The most enthusiastic music fan I’ve ever seen, let alone met and known. It may be tempting to wish and hope that Billy is finally at peace, but I prefer to think of Billy being the same and yet perfectly suited to his environment instead of being out of place.
TED WIDMER | THE UPPER CRUST, THE CLINTON WHITE HOUSE (NOT A BAND): So many people wrote in to Facebook and the Phoenix and other sites about Billy that it became something larger than life. As indeed was appropriate, given the circumstances. It was a Moment. If only Billy had known how many lives he touched in his manic but deeply caring way. If you placed all of us end to end, well, it would from a human chain stretching from the Rathskeller to the Middle East — the actual Middle East.
Many themes were repeated (the sweaty kiss, the rakishly unbuttoned shirt), but there were also unexpected surprises that had the effect of welcoming back an old friend, rather than sending him off. I was touched to be reminded of a fact that I had forgotten, that I once gave Billy a pair of Sammy Davis Jr.’s pants. I had been given them by Rudy Cheeks, of the Young Adults, a brilliant and outrageous 1970s Providence band. But they were unwearable because no one above the age of eight can fit into Sammy’s pants. So at some point I gave them to Billy, which seemed appropriate, and I’m so glad that they meant something to him.
Now that we’re all ancient, it’s hard to know which memories are real and which fabricated. I thought I had given Sammy’s pants to Willie Alexander — maybe I even did. Maybe there were two pants, which, stitched together, might almost have been normal size. Back then, the friendships were so spontaneous and genuine that it didn’t matter who wore the pants. Or, in this case, if none of us did. Billy’s friendship was the real thing, and he gave a whole lot more than he took from this world.
MARY RHINELANDER: We met in the late ’70s. Attending an event with Billy was different from running into him at a show. Companionship came with a sense of responsibility for his safety.
Nineteen seventy-nine. The Ventures were cool. We went to see them in the dead of winter at Jonathan Swift’s in Cambridge. Some very large frat boys thought the Ventures were cool too, and came sporting sunglasses, bathing trunks, and Styrofoam surfboards. What a bunch of dicks. By the end of the night Billy had snapped the sunglasses in two and broken the surfboards over their heads. Surfer dudes were not amused and when we left they followed us out, ready to kick some Billy butt. My girlfriends and I managed to talk them down and we all escaped into the cold cold night, unscathed.
Shortly thereafter Billy and I went to a matinee of The Gong Show Movie in Boston. It was empty in the theatre until one ticket-buying kid opened up the theatre’s emergency exit door and let in ten other teens. They sat way up front. The movie began. Billy was shrieking and cackling his amusement. I felt a breeze blow by my face and heard glass smash. Maybe a light bulb had fallen from the ceiling? It happened again. The juvenile delinquents were throwing bottles at us! We sensibly fled.