“Legendary patron” doesn’t even begin to cover it — from Hindenburg-style DIY hardcore gigs (Billy was perhaps the only person in history who thought it was a good idea to offer the Clitboys a triple-digit guarantee) to laying the groundwork for Central Square’s commercial revival, no American rock-history book would be complete with a chapter or three dedicated to Billy’s exploits.
In a rock world filled with avarice, Billy’s ridiculous generosity, his boundless enthusiasm for shit-you-needed-to-hear would’ve been inspiring enough if he was just a nutty character that turned up at every gig. But he was much more than that. Even in a world that was awfully quick to slam doors in his face (I once witnessed Billy getting fired from a kitchen job because his boss lost all patience with Ruane lobbying to have the Neats play the restaurant’s employee booze cruise — Billy had been working there for all of two days), Billy was awesome at making stuff happen, usually with little to show for it besides a hug. It would be nearly enough to say there’s a long list of bands, known and otherwise, that received their first Boston show because Billy gave them a chance. But he was no mere club booker — Billy’s approach to putting a show together (something he got a lot better at in the years following that Clitboys incident) wasn’t entirely divorced from how he’d make a mix tape. There was no bigger believer in the power of art to transform and inspire, and no one in my lifetime gave as much of himself to make a rather chaotic scene feel like family.
Suffice to say there’s people all over the world — and not just old fuckers like me — who are mourning the loss of a buddy, a drinking partner, a role model (seriously), a fountain of ideas (a handful of ’em genuinely realistic!), and a guy who, even at his most exasperating, was always the funniest person in the room. It would be a huge understatement to say I am very, very lucky to have known Billy Ruane. But even those who didn’t know him benefit from a cultural environment he helped create.
This post originally appeared on Cosloy's blog, cantstopthebleeding.com.
STEVE ALBINI | ELECTRICAL AUDIO, SHELLAC, BIG BLACK, FLOUR: The first tour for both Flour and Jesus Lizard developed the undertitle “When the Promoter Takes a Bath” because every single promoter concluded the evening by handing us slightly less money than expected and apologizing that it didn’t work out like he had hoped. Every promoter except Billy Ruane. He concluded the sold-out night by giving the bands considerably more than expected, tipping the bar staff, and finishing with a karate kick, a pirouette, and, “It’s a great town, what can I say?”
Some people hear music, some listen to it, some work on it, and a rare few like Billy Ruane experience it as the ecstatic expression of life itself. Billy Ruane was the single greatest music catalyst I’ve ever encountered. He transcended the definitions of “fan” and “promoter” to become a kind of living embodiment of the transforming experience of music, and he made a deep impression on everybody who ever met him.