Cam Ackland of Prime Movers was a freshman at the Cambridge School when Ruane — a senior, and part of the glam and art-rock cliques — caught his eye. "I was just getting aware of his presence around the school when he graduated," says Ackland. "And I started thinking, 'There's just something spiritual about that guy.' The yearbook picture of Billy showed him in an alley in Boston, just splayed out on the ground, with empty bottles all around. And next to that was a Hunter S. Thompson quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."
Ackland would reconnect with Ruane on New Year's Eve, 1980. "It was a punk-rock show — I remember Boys Life played in their Boy Scout uniforms, and La Peste," Ackland says. "The crowd was pretty wild. And into this crowd jumps Billy, just dancing like he always did. And I thought, 'Wow, there's the guy with the Hunter Thompson quote.' It just confirmed that this scene was where I really wanted to be."
Peter Wolf first met Billy when Ruane was in his late teens. "He and I always dealt in the more academic side," Wolf recalls. "He'd come over and have tea and he and I would read poems, and of course listen to music. He always wanted to share things, things that he felt needed exposure. He was a great transmitter."
Lilli Dennison was a fellow mover and shaker in Boston's '80s and '90s club scene, the manager of the Del Fuegos, the Neats, and Scruffy the Cat, and an early collaborator of Ruane's when he began booking shows. "I moved to Boston in the summer of 1979, and Billy was so ubiquitous that I don't remember meeting him. He was at the Underground and the Rat, all the loft parties — definitely a fixture by the time I showed up." Dennison first worked with Ruane in 1984 when, inspired by a video of the Cramps playing a gig in a mental institution, Ruane decided to book rock bands at Walpole State Prison. Since the Del Fuegos loved Johnny Cash, who'd played Folsom and San Quentin, they seemed a perfect fit for Walpole. "Billy had already done shows at a couple of women's prisons, which were medium-security places, but Walpole was different. We thought it was pretty scary."
Not Ruane. He would frequently return to the prisons, and in 1988 took the Lemonheads and the Blake Babies back to Walpole. "I was wearing jeans and I had to buy pants, because that was the uniform," Evan Dando said Monday night at Great Scott, a few hours before he and Juliana Hatfield would cover the Real Kids's punk classic "Common at Noon" and dedicate it to Ruane.
"He was kinda eccentric, but if you knew him, he was just Billy," says Hatfield. "He was such an original, no one was like him, no one is like him, and no one will ever be like him. It was imperative to him to spread things around, to share the beautiful things."
Singer-songwriter Mary Lou Lord met Ruane when her first band, the Buckets, opened for Ed's Redeeming Qualities at the Rat in 1990. She wound up living for a year in a condo Ruane owned. "The only payback was that I had to alphabetize his record collection," she says. "I think I got to the C's before I gave up."