In the end, Billy didn’t end up being able to book David, probably because of scheduling issues (it wasn’t because of money: Billy was destined to take a bath on all of these shows and we all knew it, and that was of no concern to him whatsoever). Billy felt so guilty that he had mentioned the show to David and spent so much time on the phone with him that he sent him a check, I think for upwards of $500, maybe more. Can you imagine another club booker sending someone a check for just talking about potentially booking someone?
My guess is that in Billy’s mind, he did this because every minute David spent on the phone with him was a minute that David could have been creating more beautiful music, and Billy had robbed the world of this.
FRANCIS DIMENNO | THE NOISE: Billy hung around with and was well-known to Harvard undergrads, which is how I first met him and got to know him. He appeared in a play I adapted, a dramatic version of Gunslinger, put on at the Loeb Experimental Theatre in the spring of 1978. (He was quite a good actor.) He also enrolled in the Harvard extension school. One time, I recall, he was assigned a 20-page paper on Emerson. He wrote 200 pages, with no end in sight, and if he handed it in at all, it was months late.
I was at a party given by his father for his 21st birthday, in a high-end Chinese restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue. Presumably the date was on or around November 10, 1978. Billy was relatively restrained; his friends all got exceedingly, hilariously drunk. Billy’s father came up from New York City to preside over the gathering and toward the end he read a poem — a bit of doggerel in which he pointed out how much his son loved to collect records and do all the other Billy Ruane sort of stuff that his father apparently found incomprehensible. I would characterize his attitude toward Billy as ruefully baffled exasperated pride. I do not believe at that time that Billy had been diagnosed as bipolar. The ’70s were, after all, a crazy time, and Cambridge was full of eccentric characters.
Some friends of mine — Gus Murphy Moynihan and Nick Eberstadt in particular — said Billy changed after his mother committed suicide; at least one person I spoke to, Dave McMahon, said that, actually, he didn’t. He said that even in 10th grade Billy was always interested in esoteric jazz; always compulsively taking Vivarin; always talking a mile a minute.
Francis DiMenno is working on a memoir of Billy Ruane to be published in the December issue of The Noise.
PATRICK MCGRATH | LOONEY TOONS RECORDS: I was playing at the Rat. I had this band the Condo Pygmies. And I loved it when Billy would show up, because it was almost like a stamp of approval. I had been friends with him for ages then, but Billy was very democratic: he wouldn’t just come to his friend’s shows. He’d go wherever he genuinely wanted to be, and if he showed up he really wanted to be there and if he was into it he’d reaaaally be into it. So he jumped on stage and to show his enthusiasm he bit me so hard, through the pants, broke the skin with those nasty little teeth of his, and — I wasn’t gonna hit him or anything, but a reasonable person might expect they were gonna get hit if they did that. And so he spent the entire rest of our set dancing with my mother, who was there, so that he wouldn’t get walloped. I just found that so charming.