPM record his band had made. Man, those 'cats' were HOT!
I still have that record somewhere.
early 70's I switched to guitar. Chic's downtown store sold electric and acoustic guitars so I bought most of my guitars from
him, including the legendary 1976 solid spruce top Tama acoustic with the rosewood and jacaranda back and sides that is my
most cherished guitar to this day. As always, Chic insisted on giving me a discount, even when I could afford his "net" price.
"Dig: This baby cost me 190 wholesale and figure 10 bucks to ship. Give me 200 and we're good, man."
I repaid him
the best way I could. I bought all my music supplies from him and sent LOTS of business his way. By now, most of my friends
were musicians. I sent everybody to Chic's! If I went with my friends and they made a big purchase he'd take some money off
and always thanked me for bringing them in the store.
That was why he gave me the $400. Tama guitar for $200. It was
a "Thanks, man" from Chic.
Some years later, Chic moved the House of Drums across the river to Fairhaven, MA.
We were still friends and I was still sending him business. When I recorded my first record album I gave Chic a copy. He was
never just a guy behind the counter at a music store. He was a friend I looked forward to seeing. A visit to his store meant
long conversations about anything that might come up.
When I told Chic I was in grad school for psychotherapy
he began sharing his own issues and history. Our friendship deepened. During the 90's, though we both lived in Fairhaven,
we found ourselves members of the same U.U. church in New Bedford. I got to know his son, John, who used to drum in my drum
circle, on occasion. Later, I would get to meet his daughter, Katherine, who generously sent me the photo above.
October 1998, some time after his retirement, Chic was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A year later, the newspapers wrote
extensive articles about how Chic had taken charge of his health and how bravely and optimistically he was fighting the disease
despite having been given only two to three months to live. I remember him beginning to look 'old' for the first time. That
slower-moving, tired look one gets. Now, I saw him in church only occasionally.
My community drum circle was
going great. I had been working hard on transferring my drumming skills to hand drums and developing a style of my own. People
had decided that I was "fun to watch" and I had decided that that wasn't such a bad thing. Our drum circle had a popular performance
troupe which was getting lots of gigs playing for festivals and parades and coffeehouses and church services.
were playing the prelude for a church service at our own church when Chic, looking weary and frail from the health battle
he was clearly losing, stepped into the church sanctuary and walked right up to me and watched me drum. He had a big warm
smile on his face. He nodded his head slowly as if to say, "Nice 'chops'."
As he turned, his wife, Joan, was
about to help him to a pew but instead he took a seat across from me. He asked one of our circle members for a drum and sat
there and drummed with us... eyeing me the whole time with those smiling eyes of his. In that moment I realized that I had
known this man for nearly 40 years and this was the first time we played music together. How I savored that several minutes.
This was the 'cat' who taught me to hold a pair of drum sticks. This was the guy who talked to me like a fellow musician even
when I was ten. He was a friend with whom I shared victories, disappointments, information and opinions. Now, after all these
years, we were actually drumming together.
Our piece of music ended. Joan helped Chic to a pew. He died a few
weeks later on 12/27/99 at he age of 74.
A week later, I shared a much briefer version of this story in church.
(I was just as teary telling it as I am writing it.) I wanted our church community to know how much Chic meant to me. I wanted
them to know that, weeks earlier, the piece of music they heard as they entered the church amounted to a teacher giving a
nod of approval to an 'unofficial' student ...and two friends saying goodbye.
We often come away with pieces
of the people we meet. ...Influences that become a part of us.
I suspect that I learned more from Chic than how to
hold a pair of drumsticks.
...and that's where it's at, man.