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Raleigh bad boy no more

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The synchronicity is unmistakable. Last week, the new Raleigh was launched, and a legendarily irreverent and obscene slice of the old one, Bobby Hocutt, checked out.

Bobby Hocutt was a name scrawled on my secondhand copy of the obscure and brilliant LP The United States of America.

When we met, I mentioned the record. Hocutt grinned like a mule eating briars.

"Now tying you is dandy, and whipping you is grand/ but listen to me, baby, and try to understand," he sang.

This scraggly-ass field hippie knew the lyrics, the producers, the musicians, everything about that record or any other you could name. This oddly brilliant, irascible, obscene, darkly hilarious iconoclast and foul-mouthed savior of abandoned kittens had knowledge of pop music that verged on genius, from Aerosmith to Zappa.

A pure slice of Raleigh old-school demographics, the Hocutt family arrived from Johnston County. As a young man, Bobby promptly kicked his way out of the barn and never looked back, a core element of the original Raleigh '60s rebellion against the staid conventionality that has always been part of the milieu of this odd cloistered town.

Fresh on the heels of passage of the most sensible marijuana law in the nation, a horrified North Carolina legislature retaliated, passing restrictions on paraphernalia. The weed was a ticket, the pipe, a trip to prison. Hocutt, who'd managed the old Joint on Hillsborough Street, a head shop, did six months in a very different sort of joint. He was made an example of in the press, subjected to public scorn. His crime? Selling a pack of rolling papers to an undercover agent.

Tragedy followed Bobby like a puppy. A Vietnam veteran, he never stopped grieving for his mother, killed on the Beltline, or for his wife, whom he found slumped over a desk, a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Those factors would be enough to embitter anyone.

And he'd been rough on himself. Decades of smoking and a great zest for drinking and substances exacted their price. In the end, his body failed him. It took decades, but finally, his container just gave out on July 23. He was 55.

If you were one who liked Bobby, sometimes you didn't know why, but you did. He gave you no choice. He could be a difficult person to love, mercurial, capable of grudges that stretched for decades, born of very little.

There are no lessons in Bobby's life, no great truths. He was a misfit in a world with diminished habitat for misfits. For a person so hard to love, he was loved immensely. That may be the lesson. That becomes the responsibility: to love the unlovable.

Bobby was a tragic figure and deserved compassion for what had been his life, even if he was typically drunk and belligerent. Not all of it was happenstance, seeing the stretch of self-a busive furrow that he had plowed on his own, but that changes nothing. In these savage, late days, love may be the only thing that sustains us.

Hocutt, get on your bad motor scooter and ride.

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