Saturday, December 13, 2014

Forever Young # 46: "Bouv"

Song:  Out on the Weekend
Album:  Harvest
Released:  February, 1972

Think I’ll pack it in and buy a pickup, take it down to L.A.”.  These are the first versus sung on Out on the Weekend (and ‘Harvest’ for that matter, seeing as this is the first cut on the album).  Whenever I hear them, I think of my old friend, Bob Bouvier, who passed away far two young several years ago (and who I have dedicated this ‘Forever Young’ series to).  Bouv would sing these lines routinely on Friday afternoons during our senior year at North Adams State College (now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), after his last class was complete and with nothing but the weekend looming ahead.  It was a declaration empathizing that it was time to broaden the horizons, or at least give it the old college try.

Bouv could flip the switch like no one I knew, but any of us who have spent years living away from home immersed in college-campus life can probably name someone with similar abilities.  I’m talking about the type of person who can hit the books heavy Monday thru Friday, and then let it all loose for what was left of the week.  To only know Bob Bouvier on a Saturday nite, you would think he was a one-semester-and-done casualty (and I certainly knew my share of these cases).  But this was not the story with Bouv, not by a long shot, as he mastered the curriculum and graduated with honors. 

I met Bob that last year in North Adams, 1983-84.  The prior year I had spent on an exchange program at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.  When I got back, many of my strongest connections had transferred, graduated, or dropped out.  One of my few remaining ties was able to secure the last slot in a 4-room off-campus house for me (a last minute scramble after another prospect fell thru).  Bob was one of my new roommates.

We connected as soon as we met.  I recall the moment clearly.  Our new apartment was, shall we say, a bit to be desired (Dad still recalls he and I trying to get in the house through a back window - seeing as I had arrived before everyone, sans a key -and “being attacked” by the overgrown shrubbery).  After I settled in and my parents departed, Bouv walked in the door.  We were standing in the kitchen greeting each other, when a bird flew into the window next to us and collapsed in a heap outside.  We peaked out the back door (not able to go any further, seeing as there were no stairs!) and caught the woozy bird getting back on her feet in that unkempt backyard before flying off.  A few moments later, back in the kitchen, we noted shades of an old nest above the stove.  We put two and two together.  This bird had been coming home to roost.  The house had been open to the elements for god-knows how long and the window had just recently been put in. 

Bouv surmised that the bird had just flown all the way from Capistrano (despite this being the fall).  He imitated the moments just before it slammed into the window, ecstatic to be home at last.  He did this in slow motion.  It was hilarious.  After a few more elucidations on the story by both of us we were in hysterics, despite having had met one another just 15 minutes earlier.  I realized right off that Bob could take a pathetic situation and make it funny.  Considering where we were living, this would be an invaluable tool all year long.

It was not long before our landlord was the butt end of much laughter.  Many tenants would recoil in anger at what we had to deal with that year (including extremely poor heating and rats).  Not Bouv.  After Ransford (our slumlord) had told us a handful of times that he would fix something “tomorrow”, and it never would be fixed, we concluded that what he really said was “tomoraaa” and that this was a word unique to him.  The notion was that “tomoraaa” never came, and that Ransford would be oblivious to any reasoning if confronted the following day (“I told you I’d fix it tomoraaa!”). 

The jokes never stopped all year.  Not much was sacred.  It was simple humor, but boy did it work for me.  Being back in North Adams (at the time, a run-down former mill city in the Berkshire Hills, at the northwest corner of Massachusetts) after an amazing year in Ottawa felt like a regression.  Bouv made the year bearable.  He was a kid at heart, unencumbered by the weight of conformity that many of us struggle with.  This was just what I needed that otherwise melancholy year.

One of our strongest connections was music.  If a student is lucky, there is at least one year in college life where the music dominates the scene.  Free time is spent listening to it; loudly, and with your roommates.  Of course, this requires similar musical tastes.  It also requires that you are learning from one another.  Bouv and I (and another roommate, Gaff) were primed for this experience that year.  It was as intense of an education as any of my classes.

Neil Young was in the mix, and Bouv lead the way on this musician.  Album selections included ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’, ‘Decade’, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, ‘After the Goldrush’ and ‘Harvest’, among others.  The stimulation from that cross section of Young’s catalog would lead to a lifelong interest in his music (including a significant investment in concert attendance, and of course this blog series).  I had enjoyed Neil Young beforehand, but Bob took things to another level.  Bouv would always let you know when he found a moment in song particularly powerful, looking over at you through the high decibels with an astounded look on his face.  You could not help but be drawn into the fascination.   I got those looks a lot while we were in the midst of a Neil Young album.

Out on the Weekend ( ) was a very poignant song to Bouv (and in turn, to me).  I don’t think it a coincidence that it’s the opening cut on Neil Young’s best-selling album of all time (‘Harvest’).  We sang a lot of songs when we hung out together, but this was a signature tune for Bob to belt out.  There is profound depth to Out on the Weekend.  Lyrics and music combine to paint a portrait with an almost eerie corollary to what we were living out that year in North Adams.  Neil Young expresses ennui in this song.  To be able to hear that on record and in the process know that the singer had also been through a similar period was for us, reinvigorating. 

When music is at the core of a friendship, something unique happens.  Inhibitions go out the window.  Ideas flow.  Memories flow.  Discussions about the meaning of life, love and faith flow.  Music gives you a bee-line to the inner core of a person.  From this perspective, that year living in a dilapidated home, yet surrounded by quality speakers and turntables and albums, and similar tastes in music was invaluable.  Looking back now, it was a growing experience in many ways, which is what any of us would hope to get out of a snapshot in our time here on earth.

Bob Bouvier was a friend.  He called me his brother (he had four sisters, so I think it was a wish of his).  He took our friendship very seriously, often looking me in the eye to emphasize this point.  ‘Brother Bouv’ is missed, but he does live in the music for me, and over this past year, listening to and writing about Neil Young has been quite therapeutic.  It’s allowed me to reflect and appreciate what we had all those years ago.

-          Pete

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