Fast forward almost 20 years. Billy -- what was he thinking?! -- bought two tickets to see James Taylor at the Wang Center. He couldn’t find anyone in the entire Boston Metropolitan area to go with him. My husband offered me up: “Mary used to like JT in high school.” The seats were excellent, way up front. It was not Sweet Baby James and his acoustic guitar appearing on stage, but a middle-aged incarnation, a tall bald man with three back-up singers and a large band. Billy started yelling out helpful song suggestions. This didn’t go over well with our surrounding seatmates. Matters grew progressively heated, Billy muttering, standing up, sitting down, heckling. Our neighbors begged him to be quiet, they had looked forward to the show for months, had saved up for expensive seats. Finally someone lost it: “Go back to the loonie bin you asshole!” I turned and explained, “Actually, Billy is out on a weekend release program from McLean’s Psychiatric Hospital.” Ironically, it was the same place James Taylor had sought his own sanity decades before.
Before Billy’s birthdays turned into rock shows, his family would come to Boston and we would all go out to a fancy restaurant, a very different Billy context. He had a beautiful preppie blond sister, who was charming, who was normal. His polished businessman father would leave after dessert, credit card number entrusted to the maitre d’. Mr. Ruane would explicitly direct us to continue having a good time. We learned a lot about after dinner drink options!
Nature vs. nurture? In Billy’s case he was damned either way. Extremely intelligent, sensitive (he once wrote me a five-page apology over some minor rudeness), and remarkably driven. Mental illness was also a part of his genetic profile. His nurturer, his mother, killed herself. When I heard Billy was dead, my first thought was “Suicide?” Official cause of death may be heart-related, but in truth, Billy killed himself slowly, abusing drugs and his body for forty years. I didn’t admire Billy, but I loved him and wanted to protect him. From other people and himself.
HILKEN MANCINI | SHEPHERDESS, GIRLS ROCK CAMP BOSTON, PUNK ROCK AEROBICS, FUZZY: Sometime around 1993 or 1994, Billy took me to see Tony Bennett at Harborlights. He really liked my band Fuzzy. We took a cab and we had to stop at the No Name Restaurant and get shrimp scampi and fried calamari. I was like, “Why are we buying all this food? Who’s going to eat all this food?” We get to the show and we’re sitting in the fifth row, these amazing seats, and he just starts handing out all this food to all these people sitting around us, and they looked totally horrified.
Years later, I was teaching Punk Rock Aerobics classes with Maura Johnston at the Middle East. And there was a hole in the gas tank of my Chevy Malibu station wagon, so we had to get rid of the car. And Billy showed up, on his scooter, at the store where I worked, and he said, “How come you’re not doing Punk Rock Aerobics classes? Joseph [Sater] told me you don’t have a car and you can’t afford to take a cab.” We couldn’t bike, because we had to bring these exercise mats and bricks to the classes. He said, “I’m going to have someone drop off a Jaguar at your house. Today.” Sure enough, these friends of his showed up, who I knew: Dana, who bartended at the Plough and Stars. And they said, “Yup, Billy told us to give you the Jaguar. He loaned it to us for a while, but you need it, so now it’s yours.”