Billy Ruane — the Boston rock promoter who died suddenly, at age 52, five years ago this fall — was a whirlwind.
“His dancing was famous,” says Brian Coleman, a music promoter, author of books including “Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies,” and the guy hoping to erect a monument to Ruane’s honor in Cambridge’s Central Square. “His shirt was always unbuttoned. He usually had an overcoat on. He would just flail around like a crazy person. He was a force of nature. He was a comet. That doesn’t come around enough.
“He was a cheerleader. Every time you saw him, he’d ask, ‘Have you heard this new album? Have you heard this new band? Oh man, I’m going to buy you that album.’ ” Coleman recalls, “He was known for going to a show and if he liked the band — whether he booked the show himself or just happened upon the band and flipped out — he would literally buy the entire merch table and hand it out to his friends.”
Ruane was just that kind of guy. And it’s that infectious, generous spirit that Coleman says he hopes to remind people of with a statue or some sort of monument to Ruane in Central Square, near the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Brookline Street, the coordinates of Ruane’s beloved haunt, The Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub. (Coleman has begun selling Ruane T-shirts to begin to spread the word, he says. “All profits from the sale of the shirt will go towards a bigger project,” according to the website.)
Ruane studied at Cambridge School of Weston in the 1970s and at Harvard Extension School. But he found his calling at punk shows at the (now defunct) Rathskeller — aka the Rat — in Boston’s Kenmore Square in the ‘70s. He seemed to be at every concert. He went on to book shows at T.T. the Bear's Place, the Middle East, Green Street Grill, Walpole State Prison. Even when he wasn’t organizing concerts, he was super enthusiastic and determined to spread the word about cool things he found. He came from money (son of wealthy investment banker William J. Ruane), so spending wasn’t much of an issue. And he (often) had tons of energy and enthusiasm. (He was also bipolar, though, so sometimes this passion could unfortunately devolve into mania.) He cross-pollinated the scene. He made people feel that what they were doing was worthwhile.
“The group of us that are talking about doing this, we don’t want Billy to be forgotten,” Coleman says. He says he’s got support from a member of Ruane’s family as well as Joseph and Nabil Sater, the owners of the Middle East.
One story goes that the Middle East began hosting rock shows when it was called on to handle the overflow crowd for Ruane’s 30th birthday party next door at (the now closed) T.T. The Bear’s in 1987. “Billy’s ashes are on the wall at the Middle East” in an urn, Coleman notes. Well except for “part of them were sprayed on the crowd — in which is not the most hygienic thing — during a tribute concert that happened right after he passed.”
Which is to say if that if Billy Ruane’s spirit resides anywhere, it resides in Central Square.
“We want his memory to be an inspiration to other people,” Coleman says. “If you love something, if you are passionate, don’t just sit on the sidelines, do something about it.”