A Friend

“So if youre down on your luck
And you cant harmonize
Find a girl with far away
And if youre downright disgusted
And life aint worth a dime
Get a girl with far away eyes”

I was probably around 14 when he knocked on my door announcing that his family had just moved into the neighborhood. We became fast friends, and looking back, I’d have to say he put a little color into what was pretty much a drab small town high school experience.

He had this little glint in his eye that said, “hey, there’s a party going on.” Even when it was just us taking his Dad’s rifles and shotgun out into the woods after school and “shootin’ up a storm” until we started getting return fire from a local farmer and found the police waiting for us as we hurried back home.

He had early Bob Dylan and Smothers Brothers folk records long before I had heard of either. My brother played drums and I tried to play a little guitar, so he bought a bass and asked me how to play it, since I could read music. It wasn’t long before we had a garage band.

The band played successful gigs at local high schools and churches, and we had a coterie of followers. Suddenly, it was easy to meet girls. One of our “followers” belonged to a big deal yacht club on the lake and arranged for us to play at a social. I think we were making $150, very big bucks at the time.

It was an outdoor dance, and we unpacked our stuff and set up as usual. But when we hit the first chord in the first song, something was dreadfully wrong. We couldn’t hear the vocals. All we could hear was my brother’s drums. People on the other side of the lake heard it fine, and a few called the police, but we couldn’t hear anything, and neither could a bunch of frustrated wealthy yacht-clubbers. We had no idea, but we didn’t have the equipment to do an outdoor gig. We bravely played on through the boos, and at the climax of the evening, my friend Larry, in an Eric Burden imitation, “died” onstage, got “revived” and ran headlong out to the dock and jumped into the lake.

After the gig, we spent the $150 on outdoor horn speakers for vocals, but it was too late. Not only did word of our disaster get around town, the local music mogul heard about it, and especially the fact that we hadn’t joined the union, so we were pretty much blacklisted, even from schools. The end.

When I went to college, Larry went pro and joined a group called McKendree Spring, who went on to play a lot of national and international venues and cut several albums. At one point, when he had a summer gig at the Bitter End, we shared an apartment in NY. On one of the nights I went down to catch his act, after the show he brought me across the street to “meet his new buddy, BB King”:http://www.elburro.net/article/12/hangin-with-bb.

I went back to college in Ithaca, NY and since Larry’s band was based in nearby Trumansburg by then, he moved into a building on the main street that was the town’s new “hippie” building. Larry was on the road most of the time, so it was really only a place to keep his stuff. The building quickly became suspected as a place where “drugs got smoked” and during the annual Ithaca drug bust, which happens every spring, the inhabitants of the building were rounded up, including Larry, who had just gotten in the night before after a long road trip.

According to Larry, he told the cops, “I’m an alky. I don’t smoke, swallow or shoot any kind of drug”. “Yeah right”, they said, “that long hair and beard says otherwise.”

When he got down to the station to be booked, there were dozens of Ithaca residents who were also being booked for possessing marijuana or whatever and when he walked into the station, they all burst out laughing. “Tucker’s a drinker, not a doper! You cops are crazy, ha ha!” The cops ended up letting Larry walk out of the station.

A few years later I met him at a bar in downtown Trumansburg. He had been dropped from McKendree Spring and he was pretty upset. As he explained it, the band had no drummer, so his bass was pretty much expected to hold the sound together. By then he was keeping a beer mug full of scotch on stage and was starting to get bored with his rudimentary bass lines. So he’d experiment, or he’d just get too drunk, and at some point it wasn’t working, and the band let him go. He had moved out in the country near Trumansburg to a little silver trailer, and since it was snowing heavily that night, we managed to drive my car over there before the roads got snowed in. It was a cramped little trailer, but I found a place to crash in a corner. The next morning he was gone. I saw tracks in the snow, and he returned about an hour later. He’d walked several miles through the snow to the closest liquor store for a bottle of Bushmills.

“I had an arrangement to meet a girl, and I was kind of late
And I thought by the time I got there shed be off
Shed be off with the nearest truck driver she could find
Much to my surprise, there she was sittin in the corner
A little bleary, worse for wear and tear
Was a girl with far away eyes”

I finished college and Larry was still in the area. I left him at a local party one night, and the next day when I drove by, he was sleeping on the porch where he’d passed out. Things weren’t going so hot for me either; I was working in a printing press on Eddy Street and getting wasted a lot. We started another band, I don’t think it had a name, and played gigs at rural bars. I remember one at a country bar that was $15 (for the band) and “all you can drink” (which later turned out to have been one drink when we tried to get paid). We kept our day jobs. We had one glimmer of hope when we auditioned for a “fraternity gig”:http://www.elburro.net/article/5/a-night-to-remember, but that didn’t go too far. Work was getting sparse, and the cops seemed to be all over us, so a girlfriend and I moved to Boston, shortly after Larry moved there.

I ended up getting a job as a waiter and eventually started a little business when I was off during the days. Larry moved to Broad Street at one point and was working as a short order cook and living upstairs from the restaurant with Debbie. I lived in Cambridge, but I’d visit from time to time. I’d pop into the busy restaurant and he’d be slinging orders and he’d say “go on up, I’ll be up after nine”.

Wherever Larry lived, it was never expensive, and there was never any fancy furniture, but it always felt like “home”. Anytime you walked into one of his places, you were “home”. There was relaxation, there was beer or coffee, there would be fun and scholarly talk; his own little cafe on the Left Bank.

At some point, Debbie left. I urged him to try and get her back, but he said it was over. I didn’t hear any details until several years later, but hung out a little more at his place on Broad Street. He had managed to accumulate quite a little library of used and rare books, and occasionally he’d buy a garage-load at an estate sale and I’d help him move them into the apartment.

It wasn’t long after that that we ended up both doing the old Boston Flea Market. I was in a booth with my partner where we sold our jewelry, and Larry had a booth for his books. We all made a fortune every Sunday. It was way before the Faneuil Hall restoration, when the area became a high-priced tourist area. When we did the Boston Flea Market all the old buildings remained in their original state from the 1700s. It was a great place and there were plenty of tourists and shoppers. After the show, we’d pack up and go over to the North End for pizza.

I remember meeting him on Broad Street one very cold winter night with heavy snowfall and we went out and hit the bars. We were two pirates, hot with the ladies and drinking like there was no end. In one place I realized I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and I ran down to the men’s room, which was a little flooded with water shooting out of all the turned-on faucets. Uh oh.

I ran back upstairs and ran into a cursing manager. “What do you want?” he yelled. “I’m just looking for somebody”, I said. “You mean that guy I just threw in the snowbank who flooded the downstairs? Are you his friend?” “Uh, no, I’m an undercover cop and I’ve been trying to tail him all night. City Hall wants a word with him, if you know what I mean…”. “Hah, well your guys right out their in that snowdrift, drunk to the world. Have fun getting him downtown.”

I went out and picked up a giggling Larry, covered in snow (“I just didn’t want their pipes to freeze”) and we made it back to his apartment, where there ended up being a couple of sixpacks in the fridge and we talked all night about former girlfriends, “and where are they now, dammit!!”

“Well the preacher kept right on saying that all I had to do was send
Ten dollars to the church of the sacred bleeding heart of jesus
Located somewhere in los angeles, california
And next week theyd say my prayer on the radio
And all my dreams would come true
So I did, the next week, I got a prayer with a girl
Well, you know what kind of eyes she got”

When he opened the bookstore on Mass Ave, he lived there, and I was living in my company’s warehouse over in East Cambridge near Lechmere. We shared a membership at the YMCA for showers (cause there weren’t any in our businesses) and got together to drink beer in the evenings. It became a regular thing, and a good time. On 4th of July, he had some friends doing a rooftop party on Comm Ave. to watch Arthur Fiedler do the summer ritual with the 1812 Overture at the Esplanade on the Charles. There was some serious hard liquor there and I nearly fell off the building. Next day in the papers, there were a number of people who did just that. Summer was a great time of partying with Larry’s Moroccan buddy who owned a convenience store down the street and we were making lots of dough at the Boston Flea Market. But when winter came, the money dried up and it got real cold. They turned off the heat at our warehouse and my partner’s apartment, and in March we decided to move to Atlanta. She went down early, and Larry helped me load our machines in the truck and saw me off.

Over the next 25 years, he came down to visit a few times and sold books to stores along the way. He moved back to Ithaca and opened a couple of bookstores. By the nineties, he was starting to sell over some kind of book cooperative online that he accessed through a computer running DOS. He gave up the road trips selling books and I had a company website up that started to make a decent living for us in addition to our trade show circuit.

I didn’t see much of Larry physically, but we enjoyed a lot of crazy emails back and forth. He was “El Greco Bandini” and always moaned about a lost girlfriend named Althea. He was living on Slaterville Road by then and had his house converted to a giant library while he sold books online. During one of his trips south, he mentioned that he had awakened from a diabetic coma in an Ithaca hospital and now had to take insulin. I wasn’t drinking at all at that point and thought it a little strange that he’d drink a beer and then back it up with a shot of insulin, but he said he was fine.
We continued our emails, which always got pretty active around Christmas.

Last March he called me because a web search on his name had turned up this site and a couple of my stories which included him. He said he was looking to see if anyone owed him any royalties from his old band, but he hadn’t found much. He said the increased competition at his online bookstore had taken all the profit out. Competitors were selling books he paid $5 for for .50. He told me he had quit drinking entirely, but didn’t elaborate and I didn’t ask. After a lot of joking and laughing, he hung up.

In late ’07, as the Christmas season approached, I tried to contact him for our annual email festivities, but couldn’t remember his domain (lightlink? speedlink?). I ran a search on tuckerbk, his moniker, which usually brought up all his book listings. But this year it brought up something else:

“This”:http://broad-street.blogspot.com/2007/04/in-memoriam-lawrence-g-tucker-1950-2007.html and “this”:http://www.mckendreespring.com/site2.php and “this”:http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=18317774&BRD=1395&PAG=461&dept_id=546876&rfi=6

“So if youre down on your luck
I know you all sympathize
Find a girl with far away eyes
And if youre downright disgusted
And life aint worth a dime
Get a girl with far away eyes”

Larry Tucker
sometime in June, 1950
to March 28, 2007.

So long my brother.

(for those with no sense of music history, the passages in quotes are from the Rolling Stones, unless Gram Parsons actually wrote them.)

3 thoughts on “A Friend”

  1. I was going to say “great story,” but it’s a great series of stories, which I guess is as good a definition of friendship as any.

    My condolences. We can all only hope our obituary is as interesting as his.

  2. Thanks. I always thought of him as my best friend, and he was, but he had a lot of best friends, attested by the numbers who attended his send-off at the Nines. his friendly heart was one of his special gifts.

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