Neil Laurent is the owner of Bear Hollow Vintage Guitars in Grafton. He gives free weekly guitar lessons to students in the alternative school at Mascoma Valley Regional High School as a reward for making progress academically and behaviorally. The following is an edited transcript.
When you talk about kids, what’s your hope for them: that they don’t have kids by the time they’re 15 years old? No, that they’re productive. The kids are the ones who are the future decision makers.
How does that happen? It happens by us taking an interest in them and not just saying it’s the school’s fault, or it’s the parents’ fault. Isn’t it all of us?
What have you done to help your community? To help your neighbor? Do we live in this vacuum? Get off your duff and out of your comfort zone and do something where you’re helping. It’s not that I want a pat on the back. I’m doing something that feels right.
There’s a wealth of people that could go into the school environment and help nurture kids. We all have value in the community. These kids just need to find their place. Life is tough enough as it is. Without a high school diploma, it’s even tougher.
These are kids who are a little rough around the edges, but they’re talented. They can pick things up in seconds that other people struggle with. They may not all be rock stars, but they’re not hopeless. And there are a few who definitely have a heart for this.
I play all kinds of music. If somebody comes in and cranks out heavy metal, I’ll play along. I play rock, I play blues, I play bluegrass, it doesn’t matter. I have friends who only play ’80s rock ’n’ roll, and that’s good, but what about this new stuff? When I play with kids, I’ve got to stay on the cutting edge.
Starting out, most everybody wants to get right to the rock ’n’ roll, but it takes a little time and patience. That’s what I’m trying to show them; it’s going to take some work, like everything in life. There are some things you just have to do, like calculus or like practicing. It’s that experience of how you get through it that means something.
I was the black sheep of the family. I was a college party animal. Drugs, sex and rock ’n’ roll, I’ve been there done that, so I’m a good flag waver to say don’t do that for yourself. As you mature, you straighten out a little bit, and learn a few things.
I guess I’m trying to show them that you can’t just escape everything. But at the same time, you can’t always figure everything out on your own.