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Local woman's book about famous nightclub a labor of love, by Steve Gilbert

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A keepsake

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

Laura Bloch Bourque is seen with the carved redwood sign that hung over the door at the Wetlands Preserve nightclub in N.Y. City. The club was the inspiration for a book she wrote, which reads like a psychedelic encyclopedia.

The book, frankly, is the extension of an enduring love story that neither divorce nor death can breach. Laura Bloch Bourque, “the dream companion,” is approaching 60 now, time pushing the psychedelic heyday of the Wetlands Preserve nightclub ever more into the past.

The book had to be.

She buried herself in the project — their project — for up to 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, for almost two years, inside her Peterborough home.

She diligently sifted through the club’s signature monthly newsletter calendars, many of which she had hand-crafted two decades ago, each day heralding that night’s lineup of bands.

Blues Traveler, the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, Phish, Hootie and the Blowfish, they all played the Wetlands. So did hundreds of anonymous “jam bands,” musicians testing their creative boundaries as dawn overtook the night near the mouth of the Holland Tunnel.

She collected hundreds of essays written with and by her founder-owner husband, notes to the staff, thousands of photos, reviews by top New York City arts critics, the eventual transition to a new owner and, of course, tributes to their beloved Grateful Dead.

And then Laura, a graphic artist by trade, loosely arranged them in a book — their book — the calendars anchoring its 1989 to 2001 timeline in lieu of page numbers, every nook and cranny filled with Wetlands Preserve mementos. She titled it “Wetlands NYC History: A Visual Encore.”

It’s shaped like a coffee-table book and reads like a psychedelic encyclopedia, its letters small and tight, not a smidgen of white space wasted. The cover's artisanship alone offers infinite detail, corner to corner, each element to be investigated. The original wooden Wetlands sign pictured on the cover is actually in her home.

“It’s not a reader book; it’s a look book,” Laura said over lunch at the Peterborough Diner last week. “Pick a page, any page, and it should have something interesting on it.”

The Wetlands Preserve was one of the hippest, hottest nightclubs in New York City in the 1990s.

It was the brainchild of the late Larry Bloch and his wife, Laura, whom he called his dream companion, she said.

It was unique, a club devoted to mostly live music and Earth-conscious activism, where protection of the environment shared top billing with the music. It was oddly shaped, two stories high, and was renowned for its “eco-saloon” sessions in the downstairs inner sanctum (some old couches and chairs), discussions that centered on the environment.

The entrance featured a 1966 VW bus where club keepsakes were sold; today, the bus itself is a keepsake on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The bus was originally found rotting in a field in Concord, and given a psychedelic paint job. Wetlands patrons plastered it with peace signs and 1960s stuff; bands added their stamps as well.

Remember, though, this story is about enduring love.

Laura and Larry Bloch married in 1985, had a son, divorced in ’95, and never stopped being friends.

A 97-minute documentary released in 2008, “Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Nightclub,” touches on their relationship, but Bloch Bourque wasn’t enamored with the producers’ attempts to portray friction between them where none existed.

She says Larry “will always be the love of my life” and it’s not predicated merely on the romanticism of marriage.

Both wound up remarrying — Laura is since divorced from her second husband, Steve Bourque, and today she carries both of her former husbands' last names. True love evolves into many forms, such as carrying out a book idea conceived by a former husband.

Larry died at age 59 in October 2012 of pancreatic cancer. He had moved to Brattleboro in 1996 after selling the Wetlands Preserve to Peter Shapiro, later of Brooklyn Bowl fame. He was following Laura to be closer to their son, as she had bought 12 acres on the outskirts of Peterborough in 1994.

In Brattleboro, he became one of the city’s leading eco-activists. He opened a store on Main Street named Save the Corporations From Themselves.

“Most people looked at his awning and said, ‘What the hell is that?’ ” Laura said, laughing.

A vignette: In 2005, a 50-to-1 longshot named Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby. Seven people around the world hit the superfecta, which involves picking the top four horses in order. It paid a record $864,253 on a $1 bet. Six winners came forward publicly. One did not — Larry Bloch.

According to Laura, he gave all his winnings away to charities and friends in need, from helping a local business avoid foreclosure to launching Brattleboro Community Radio. He kept his payout quiet for a year, until Laura interviewed him for a story in HorsePlayer Magazine in 2006. By then, Laura had added a journalism degree from Keene State College to her resume. He was trying to help her career.

One of her favorite quotes from Larry is highlighted in that story. He said: “I’ve always had the belief that money is the least efficient form of energy and converting money into energetic projects can make the world a better place.”

LOVE ON THE WEST COAST

Laura and Larry first met in Santa Monica, Calif., where he owned a printing shop and she worked for him. Laura  grew up in Easton, Mass., and earned a graphics design degree from Greenfield (Mass.) Community College before moving to California in 1979. She and Bloch, a Deadhead hippie with flowing locks who refused to fly in airplanes, fell in love.

They lived in Spencer, Mass., for a few years and Larry, a New York City native, hit upon a plan. “He decided we were going to open a nightclub (geared to) music and activism,” Laura says. “We never even went to nightclubs. … We started to traipse around New York and look for a place.”

They found it in the rundown Tribeca section, at 161 Hudson St., near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, where rents were relatively low. They had hoped to open in the fall of 1988, but didn’t get going until February of ’89. Laura says they really didn’t know what they were doing, beyond Larry's vision.

“Honestly, most people said (we would) last two months. That’s what we were given. It’s a miracle we made it past the first year,” she said. “And then there were the critics who said we wouldn’t survive because we didn’t cater to (the beautiful) people.”

Translated, no favors were doled out at the Wetlands: Everyone stood in the same lines, front door to the bar, regardless of economic or political rank.

Word soon spread about the new club with the Earth-conscious attitude, sizzling music and VW bus in the entrance, where tie-dyed shirts and anti-war bumper stickers were for sale. Publications in the city’s vibrant arts scene raved about its hippie throwback themes and even New York Times’ critics were regular visitors.

“There was a lot of psychedelic tribute stuff,” Laura said. “I mean, basically, we did a lot of bringing back the ’60s and ’70s generation.”

The book highlights the club’s halcyon years, particularly 1989 to 1995, before their marriage ended and Larry sold the club to Shapiro. Laura says their divorce had nothing to do with the club itself, and their relationship remained amiable until his death.

Shapiro kept it open another three years before it succumbed to gentrification, the building’s owner choosing to convert it into condominiums. One of the tenants today is Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” fame. The club was supposed to close in the fall of 2001, but never reopened after the World Trade Center bombings of Sept. 11.

They had kicked around writing a book for some time, and even put together a proposal in 2003 that went nowhere. Their resolve intensified after Larry was diagnosed with cancer in March 2012. They spent many days together in his last months going through the volumes of artifacts from the club. They decided the book should be interactive and fun.

Laura had been posting the old Wetlands calendars on her Facebook page, and that contributed to the idea of using them as a centerpiece. “Every time I posted one people would go wild,” she said.

She dedicates the book to Larry and his father, Ephraim Franklin Bloch, because he was Larry’s intended dedication.

“Larry wanted any book about Wetlands to be dedicated to his Dad, ‘Who invested in my dream, against his better judgment,” she writes in its opening pages.

About Larry, she writes, “This book is lovingly dedicated to the original dreamer of the force that became Wetlands Preserve.”

"— with admiration from his dream companion.”

This is a love story, after all.

Steve Gilbert is a columnist for The Sentinel.

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