What music can be
One of the defining characteristics of Boston rock in its heyday was the intersection of punk and art, garage and oddball bands who fed off each other — something Ruane actively supported, and played a large role in developing. He provided the initial funding for Cambridge's art/rock Acme Theatr troupe, getting Morphine to headline a benefit show. As a music promoter, he staged a series of wildly eclectic nights, first at T.T. the Bear's Place, later at the Middle East and through the early '90s at Green Street Grill. (One such bill featured Lou Barlow and Elliott Smith, early in their respective solo careers — just another Monday night.) He fell in and out with venues and long-suffering collaborators, but the events always went on. Musician and former Phoenix associate arts editor Ted Drozdowski recalled Ruane as "a musical visionary who saw that a world of new and emerging creative possibilities was looking for a place to unfold. He was like Michael Dorf and Bob Appel with the early Knitting Factory."
The famous birthday party at T.T. the Bear's Place in 1987 made local history when the Middle East became a rock club to handle the overspill. (Typifying Ruane's zany curatorial streak, it paired performance artist Danny Mydlack with Hatfield's indie-pop Blake Babies.) More notable was an anniversary show five years later, when the Middle East opened its larger downstairs room, which became a beacon for national touring bands. "He's rocking Central Square like Elvis in his Caddies," punk legend Willie Alexander said of Ruane that night.
Ruane's personal style was a source of amazement for many. He was the fan who could get away with anything. Ex-Zulus guitarist Rich Gilbert, now based in Nashville, recalls an iconic moment at the Rat. "During the final exhilarating moments of our last song, Billy flew onto the stage, wrapped both arms around me, and jumped high into the air, bringing the both of us crashing down onto the stage as the last chord was struck. I was playing my green Gretsch Anniversary guitar and discovered soon after that it now had a large hole in the back. Billy offered to pay for the damages, but I never even took him up on it — it seemed such a perfect way to end the show."
New Yorker classical-music critic Alex Ross's undergraduate years at Harvard coincided with Ruane's decade-long stint both at Harvard Extension and the Widener Library, but he first met Ruane as part of the crowd at WHRB's Record Hospital indie-and-punk-rock show. Ruane would end up booking Ross's noise band of fellow Harvard alumni — Miss Teen Schnauzer — for their one and only gig, as openers for the John Davis Folk Implosion in December 1991.
"Our little band was surely among the least significant things that he brought about," says Ross. "But it was a sign of his taste that here's this bunch of crazy people who can't really play their instruments but they have this idea, let's give it a try, and let's combine it with the Folk Implosion. It was this sense of all his enthusiasms and his awareness of so many different things going on musically that could connect together into such a great ever-evolving vision of what music can be."