Tribute: Friends remember Billy Ruane

The heart of Boston rock
By PHOENIX STAFF  |  November 24, 2010

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Billy Ruane died on a Tuesday night. We called up his closest friend, Pat McGrath, and put up a blog post. By midnight, there were already floods of memories being left in the comments section. We stopped counting after the number hit 200 or so. And unlike most commenters, these folks used their real names — even Juliana Hatfield’s mom. At the wake, on Saturday, we decided to put as many of these memories as we could — from Facebook, blogs, the comments, phone calls, interviews, e-mails — in one place. Some are below. A long and essential conversation with McGrath, delving into Billy’s darker side, plus recollections from another dozen or so friends, can be found at thePhoenix.com/billyruane — a permanent online memorial where you can leave your own Ruane stories. On November 17, the Middle East and T.T. the Bear’s Place will hold Billy’s annual birthday bash; he would have been 53 on November 10.

BONNY MUSINSKY: Billy was a teenager when I first met him. I was his teacher and adviser at the Cambridge School of Weston. He enrolled in my German class when he was in 10th grade. I couldn’t believe how brilliant he was. We had incredible conversations. Billy was turned on by ideas, music, literature, and life. He appeared in class dressed in his classic outfit (unusual for a school without a dress code): jacket, tie, and button-down shirt, all of them rumpled and hanging loose, even the trousers, before that was a teen fashion. His intellect was that of a tenured professor. But he came across as a troubled, vulnerable, and lovable boy. He struggled to keep his misery at bay, and certainly lived a full life. I am so glad to learn of Billy’s success in the world of music. We talked on the phone every year or so, but he was modest about his achievements. I only knew that he was “trying to help out some musicians.” I am so glad to have known him and shall miss him enormously.

GERARD COSLOY | MATADOR RECORDS: I first encountered Billy Ruane at a Stains show at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church when I was 17 years old; Billy was eight years older. We weren’t formally introduced — he was wearing a suit that seemed to be falling off his person, piece by piece, while delivering flying karate kicks to the back of the heads of other dancers. Billy was politely asked to chill out by the event organizers, then asked again in a less polite manner. I saw him again a few weeks later at a Gang of Four show in NYC — I had nowhere to crash that night and Billy assured me his father was a member of the Harvard Club and we’d find some shelter in that opulent setting. No dice. Apparently, there was a picture of Billy next to the front desk with instructions saying something to the effect of “Do not let this man in.”

A somewhat inauspicious start to our friendship, but one that said a lot about Billy’s ability to make a strong impression. Perhaps the musical superfan of all time. The man who got thrown out of more shows (including, perhaps, a few he promoted) than anyone else. Boston musicians (and more than a few from other places) had no better friend.

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