Billy Ruane

Billy Ruane

Billy Ruane was many things. During the mid and late ’80’s through much of the ’90’s, his larger than life personality was a major force in moving the nucleus of the local music scene from Boston to Cambridge; specifically Central Square but also Harvard, Porter and Inman Squares where he promoted shows and was a major scene fixture. Single handedly, he shaped the scene. Billy was an unforgettable figure; a real cartoon character. He danced like a wild man in a sports jacket and tie and untucked shirt: always with a drink in hand and amazingly never spilling a drop; as he spastically gyrated alone in front of his favorite bands. Ruane would see you walk into a club and run over to give you a huge hug and a big, sloppy, wet kiss. Billy booked Indie bands you had never heard of into local venues then buy up all the tickets and give them out free to his friends so they could show up without paying. He would attend performances and buy all the group’s merchandise and then hand the CD’s and tee shirts out to everyone in attendance. Born November 10, 1957 to a very wealthy investment banker and philanthropist, William J. Ruane, Billy suffered from bipolar disorder and he died at his computer, only 52 years old, in October, 2010; of a fatal heart attack.

In 1987, he threw himself a birthday party at T.T. The Bear’s in Cambridge and when the event outgrew the small club, Ruane went and asked Joseph and Nabil Sater, owners of The Middle East restaurant next door, to take in the overflow and let a band play. The tide started turning as Central Square grew to have many new clubs open up quickly to accommodate the larger, younger patrons with money to spend and the growing demand for live music. Not much later, Billy took me to the Middle East restaurant turned nightclub and introduced me to the owners, the Lebanese Sater brothers, so that I could start giving them press in my gossip column in The Beat Magazine. Ruane was also with me a few months later when they told us they were disappointed that discovering an unknown spring of water under their basement had pushed back construction and delayed their grand opening of the new stage and performance center by two weeks. I quickly ad-libbed that maybe they should ‘bottle the water in small plastic containers and sell it as ‘Holy Water from The Middle East’ every night at the gigs. This comment appealed to our shared strange sense of humor: Billy and I howled as the brothers glumly shook their heads and explained ‘someone would drink it and then sue us;’ which only made us laugh even harder. Peter Wolf once said of him: ‘There’s a thousand stories about Billy. He was a great ambassador for music in Boston.’ Loony Tunes record store owner Pat McGrath was hired from Mr. Ruane’s Trust to look after him for the last eight years of his life; and Billy was hospitalized in October, a few weeks before he died, for heart trouble but checked himself out that same day; against his doctor’s orders. He is survived by his brother Thomas and sisters Elizabeth and Paige who all attended the recent naming and dedication of Billy Ruane Square on the corner of Brookline and Green Streets; right in front of T.T. The Bear’s, now Sonia’s. Put up eight years after his death, this brand new square’s sign is one block away from Morphine‘s Mark Sandman Square; and was raised December 1, 2018. To make this honor a reality, 3300 signatures, 500 online and 2800 physical, were collected to present to the Cambridge politicians. Billy’s ashes are in a jar behind the bar on a shelf at The Middle East upstairs as a front and center reminder of the constant contributions and superlative support this generous, energetic enthusiast of new artists and his magnanimous, inspired and animated life really made.

(A.J. Wachtel)

Published On: January 2, 2019

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