One of the most overlooked aspects of Ruane's influence was in his support of fellow promoters: Helldorado Productions wound up involving some of the sharpest local minds — among them Tom Johnston (later Come's and Evan Dando's manager), Aliza Shapiro (now of Truth Serum Productions), and Joyce Linehan (now a First Night producer). Working with a variety of other presenters, including Carolyn Kelley and the Green Street Grill's John Clifford, he brought in cutting-edge jazz artists like Fred Hopkins, Oliver Lake, Butch Morris, and Sam Rivers.
"He offered to hire me a number of times, but it was a little easier to keep it unofficial," says Dennison, who later opened her own short-lived club, Lilli's, and now resides in Seattle. "Not everyone had the energy for his two-hour phone calls — I used to say that Billy taught me how to screen my calls. But really, his love of music was such a part of his character. I think of those mix tapes he used to hand out, where you'd find Abbey Lincoln and things you've never heard of mixed up with indie rock. I must have had hundreds of those. I'm going to remember his unbounding taste and eclecticity."
A more recent favorite was Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents. "After seeing us for the first time, Billy sent Ed [bassist/husband Ed Valauskas] and I a history of ['60s girl-group] the Toys, and then sent someone around to videotape our next show," says frontwoman Jennifer d'Angora. "He made people feel awesome."
A fierce love
At Ruane's wake on October 30, lines stretched around a Cambridge block at the Donovan-Aufiero Funeral Home. On the street corner, a New Orleans brass band led by the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble's Ken Field and Morphine's Dana Colley played. Inside, a crushed Chris Brokaw strummed his guitar for two and a half hours.
"He found value in the smallest and greatest of gestures," says Brokaw. "But I think he found the constriction of expression to be the greatest affront to humanity, and he fought that constriction without compromise. He often paid dearly for that stance; but he took his place in the world unblinkingly and without apology. That said — and despite his refusal to utter 'the L word' — he loved and was loved as fiercely as anyone I've ever known."
During a live tribute hour on WFNX radio's Boston Accents, local filmmaker Mike Gill told listeners he'd be preparing a video documentary on Ruane's life. If it's soundtracked, Varsity Drag's 2006 song "Billy Ruane" will certainly be featured. The lyrics now have new meaning: "But the place just ain't the same without Billy Ruane/'Cause he always knows your name, that Billy Ruane/And it's just a goddamn shame without Billy Ruane."
Next week, on November 17, a memorial birthday party will be held at his old stomping grounds, the Middle East. It has been reported that his ashes will be kept in an urn at the Central Square venue he put on the live-music map.
"I feel like the pied piper is gone now," Lord said this week. "Billy was the symbol of eternal adolescence, of rock and roll ruling over all. I feel like I've just aged 20 years."
READ:Remembering Billy Ruane. By Jon Garelick.
VIDEO:Lady Lamb the Beekeeper at T.T.'s, the night Billy Ruane died.