Copyright 2018 Francis DiMenno




They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

–Robert Frost

“No wonder [the French] think we’re all crazy, We are crazy to them. We’re just a pack of children. Senile idiots. What we call life is a five-and-ten-cent store romance. That enthusiasm underneath – what is it? That cheap optimism which turns the stomach of any ordinary European? It’s illusion. No, illusion’s too good a word for it. Illusion means something. No, it’s not that – it’s delusion.”—Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

“The world is my country, and to do good my religion.”–Thomas Paine

Billy Ruane. Born November 10, 1957, died October 26, 2010.

10-5-89 notebook. Excerpt from a fiction written 6-14-1990:

I remember Billy best from when in years past I would hop on back of his orange scooter and go with him to bare lofts in factory districts hard by half-razed tenements to see punk bands so raw and loud no regular club in town would have them. At one such show, Billy, mouth flecked with beer foam and calamari, wild-eyed and whiskey-faced, leapt in front of the band as out groaned harsh, flat discords. I stand by in wonder as he throws off his filthy tweed jacket and rolls on the floor, howling as if in pain, which I only now suspect might have been less theatrical than real.

In 1979, after college, we both remained in Cambridge as carpetbaggers, malingering in the margins of the workforce. I took a variety of phone survey jobs to pay the rent on my slum flat and he lived in an apartment subsidized by his father. He worked desultorily but was mostly idle by day and spent his evenings searching for the mostly bizarre and now forgotten punk ensembles in now-long-defunct venues where now the stage stands bare and mute. Billy, hyper, unable to stand still or on two feet for very long, because he was well known to that underground scene, was eventually able to parlay the connections made over the years in dripping-damp basements and filthy fifth-floor loft spaces into a booking business.

I don’t know what his father thought about all this. I remember him as a beefy but enigmatic businessman with a bulbous port-wine nose, steel-gray hair, and a hearty but somewhat sarcastic spirit of camaraderie. I knew him when, and that is how I came to work with him at the Middle East Café, which attracted students and music fans, but which was also where every eccentric and shiftless vagabond from years past, and a few more he met along the way, congregated every week.

Nita Sembrowich: Billy’s mental illness, for want of a better term, made him seem slightly inhuman, even supernatural. Billy the person suffered within and was consumed by his own persona and mystique, which fascinated the rest of us, as did his outrageous antics. It was easy to see him as a fire-spirit, an ‘elemental’… Peter Pan or Ziggy Stardust. Possessed by a divine or demonic energy, he became Dionysus, or a minor avatar of Shiva, dancing death, chaos, destruction, and creation. Now, looking back, I also think of him as a sort of Mad Maestro orchestrating the scenes of my youth. Because he tended to evoke these undying archetypes, Billy’s death seems particularly poignant and shocking. The masks he borrowed are ripped away. He was mortal after all.

“He was mortal after all.” So. Why should the ostensible story of Billy Ruane, a small-time nightclub impresario, interest us at all? Well, if that’s the way you feel, I don’t mind, to quote the American philosopher Todd Rundgren.

But small-time nightclub impresario is not the sum of Billy’s accomplishments. You should know that. But maybe you don’t. In my opinion, the full story has yet to be told. Billy Ruane: Local character, busy bee, wild shaman, mad actor, or something less (or more)? Read on. I’ll leave it for you to decide.

We often remember Billy in his role as conduit, catalyst, fixer, broker. King of the Bohemians. Patron of the arts, and eccentric dispenser (and sometimes defaulter) of all the money that goes along with such patronage. And also as a heedless, headlong, sometimes almost inadvertent manipulator of the politicking which goes along with the local arts scene.

Billy’s notoriety, already considerable by the late 1980s, grew out of his 1988 association with the Middle East Café and the Sater Brothers, Joseph and Nabil, and their extended family; refugees from war-torn Beirut, and devotees of the artsy Hamra neighborhood. Many today who claim to have known Billy probably knew him best from his role in fomenting that whole Middle East Café scene.

Those who knew him, and many who didn’t, talk of Billy as being eccentric, the proverbial loose cannon, Captain Id, a wild man. We tell each other that Billy was one of those people who were always “on.” (Not so.) There is no lack of stories about “Wild Bill.” (I myself have more than a few.)

Some might have seen Billy as cartoon character. Or as a literary archetype: The Monkey King: Or as a living embodiment not of string theory but of The Yo Yo theory. As a walking, bleating demonstration of Blake’s dictum that “Energy is eternal delight.”

Chris Rich: Billy was enthusiasm and saw getting carried away as an important job.

I myself have tried, many times, to see him whole. Now that he is gone, I feel that one of the central tragedies of Billy’s life was that he was known of by nearly all, loved by many, but that he also gave the impression of being a lonely soul who didn’t really feel very close to anyone; at least, not for very long. Someone as incorrigibly cynical as his old boarding school friend Nick Eberstadt once observed, back in 1978, that Billy was “the closest thing to a truly good person that I ever met.”

If only there wasn’t that stupid money, that stupid stupid money, I am tempted to say. He might still be with us today. But Billy didn’t really care about money itself, but for its transformative effect. No more than a wizard cares about his book of spells; only for what magic its knowledge and its application can effect.

Out-of-towners, some of them, surely thought he was some sport of humanity, some sort of combination of ardent music fan and local character. (I typed the words music fan local character into Google and Billy’s name was the fourth one that came up.) Or perhaps they saw him as some local exhibitionist such as Pittsburgh’s Anna Buckalew (aka Ringside Rosie), or John 3:16, the “Rainbow Man”. Or even as some viral media phenomenon-slash curmudgeon along the lines of Epic Beard Man or Rufus the Stunt Bum. I don’t mind saying that this whole perception vs. reality thing in regards to Billy Ruane really has me bugged. On the one hand, who cares about the opinions of the ignorant and the uninformed? After all, you know what they say about opinions, don’t you? “Opinions are like hemorrhoids. Every asshole has one.” And yet, in the days following October 26, 2010, it seems that every John, Dick and Harriet weighed in, somewhat too often with some inane platitude or self-serving fable about the wonderfulness of Saint William. It is natural to follow the edict de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est. And I don’t want to come off as some sort of latter-day Holden Caulfield, inveighing against the phonies. But let’s be brutally frank. A great many of these people who now wax poetic on the death of young Mr. Ruane would not have given him the sweat off their ass when he was still alive.

On the other hand, consider all the out-of-towners, the cynics, the skeptics, the nay-sayers—what if they have to say about Billy Ruane is actually the more accurate perception? What if they find baffling and inexplicable this sudden outpouring and affection for a rare but occasionally ominous fellow who was nearly always both generous and hail-fellow-well met, but also vaguely frightening? What if they’re right? Oh, they’re most certainly not right. But what if Billy had not been instrumental, after Sue Miller had tested the waters, in founding the Middle East Café as a music venue along with Skeggie Kendall and Joe Harvard—and, later, with Jennifer Cares and Mike Higgins and Eric Doberman né Motte and Chris Rich and (modesty be damned) myself? Then perhaps his death would be little noted and not long remembered.

With Billy’s death we also tragically lost a great deal of music history and historical knowledge.

Dan Spockster: …Billy would trace each band’s lineup to all of the previous bands the players had been in with a kind of curatorial mania. He was the genealogist of Boston rock. An incredible store of knowledge in that man’s head.

Perhaps one of the reasons so many otherwise stable people liked him, approved of him, even loved him, is that they lived vicariously through him. As H. L. Mencken put it, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”

Billy was like the hobby of yarn bombing. Call it Billy Bombing. He added color to an ugly town. He made a statement virtually every day on earth.

Come as you are. For Billy, it wasn’t an invitation. It was a mantra.

If you wanted to be cynical about it then you could say that in some respects, Billy’s whole adult life was like a stand-up act with no jokes. More specifically, it was a movie about a guy whose whole shtick was this character he played called “Billy Ruane” and this guy, who was always on, soon discovered that he had no real personality outside of his act. Call it “Mr. Wednesday Night,” because Billy Crystal will not play the lead in any Hollywood version, and, no, there was no devoted younger brother who was there to manage his affairs.

Why do I say that Billy’s was a stand-up act? Because I am very much struck by something Gershon Legman once said which seems frighteningly descriptive:

“Under the mask of humor, our society allows infinite aggressions, by everyone and against everyone. In the culminating laugh by the listener or observer–whose position is
really that of the victim or butt–the teller of the joke betrays his hidden hostility and signals his victory by being, theoretically at least, the one person present who does not laugh. Compulsive storytellers and joke-tellers express almost openly the hostile components of their need, by forcing their jokes upon frankly unwilling audiences among their friends and loved ones, and upon every new person they meet. Often they proffer this openly as their only social grace. The listener’s expected laughter is, therefore, in a most important but unspoken way, a shriving of the teller, a reassurance that he has not been caught, that the listener has partaken with him, willy-nilly, in the hostility or sexuality of the joke, or has even acceded in being its victim or butt….This is particularly clear in the type of rambling or pointless anecdote, nowadays known as the…’shaggy dog’ story….in [which] the avowed butt of the joke is simply the person who has been tricked into listening.” (RATIONALE, 1st Series, first page.)

There were certain affinities to Billy’s act and that of a stand-up comic reduced to fronting a karaoke night at the local Chinese Buffet, where he gets every now and then to sing snatches of Sinatra in between requests for Piano Man, Achy Breaky Heart and She Bangs.

In October of 2010 I had just finished reading Peter Beinart’s The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris. Would that it covered more than simply United States foreign policy, for if it were, in fact, an encyclopedic work, then Billy would certainly merit an entry. He was something out of a figure in mythology. Boston’s Icarus: he flew too close to the sun and ultimately, he scorched his wings. Icarus is the figure to cite if you choose to be cheerful about what happened to him. But for a man of saturnine thoughts and face and dark, watchful eyes, a disappointed romantic turned cynic, the operative myth might well be Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and as punishment was chained to a rock to have his liver picked at by vultures for an eternity.

Was he really a multi-faceted personality, as some people would insist? Billy himself maintained that without alcohol and caffeine he was “a rather dull fellow”. He said this in an article published in the Noise #100, in 1991. (The saying is also attributed to David Letterman: “If it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.”) But I think he was being too modest, in that infuriating fashion inculcated into all aristocrats practically from birth. (To quote George H.W. Bush, “Ask others about me. I’m not good at talking about myself. That is part of my make-up. Some people see it as ‘false’ modesty. But my mother taught me not to brag and she is still watching me.”)

I want this to be a memoir. So I am going to rely mostly (though not exclusively) on my own impressions and speak for the most part only about what I remember and have personally witnessed, though in some cases I will also report the memories of people known to me. And use these to fill in occasional gaps and lapses in my own memory and knowledge.

And yet at the same time, this is going to be something more than a memoir. It will also be a series of anecdotes and meditations on the nature of Billy Ruane, a person who was my friend. Because I cannot bring myself to look fully into the black hole of his constant loneliness and occasional despair, I will be merely circling around the subject; it is for the reader to decide whether in so doing I have done him any justice at all.

So, ultimately, I want this piece to be a memoir in the form of a meditation. It will focus less on a stark chronology of his life and be more, I hope, of an explanation as to why. Why was Billy the way he was? What was it about Cambridge that nurtured his best qualities and encouraged some of his worst ones? And, the hardest question of all to answer, and one I have not yet fully grappled with, what meaning did his life have?

There will, of course, be stories about Billy as I have observed him. They will not all be complimentary. But I don’t want to write a hatchet job. Billy was neither all saint nor mostly devil. He was driven by internal forces which he could not completely control,
howsoever dazzling his intellect and howsoever sharply defined his own sense of self seemed at most times to be.

I mean to make some sort of lasting statement about Billy’s life, but I do not wish to write something that is dull. That is going to be my second most difficult task: to make something interesting to read out of a life which was in turns, spectacular, tragic, and extraordinary, without in any way trivializing the person whose memory I am trying to honor: both by speaking only the truth (admittedly, as I see it), and by trying to explain who he was, and what his role was within his milieu, which he both shaped and was shaped by. Interesting, I hope, even for those who barely knew him, or who didn’t know him at all.

Again: this is a memoir but also a meditation.

Billy didn’t need to have a novel based on him. Billy didn’t need to write a novel. Billy’s life was his novel. He needed someone close to him to write it all down. All of it. But who could stand to be with him all the time?

I know I should try to keep my distance but I am no clinician. I think I can understand some of the impulses that drove Billy to behave the way he did, for in some degree, I share them. These are:

Impulsivity: Blurting out the first thing that comes to mind, regardless if the social context. Impatience with the slowness of other people’s thought; talking over them, talking at them, interrupting them, verbally bulldozing through them on occasion.

Didacticism: I myself have been accused of this, frequently. An urge to teach, instruct, guide, lead; be the alpha dog in every intellectual (and ever strictly non-intellectual) interaction, regardless of (and often even in spite of) ones actual qualifications.

Need for attention: This perhaps comes from being made to feel as though one is the smallest and least consequential person in the room. You’ll show ‘em. Show ‘em you’re actually the biggest person in the room, if not in size than in sheer brainpower. Then they’ll be sorry they treated you this way. (We see this thought process driving the behavior of individuals as disparate as fictional mad scientists and troubled superheroes, computer hackers, televised tycoons, and endless legions of pop stars. See, for instance, Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen”.)

A desire, verging upon a need, for perpetual distraction. If you don’t have children (seemingly purpose-made for such people) then you must find the outlet elsewhere. Many people eventually settle down. Maybe even take the opposite tack. Long for a time when every second of the day is not occupied. Even though, when they finally get their wish, they feel bereft. Look at the sadness of the unemployed and laid-off; of empty-nesters; of newly minted college graduates who have failed to line up a lucrative gig; of retirees. Or of the dead, whose ghosts are said to haunt us because of unfinished business in the previous life.

Impatience with routine drudgery. Sure, I’ll wash the dishes. But first, I’ll let ‘em pile up and make a project of it. Sure, I’ll pay the bills. Write the letters. Read the homework assignment. Write the paper. Deal with the bureaucracy. But I’ll do it tomorrow, next week, someday, never. Right now, I have other fish to fry. All that stuff is OLD and I’ve got a NEW thing here that I’d much rather be doing NOW. Plus, there’s something BIG going on tonight.

This goes hand-in-hand with…an inability to systematize effectively. Do it on the fly, that’s the operative mantra. Planning ahead is for frightened people and chumps. Improvisation is of all acts the most impressive and therefore the most glorious. Bury yourself in trouble; then brilliantly, splendidly dig yourself out. This, I think, is how Billy often ran the Middle East Café during its heyday.

These are, in case you haven’t guessed it, all traits associated with creative people who have been diagnosed with ADD, aka ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

“Today most clinical professionals -physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and others- believe that ADHD consists of three primary problems in a person’s ability to control behavior: difficulties in sustained attention, impulse control and inhibition, and excessive activity. Other professionals (myself included) recognize that those with ADHD have two additional problems: difficulty following rules and instructions and excessive variability in their responses to situations –particularly doing work”. –Russell Barkley

Billy himself thought his problem (insofar as it was a problem; insofar as he conceived of it as a problem) was ADD. Boston-area impresario Mickey Bliss once told me, in 1992, that “just about everyone under forty has ADD.” There is a germ of great truth in this offhand observation. I’m not blaming television, though it does play a role. I’m not pointing to the ever-growing-more-frenetic pace of modern life; I’ll leave theories like that to Wolfgang
Schivelbusch, who has explicated this historical phenomenon far better than I ever could.

But there was something going on with people born in the late 1950s that made its people passive rather than active observers.

And then there was also another factor: IMPATIENCE.

In Billy’s case, his impatience with things as they were drove people nuts. On the other hand, his impatience translated itself into innovation. Arguably, Billy was the motive force behind at least two still-potent cultural memes: The Invention of slam dancing. (I have long maintained it started with him). And the whole “unplugged” phenomenon. (He was doing promoting shows with that concept back in January 1988. Whereas, “In 1989, MTV began to premiere music-based specials such as MTV Unplugged, an acoustic performance show, which has featured dozens of acts as its guests and has remained active in numerous iterations on various platforms for over 20 years.”)

If you were at or near Billy’s level, you could interact with him, and he with you. But you had to accept the interaction on his terms. (I think that to an extent, his money and his reputation gave him a greater ability to set such parameters.) If you would not, or could not do that—because you were much smarter than he was (not likely, within his preferred milieu), or because you were somewhat saner than him (very likely, within his preferred milieu), then you were simply left with ENDURING him. Or leaving the room.

Billy was definitely a decided influence on me. He was the most colorful character I’ve ever met, and I’ve met more than my share. He was catnip for any writer in or out of his right mind–but slippery as hell.

He had his moods. Moods in which he felt humiliated. Sometimes even devastated. Hey, I understood. I have felt pretty devastated and humiliated too. Frequently. Fortunately for my ongoing sanity, I know that these black dogs only last for two or three days. Then I find some shiny bauble to occupy my monkey mind. I imagine that Billy managed to keep himself busy and that was a form of compensation he took from a world that seems cold on its surface, but which can actually surprise us from time to time with its beauty and senseless grace.

Maybe that’s why so many people found him remarkable. And some found him unbearable. He was resilience in motion.

Sandra Monticello Neades: I once saw him rocket straight up out of his seat when The Tijuana Brass came on the Green Street Grill jukebox. It was marvelous.

What is it about music that stirs the soul and makes us want to jump and shout? Is it merely a form of mathematical alchemy that short-circuits our logical synapses and sends them into epically balletic contortions? Billy seemed nearly always to be brilliantly corybantic, but it was
also nearly always in the context of music of some sort.

He was also extremely intelligent. Scarily so. I was once told by Professor Gary Thurston that anybody whose IQ is 25 points higher than virtually anybody else around them is considered scarily off the scale. And even in the Boston and Cambridge area, one with no shortage of extremely smart (and extremely stupid) people, Billy could more than hold his own (or not).

It is not true that all bipolar people are geniuses, nor is it true that all geniuses are bipolar. Correlation is not causation. But there is a trend.

I have heard from many sources that Billy was a child prodigy. Capable of speaking to adults on an adult level, while himself only a few years removing from being a toddler. Of course, we all know of the fate of the child prodigy who grew up to become an obsessive loner who for the remainder of his life spends all of his time doing something …utterly inexplicable, like collecting bus transfers. Cambridge was (and probably still may be) full of these sorts of people.

But our culture as a whole does not admire or celebrate our generalists and renaissance men. Not unless they invent a new bomb or murder a tyrant.

All right, so maybe I’m reaching a bit here. And sounding like a radical stripling in my encroaching senescence. (Did I mention that, as I write this, I ams currently at the same age that Billy would have been, had he lived to see his 54th birthday?) But look around you. Unless you are so top-out-of-sight extraordinary that you are celebrated for that trait alone—like being an exceptionally tall basketball player, say, or a person exceptionally good at striking a ball traveling in speeds of excess of 94 miles per hour with a bat—then, in this country, you are nothing. True acclaim goes to the people who amuse or astonish us without in any real way threatening either us, or our assumptions. The United States has been like this for quite some time. And curmudgeons have always bewailed this fact. H.L. Mencken admitted to a sneaking sympathy for Rudolf Valentino, but abhorred his rapacious fans. It is a fine paradox that in a democracy, those who rise to the top are those who please the greatest numbers of people, to spread ambiguous dark surmises among the vulgar, “Spargere voces in vulgum ambiguas,” as Vergil put it. Or, to quote Leigh Hunt::

See that the others Misdeem, and misconstrue, like miscreant brothers; Misquote, and misplace, and mislead, and misstate, Misapply, misinterpret, misreckon, misdate, Misinform, misconjecture, misargue; in short, Miss all that is good, that ye miss not the Court.

Would-be elitist types with true skills and high qualities are often left in the dust.

This tendency is not unique to democratic republics. One might also say the same thing of other republics and empires, where military and athletic prowess is celebrated and intellectual accomplishments are considered suspect. In the 1950s, Senator Hugh Butler regarded the Secretary of State and sneered, “I look at that fellow. I watch his smart-aleck manner and his British clothes, and that New Dealism in everything he says and does, and I want to shout, ‘Get out, Get out. You stand for everything that has been wrong with the United States for years!'” It’s the whole Sparta vs. Athens divide. Cambridge, of course, is firmly on the side of Athens. Boston, of course, was once called “The American Athens.”

The cruel joke about America is that many Americans have been brainwashed into believing that they must somehow better themselves in order to advance within society. While, at the same time, the society itself is acting in subtle ways to keep them in their place. We deplore the fact that teenagers do stupid things because of peer pressure. We do not deplore the fact that adults are also constrained to mostly act as other people do.

One might even take Shakespeare’s Coriolanus as an object lesson in precisely how to lose friends and antagonize people. One word: pride.

Billy was not proud. But he had a great deal of pride. Make of that what you will.

Billy without money? What I often, in darker moods, thought of as his “stupid, stupid money”? Unfathomable. Without money, he could never have followed his avocations as seriously, and as strenuously, as he did.

Well, he did work at jobs. I suspect this was for what mobsters, and droll pensioners, like to refer to as “walking around money”. Back in the late 70s and early 80s he worked at a Mexican restaurant in Harvard Square with the singularly imaginative name of “Casa Mexico”. It was famously derided as inauthentic by none other than Hunter S. Thompson. (A writer who, incidentally, Billy admired immoderately.) Maybe it was inauthentic. But it was good enough for drunk and hungry college students. Maybe (though probably not) a cut above merely ordinary. Remember that in the 1970s, Mexican cuisine was by no means as ubiquitous as it is today. Salsa had not yet replaced Ketchup as America’s favorite condiment. There simply weren’t that many Mexican restaurants in the Boston area. Billy’s job was that of a plongeur. Basically, a dishwasher, or other menial restaurant worker, ala George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. (Could you see Billy as a waiter at a swanky brasserie? Starched white shirt and bowtie, regally bearing steaming platters on high? Unlikely. He was too scattered. A top-flight albeit temperamental celebrity chef, barking orders to quavering underlings? That I could see. Maybe, someday. But such was not to be….)

Self-indulgence. We’re all capable of it. Did Billy think of himself as self-indulgent. Never? Seldom? Or maybe all the time. He did seem to have an exaggerated sense of entitlement.

Some people use tranquilizers; some use stimulants. Billy used both in a way that stimulated him while at the same time calming him. I know about the seductiveness of speed and alcohol. I have been drunk while on speed exactly once that I remember. It was in 1981, but I recall the sensation vividly. It gives one a marvelous lack of inhibition while at the same time one’s mind is seemingly undulled. But the consequences—the subsequent let-down—is brutal. Once was certainly enough for me. Once, a philosopher; twice, a pervert, as Voltaire so wisely opined.

I do not think that Billy regarded consequences. He bulldozed his way through life. He had no use for marijuana or other, less benign stupefacients and hallucinogenic palliatives. Some find the altered state imbued by these drugs to be enormously seductive. I believe that to be Billy was to already live in an altered state—colors were brighter, music more profound, three conversations could be followed and even directed all at once. Pain? What is pain? Who cares? Pain is in the past, or awaits the future. This is now, so live it fully.

Picture a continuum of people, eminent to infamous, consisting of:


Mahatma Gandhi

Albert Schweitzer
Abraham Lincoln
Martin Luther King
Bobby Kennedy

J. Edgar Hoover

General Curtis LeMay

Adolf Hitler

Joe Stalin

I guess I’d put Billy somewhere between King and Kennedy, but with the caveat that he could range all the way from Gandhi to Stalin. It was the variability of his strenuous life, I think, which held the key to his character, if such a key can ever be found.

What really strikes me is that the story of Billy is, in its way, a story about America. The Great Gatsby, if Gatsby had been born rich to begin with. And had had a father who loved him and wanted him to be happy.

We hear so many stories about people whose fathers were strictly by the book. We do not often hear about what, exactly, it was that wrote that book.

I suspect that it was World War Two.

That is why so many of the fathers of Baby Boomers were hard-asses. Tough as nails. The kind of fellows who in their formative years responded half in their sleep to commands like shoulder arms and dress right dress and move it on out. How could they help but to look at their sons—no matter how tenderly they regarded them–and not fear that they might be soft and in need of some rigor—some meticulous toughening up? And that is why the sons of so many of these fathers were so often fucked up. Skeptical of authority and determined at every corner to outrun or defy it.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the cohort born in 1957 was anomalous; a lost generation. The last of the old boomers were born in 1956; the first of the new cohort, known as young boomers, were born in 1957. 4.2 million of them. More than any year before. A record that would stand for 51 years. But the 1957 crew were also born on a major cusp. Neither wholly of the old nor of the new. Barely old enough to be aware of and terrified by the Cuban Missile Crisis. But just old enough. Barely old enough to understand and be traumatized by the Kennedy assassination. But just old enough. (Imagine how your child might feel if told the world might be destroyed in flames, or that Superman, or Santa Claus, had been gunned down in the public square.) Too young to be hippies and a hair too old to be convincing punks, the 1957 cohort often found itself uneasily suspended between two camps. Perhaps that is why so few of these people born in 1957 have accomplished great things. Let’s see:

Scott Adams

Osama bin Laden

Berkeley Breathed
Steve Buscemi
Nick Cave
Andrew Dice Clay
Katie Couric

Fran Drescher
Bill Engvall
Gloria Estefan
Nick Hornby
Marlon Jackson

Hamid Karzai
Matt Lauer
Denis Leary

Spike Lee
Dolph Lundgren
Jon Lovitz
Bernie Mac

Donny Osmond
Susan Powter
Judge Reinhold
Ray Romano
Shannon Tweed
Vanna White

I rest my case. (OK—I stacked the deck. We also had Frank Miller, Sid Vicious and Mira Nair. Still….)

The 1957 cohort was young enough to have escaped the Vietnam War, but old enough, in 1969, to be aware that being drafted to serve in it was a distinct possibility. I suppose every cohort considers itself special, but the 1957 cohort truly is.

What was really wrong with Billy? I can’t say. But during the Middle East years, in a letter to Bettina Miller, dated 9-22-88:, I wrote: “I have the impression that some ostensibly insane people are just faking it and using their irrationality to build a wall which protects them from unwanted contacts—until, quite naturally, the wall becomes an intrinsic part of their mental architecture.”

Billy was allegedly bipolar. I’m not a Doctor, and I’m not going to try to second guess this diagnosis. But Bipolar is indeed a diagnosis, and not a template. I think there was something more to who Billy was than a handy file number taken from the DSM-IV.

Bipolar. What do these labels really mean? According to NIMH, “26.4%–about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. The condition known as Bipolar disorder “affects …about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.” That means that it is likely that a minimum of about 2,600 people living in Cambridge had the disorder. Or, looked at another way, out of every 25 people you know, one of them is bipolar.

Before the abolition of rent control in December 1994, the percentage was probably much higher. Afterwards, the increased rents very likely drove some of the mentally disturbed to seek cheaper neighborhoods.

This might seem glib, but to me, Billy was a lot like a bipolar St. Nick: Dr. Santa and Mr. Claus.

Billy would have been great as one of those legendary colorful Southern senators like Lyndon Johnson and his many predecessors—think Foghorn Leghorn, based on the fictional character Senator Claghorn. In late pictures of him, Billy looks the part. Silver mane, unfashionably long. Pot belly. But still self-possessed, with that indomitable ATTITUDE of his.

I don’t really understand bipolar illness. Perhaps future psychiatrists will dismiss the condition as a quaint catch-all, a relic, much as they regard terms such as “neurasthenia” or “fugue state” or even “phrenology”. Point being that psychiatrists are by no means immune to the cultural imperatives of their day. If the society perceives a need for a diagnosis such as “hysteria” (or “bipolar,”) then the diagnosis will be duly arrived at, and a set of symptoms will be checked off from a swelling list.

Don’t get me wrong—I have studied motivational psychology under David McClelland
and developmental psychology under Dante Cicchetti, and group psychology under students of Robert Bales. So I am no agnostic when it comes to the very real phenomenon of mental illness. I do believe that at least certain psychiatrists can ably minister to people who are in emotional distress. But thanks to—call them what they are—medical drug cartels—psychopharmacology has erected an edifice of supposed magic bullets for all manners of so-called ailments such as “social anxiety disorder”. I strongly suspect that many of these drugs are still blunt instruments—hammers in search of an elusive nail, when it is scalpels that are called for. Twenty years down the road, things may change even more than they have in the past twenty years. But that change will come too late for some.

The trouble with the drugs used to treat mental illness is that sometimes the people with depression or anxiety or unspecified borderline ailments prefer being the way they are, even if their lives are in utter perpetual turmoil due to their inability to fit in. In time, they cultivate that turmoil and even deceive themselves into thinking that they cannot fully live without it.

This point of view is anathema to people who consider themselves normal. After all, aren’t we schooled, practically from the age of five or earlier, that the highest good consists of a reputation for being one who “plays well with others”? Aren’t we taught these lessons from K through 12? Those brigands who cultivate their inner madmen are frightening, even repulsive.

But then there are always those pariahs who simply will not, can not, so not fit in.
I am reminded of the lament of the beat writer Gregory Corso, in his poem “Marriage”: “How to be other than what I am?” And of the words of the 19th century poet John Clare:

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am, and live – like vapors tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems….

Think also of Melville’s Billy Budd. Or of his Bartleby the Scrivener, whose constant refrain was “I should prefer not to.”

Billy was very much a figure out of Melville.

“… for not one man in five cycles, who is wise, will expect appreciative recognition from his fellows, or any one of them. Appreciation! Recognition! Is Jove appreciated? Why, ever since Adam, who has got to the meaning of his great allegory—the world? Then we pigmies must be content to have our paper allegories but ill comprehended. I say your appreciation is my glorious gratuity.”—Melville, in a letter to Hawthorne, 1851

A figure out of Russian Literature, too:

“Have you ever noticed what makes Russian literary heroes different from the heroes of western novels? The heroes of Western Literature are after careers, money, fame. The Russians can get along without food or drink—it’s justice and good that they’re after. –Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle

Or think of Salinger’s doomed prodigies, beginning with Holden Caulfield. Or of the young, “frail, but charismatic” (and ultimately doomed) Jordan Legier, in James Kirkwood’s second novel, Good Times/Bad Times.

Finally, think of Edward Dorn’s poem Gunslinger. The title character says, to the character Kool Everything,

Hang light, Kool
The earth moves beneath your feet
Like a ball bearing

Billy was like that ball nearing. Or like some celestial body whose gravitational force altered the orbit of anything he drew near to. Or maybe you could think of Billy as reincarnation of Prince Myishkin in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. Or, in his lowest moments, as Prince Hamlet:

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.– Hamlet I,ii

People have spoken about Billy’s generosity to bands and to friends and to people off the street, and it was all true. I have personally witnessed it countless times. It seemed motivated by some archaic sense of noblesse oblige, a salutary notion that nowadays we do not expect to see among people with money. He did not give things away simply to impress and become well known to people whose opinions didn’t matter to him; people who might otherwise have despised him. In many cases I have heard of, he gave to the needy. To people who needed a hand up. It was Carl Sandberg (him, with his crusty Americana) who expressed this impulse best:

Jesus had a way of talking soft and outside of a few bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem everybody liked to have this Jesus around because he never made any fake passes and everything he said went and he helped the sick and gave the people hope….I won’t take my religion from any man who never works except with his mouth.

Billy seemed to live his life by Lincoln’s credo: “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”

Ultimately, I do not think Billy thought there was anything wrong with who he was and the way he was.

Billy had a weak stomach. A decided disadvantage for someone with a marked fondness for alcohol. Not to mention caffeine. Sometime in the early 1980s Billy had to go to Mass General Hospital to be treated for a serious stomach operation. A doctor told him that if he took caffeine in any form ever again he would be dead in a couple of years. Doctors are apparently given to saying such things to scare their patients into adopting healthy habits. Dave McMahon, Greg Devore and Georgio Della Terza apparently visited Billy while he was there. They were smoking and drinking and, according to Dave, “it was a real Marx Brothers scene” because the nurses kept telling the visitors that smoking and drinking were not permitted and that visiting hours were over and that, anyway, the patient was permitted to have no visitors. Meanwhile, Greg kept offering various substances to Billy. Alcohol. Xanax. Vivarin. Billy kept declining: “No, no, I can’t do that, no no, I’m not supposed to have that.” All the same, a few days after leaving the hospital, Billy was apparently back to his old tricks.

About the way that Billy dressed: I don’t believe it was anything as simple as his being a holy fool making some sort of anti-fashion statement. Billy wanted to please his father and conform to his demands but not at the expense of his own integrity. So in time he wore the suit for which he had been fitted, but he allowed it to turn into a raggedy-assed remnant. It’s almost like he was reenacting a Potemkin replica of his father’s notion of proper dress; a mocking, scarecrow simulacrum; something, perhaps, out of Hawthorne’s Feathertop.

Billy also had a darker side that only a few of his intimates were aware of, but you may not hear much about it from other sources in the weeks and years to come because, again, as the saying goes: de mortuis nil nisi bonum.

But I’m not those other guys. Billy could sometimes be of “opprobrious demeanor and condescending attitude.” Rarely. But the potential was always there.

The goal of relaxation must surely have been part of whatever search Billy was engaged in. Because it seemed as though he simply could not simply relax.

”[How do I remember him?] Jumping up and down and screaming with a beer in his hand.”—Tom Hutcheson.

There are certain biographical facts which should be mentioned and perhaps looked into to better present a somewhat more well-rounded portrait of Citizen Ruane. Billy attended the Cambridge School in the 70s. He lived in North Cambridge for a couple of years in the mid-70s. He moved into a Harvard Square apartment over the Grolier Bookstore circa 1976, which is where and about when I first met him. In mid 1982 he moved to an apartment across the river in Boston, then, in the late 1980s, he finally moved to an apartment in Central Square, over Keezer’s Used Clothing (irony, there), where he stayed until the year of his death.

How Billy got evicted from the Grolier apartments is indicative. He brought itinerant street musician Mr. Butch home there one day. Mr. Butch, and some ex-con pals he met, presumably in stir, practically took up residence in his apartment. Eventually, Billy was evicted from the Grolier when, late one evening, these folks got drunk and rather frisky and threw a fire extinguisher down an airshaft, with predictable results.

While at the Grolier, Billy hung around with and was well-known to Harvard undergrads, which is how I first met him and got to know him. He appeared in a play I adapted, a dramatic version of Gunslinger, put on at the Loeb Experimental Theatre in the Spring of 1978. (He was quite a good actor.) I would characterize Gunslinger as an adaptation, but even that is stretching it. It wouldn’t be fair to say I wrote it. The first two acts were almost word for word from the Edward Dorn’s cryptic and brilliant epic poem. Andy Borowitz played the lead. We had disagreements. For starters, Borowitz wanted to interpolate Bee Gees’ theme from “Stayin’ Alive” into an ostensible Western. I felt then, and still feel, that in drama, these pandering strategies and cute stunts are never a good idea. They cheapen the work, and the insult the intelligent members of the audience. So I opposed the move. Strenuously. But the Director overruled me. I had no choice, I felt, but to allow it. I had had only one very negligible stage credit to my name at that point. A funny scene from a comedy sketch review titled “Do It Yourself”, which, unfortunately, was never produced because the review never got off the ground. Possibly because I had decamped to Rochester, New York for spring break. (Where I paid a dollar to take a sledgehammer to a car. The rest of my stay there is rather woozily recollected, if at all.) I did recycle the scene for a play called “The Pleasure Bar,” also never produced.

In Gunslinger, Billy portrayed a character called Kool Everything. He was brilliant. (Check out Dorn’s Gunslinger to get an idea of the character and the role Billy had to play.)

The play was, itself, hardly a rousing success. It was a cryptic poem and I was so in awe of Edward Dorn, with whom I had discussed the adaptation, that I did hardly anything to change his words in order to make his work even slightly more stage-worthy.

Except for one innovation. Act III was recast as an 8 page comic book that playgoers were to read in lieu of an intermission. Unfortunately, I had no money to print dozens of copies so I had to edit the work down to two pages, rendering it basically incomprehensible. The artist, Billy’s friend and former Exeter classmate Gus Murphy Moynihan, who also designed the absolutely brilliant poster and fabricated out of felt cloth and wire the horse’s head for another character, Claude Levi-Strauss, was not at all pleased.

There is one thing I remember about the play, other than Billy’s own stellar performance and my own drunken antics at the after-party, where I ill-advisedly drank my first and last boilermaker and tried to climb a rope suspended over the stage from the ceiling (and failed, drunkenly, ignominiously). I also recall that, following the second act, I was told that a patron ran out of the theatre screaming, “The author is trying to fuck with my head!”

The play was not reviewed in any of the local or even any of the school newspapers. Richard Smoley, Billy’s friend (and likely the man who introduced me to him) had been called in as a consultant to the production. He said to me, “It was a good typing job.” John Batki, the creative writing teacher who knew Dorn and had introduced me to him, said, ruefully, “Well, at least you tried.”

Billy was enrolled for many years in the Harvard extension school. One time, I recall, he was assigned a 20 page paper on Emerson. He wrote 200 pages, with no end in sight, and if he handed it in at all, it was months late.

I was at a party given by his father for his 21st birthday, in a high-end Chinese Restaurant on Mass Avenue. Presumably the date was on or around November 10, 1978. Billy was relatively restrained; however, all of his friends all got exceedingly, hilariously drunk. Billy’s father came up from New York City to preside over the gathering and towards the end he read a poem–a bit of doggerel in which he pointed out how much his son loved to collect records and do all the other Billy Ruane sort of stuff that his father apparently found incomprehensible. I would characterize his attitude toward Billy as ruefully baffled exasperated pride. I do not believe at that time that Billy had been diagnosed as bipolar. The 70s were, after all, a crazy time, and Cambridge was full of eccentric characters.

The father remarried, and I hear that the new wife did not care for Billy at all and–this is rumor–saw to it that Billy stayed in Cambridge rather than move to New York.

I spent time in NYC in the summer of 1978—this was not the place for Billy.

Sometimes a person is difficult to understand unless seem in the context of his milieu…in fact, to a certain extent, a person is his milieu.

Some friends of mine—Gus Murphy Moynihan and Nick Eberstadt in particular–said Billy changed after his mother committed suicide; at least one person I spoke to, Dave McMahon, said that, actually, in his opinion, although his mother’s death clearly scarred him, Billy didn’t change all that much; he said that even in 10th grade Billy was always interested in esoteric jazz; always compulsively taking Vivarin; always talking a mile a minute.

From his beloved Emerson: “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you have gained, you lose something else.”

And from Milan Kundera: “Right in the middle of Prague, Wenceslaus Square, there’s this guy throwing up. And this other guy comes along, takes a look at him, shakes his head, and says, ‘I know just what you mean.’”

And from Hermann Hesse: “I have no objection to worshiping this God Jehovah, far from it. But I mean we ought to consider everything sacred, the entire world, not merely the artificially separated half! Thus alongside the divine service we should also have a service for the devil.”

Joe Harvard, Skeggie Kendall and Billy worked together to create the rock and roll club known as the Middle East Café practically from the start, which was 26 January 1988. Then along came Jennifer Cares, who was then the doorperson at T.T. the Bears, next door. I started working there in earnest sometime in June or July of 1988. At first, at office work; eventually, working the door along with Jennifer Cares and others. I saw Jennifer Cares nearly kill him on at least one occasion. As an employer, Billy could be quite exasperating. As a club promoter, his behavior could be inexplicable. For instance, on Easter Sunday in 1989 Billy got up on the stage of the Middle East Up and gave a brief (and presumably intoxicated) talk to the small crowd, culminating in his saying, “Fuck you all very much”.

We flatter ourselves that we are somehow very different from the animals whose antics we observe with mingled amusement and scorn. That we are somehow profound. But we operate under many of the same cruel imperatives and instincts. Only we assign them names. Names which justify them. Names like “rationalization” and “common sense” and “logic”.

Animals are superior to us in at least one respect: they do not deliberately mutilate and confuse themselves. Unless they are imprisoned.

Many people are imprisoned by the mores of society. Billy was no different from most of us; only he loudly rattled his tin cup against the side of the cage and shouted Yadda Yadda at the warden.

There is always a price to be paid later for such behavior.

Billy was not a sly evader of society’s strictures. He was a bulldozer. I have always observed this tendency of his with mingled awe, amazement and envy.

There are, of course, many ways to bulldoze. Look at these, from Robert Greene and Joost Elffers’ book The 48 Laws of Power (a big favorite, incidentally, with prisoners, who, I have been told, steal it from prison libraries more than any other book):

Court Attention at all Cost

Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

Re-Create Yourself

Create a Cult-like Following

Be Royal in your Own Fashion

Create Compelling Spectacles

Assume Formlessness

(Nowadays, one can also be a cyber-celebrity, though that is like being the most famous criminal in the Phantom Zone.)

Americans have a penchant for putting celebrity nonentities on a pedestal and ignoring the people with actual talents. And Americans love their temperamental celebrities. They are the national Id writ large and they perform in a spotlighted stage. They are our kooky relatives in a nationwide kabuki farce. However, displays of temperament from people who are deemed unworthy of our own devotion or attention are summed up thus: “He’s an asshole”…”She’s a bitch….”

Billy willfully transformed himself into a local celebrity. It was a long slog. The details are vague. I would say it took him about thirteen years. In many ways cold, imperious Boston was an unlikely launching platform for him. But tolerant, eccentric, and brilliant Cambridge was another matter. There, you could become a local “character” in a matter of months. Ask Bob Dylan, Gregory Corso, Brother Blue, or any of a number of other celebrated people. But one’s staying power was another matter. According to my friend, and Billy’s, John Price Carey, Cambridge, in the early to mid-1980s, was Babytown, I found this an intriguing notion and we set composing a list of its attributes.

Crammed croissants, pocket bread sandwiches, ice cream stores, flyer distributors and canvassers. Woody Allen film festivals and non-stop Australian sensitivity and French tu jour amour cinema. We Love Russia agitprop, dogs with bandanas, and crazy wheat-pasted posters which make no sense. Self-adulatory folk singers and white boy blues musicians. Cyclists with white plastic helmets and tiny mirrors bowling up the street the wrong way and knocking over pedestrians and old ladies, and Pedestrians walking into the middle of the street. Humid muggy weather with the aroma of rancid catfish, roaches, and overpriced vile little markets with fly-ridden produce that smell like 1963. Bums who collect bottles and street singers and assorted panhandlers. And a shrewd, ungrammatical Mayor named Alfred Vellucci (1915-2002), who was given to making pronouncements which occasionally sounded crazed.

Also, Nita Sembrowich has reminded me, “Cookies as big as your head”… ice cream shops on every corner… adults and children alike sucking on nippled bottles… pizza and hamburgers for every meal….”

It was in this milieu Billy thrived. At his best he was a very sweet person but he also had a mischievous streak. Billy the Patron Saint of Boston Bands he may have been, but he also was a Saint with an edge. And the more well-known he became, the more this edge manifested itself.

And then, of course, there was the booze. It’s a social lubricant, they say. Maybe because it brings everybody up—or-down—to a certain level. IT CHANGES THE RULES. Billy was, for a time, quite conversant and very good at manipulating the rules of Boozeworld. (Not so much in later life, when he visibly overindulged in an unpleasant way and was barred from the very premises he had boozed himself up to storm and conquer.) The rules:

Say what you think. It won’t be held against you. You’re lit. And who’s going to remember anyway? And even if they do, so what? That’s the past.

Be affectionate. Inappropriately so. Ditto.

Most of all, BE YOURSELF. That was Billy’s inner guiding light. No wonder he drank! Booze is a license to swill.

The 1957 cohort often had an ambivalent attitude towards booze. Our older brothers, the hippies, preached that the sauce was fare for the so-called greatest generation; a death-trip for lifers. Dope was where it’s at. Our younger brothers, the punks, said dope was for fossils and zombie slugs. Booze was good. Speed was better. Why not both?

But I suspect that Billy was addicted to his manic state most of all.

Billy’s two great romantic attachments—that I was aware of—are living people who I am unwilling to discuss except in the most general terms. He had one long-time 80s girlfriend. I will call her the Dark Lady. She lived on Mission Hill. She was dark in appearance but fair in her demeanor. Circumspect. Perhaps a bit of a homebody. And most of all, kind and patient. I may be entirely wrong, but these are the impressions she left me with on the few occasions I met her. I am told that with her Billy found some degree of domestic bliss and contentment. She was lovable. This is a woman with whom he could have settled down. Or so I am trying to convince myself. Wishful thinking?

There was another woman. I will call her the Fair Lady. Fair in her outer appearance but a bit wild, a bit mystical. She lived in Cambridge. For a brief time she lived in my apartment. She was up for excitement. But she had morality. She didn’t do bad things because doing bad things made her feel bad. I do not know if Billy could have ultimately found contentment with her. Although at the time he was excessively smitten with her. I know this because I have a written record of all the phone messages he left for her.

She loved music. But was that enough? Could anybody, man or women, compete with, challenge and stimulate Billy, on that playing field? Pat McGrath is a musician who runs a record store. He is about as knowledgeable about popular music as any person I’ve ever met. And even he has stated that he could not outdo Billy in that field. I believe him, implicitly. I’m no slouch in that field myself. I studied ethnomusicology in college.

But Billy could have taught ethnomusicology. Only he didn’t really play music. (Drums, I’ve heard. That’s rhythm. There’s more to music than rhythm. Don’t get me wrong—drummers are musicians. There are never enough good ones. Many years of reviewing music locally has convinced me of that much.) Billy could have taught music appreciation, only what college would have hired him? He didn’t have the academic credentials. (Colleges tend to be fussy about that.)

If he weren’t otherwise so scattershot, such a loose cannon, he might have been a genius DJ. Not some bored college intern or some grinning on-air automaton, either, but a legendary, taste- making DJ whose acumen could have enriched thousands more. Billy was such a person, but he didn’t have a platform. (So was the late John Peel, and he did–but that was the UK.)

Trouble was, his taste wasn’t what businessmen (or anybody else) would regard as commercial. In fact, his taste seemed deliberately, resolutely, anti-commercial.

Let me explain. I have already discussed, and given examples of, Billy’s mind-numbing eclecticism. But what I didn’t mention was that once you’ve tapped into Billy’s world-view, you were no longer satisfied with “garden-variety Alabama country fare”—to quote Van Dyke Parks. It was akin to having tasted the forbidden fruit. I am overstating my case, perhaps, but not by much. Billy was always three moves ahead of everybody else on the great chessboard of musical taste. His opinions may not always have been, but they always seemed, unerringly right. If not in this world, then in some other, better one. He was a visionary in that respect. He saw potential in bands whose members might not have even been aware themselves that any potential existed.

So—Billy would be a good A&R man, right? Well, maybe in that mythical other, better world. But as I have mentioned, his taste and temperament were resolutely anti-commercial. One example (of many): late in 1989, Billy booked a Boston band called Gingerbutkis at the Middle East. Critic Chris Rich thought they were brilliant; soundman Eric Doberman praised them to the skies; I myself did everything I could as a music critic to champion them. A bunch of townies and civilians, somehow attuned to the buzz, showed up to see what it was all about. They hated them. It was a Captain Beefheart-Pere Ubu level of incomprehension: What IS this shit? But Gingerbutkis gave a superb performance. One of the 20 or so best I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen thousands. It’s just that they were over the heads of that particular crowd. They played quirky jazz rhythms. Their melodies erupted in abrupt spasms. They had an over-the-top dynamism that could give epileptic fits to a yellow dog. If you were educated in the School of Billy, all this was like sweet sweet balm. If not? Then if probably sounded like dogshit. If you don’t believe me, try to hunt down their track titled “Pan-Blackened Anger” (aka “Men With Tools in Hand”). You’ll immediately see what I mean.

I’m a music critic, among other things. I use words on a page to express my enthusiasm for what I like. Billy was a music promoter. And something more. A music evangelist. An impresario who brought to public light the music he was convinced that as many people as possible simply had to hear. What motivates this impulse? I never knew Billy’s thoughts on this, but my own might be similar enough.

Let’s face facts: Theodore Sturgeon was an optimist. In 1958 the science fiction writer famously stated that “90 per cent of everything is crud.” Life is short. Why waste your time with shit? OK, so music appreciation at its best involves trying new things. But a deadened musical palate means you’ll only favor paintings rendered from a limited primary color palette. (Mixed metaphors; I know.)

Many people use music as a soundtrack to their lives. Like Koala Bears who insist on a diet of Eucalyptus leaves only, they either can’t or won’t appreciate any sounds that they didn’t grow up with. That’s why you see so many sad old duffers crying into their beer with Sinatra on the juke. Never mind that the man was a snarling mad dog at worst and a thug at best. Man. Could that guy sing.

Don’t get me started on Pierre Bourdieu, who said (more or less) what you like is determined by your social status, and vice versa. It explains a lot. It even explains Billy. Eclecticism was his vice. Generalism was his drug. Glorious and wretched excess was his delivery system.

Cambridge, of course, is full of proselytizers. In our time, Billy was the one who rose to the top.

I am sadder than I can say that he is gone so soon.



DECEMBER 7, 2018
Copyright 2018 FRANCIS DIMENNO


It’s a most curious thing about the Hickory Hollow Massacre–it seems that it was over for good and all once the Keysars were driven out of their home and their cabin burned to the ground. But victims continued to accumulate over about the next twenty years, It’s as though the massacre never ended; it just took long breaks as though it were never intended to fully end.

Why? Because starting exactly ten years the day after the events of that tragic night, a wave of mysterious deaths swept through the town, one after another. Paw Tallent was thrown by his hoss, which was a surprise, as he was usually a most tractable beast, and Paw was an excellent rider. Paw landed on his neck and broke it, and two weeks later, he was dead, which, in his case, was probably a mercy, as even if he had survived, he would of been a hopeless cripple. The hoss, he broke his leg, and of course, he was destroyed. The Sheriff said the hoss had a hairline fracture on its foreleg which might of contributed to the incident, but he said for all to hear that it was just one of them unfortunate accidents for which nobody was to blame.

Which was an odd thing to say, in light of what happened.

Because less than two weeks after paw passed on, Maw Tallent also croaked. Turns out she et some ant pisen, which old Doc Adkison said she must of mistook for sugar. But there was a question of exactly how she could of done it. She was not known to make such foolish mistakes–on the contrary. Everyone agreed that her memory was good and her mind was sharp, in spite of the fact that she was pushin’ sixty. Doc said that he thought that maybe her mind was clouded with despondency over the death of her beloved husband. But another odd thing that happened was that each one of the Tallent children–five in all–came down with the smallpox. The baby boy died, and the four little girls recovered but were scarred for life. They were taken in by a maiden aunt. One died of scarlet fever, one left town for parts unknown and was never seen again, and two of them became nuns.

Nor was it only the Tallents who begun to suffer evil fortune during that black year. The Millers had their barn burn down, and all their horses was burned alive, as was their youngest son, who was sleeping in the hayloft when it happened. The Millers had dosh, and immediately distributed a handbill offering a big reward to whoever discovered who or what was the cause of the blaze. But nobody ever come forward. Either they wouldn’t say, or, more likely, they didn’t know. because the reward was rather substantial.

Nor was that the only misfortune suffered by the Millers. Seems as though Paw Miller had a rifle blow up in his face and practically blow off the entire left side of his face. Later it was discovered that someone had soldered a big chunk of lead inside of the barrel. He survived for about a day, and then died, groaning in agony.

Strangely enough, Maw Miller died just two weeks later. She fell asleep while tending the stove and her apron caught fire and she was so badly burned that she died the very next day. The coroner determined that he had very high levels of dope in her system, and the theory was that she, or maybe someone else, must of dosed her tea with laudanum or something even stronger. Of course, everyone believed that it was her that done it. They speculated that she must have been a secret dope fiend, or become one, following her husband’s unfortunate accident.

After these mishaps the townspeople were on guard, and all strangers who entered Hickory Hollow were closely watched, from the time they set foot in the town to the time when they made their–usually precipitate–exit.

It was the very next year, however, the oldest Pattent boy was killed in a freak accident. It happened during a circus parade. It seemed as though an elephant had taken a strong dislike to the lad, who died instantly when the elephant slapped his head with his huge trunk and nearly tore it asunder from his neck. The Pattent family lost no time in taking their revenge–after all the hurly-burly, and the removal of the Pattent boy’s body, they appeared at the circus lot en masse armed with shotguns and rifles and emptied nearly 200 hundred rounds into the beast. It was later discovered that someone had shoved some red hot pepper up the elephant’s ass, causing him to go wild. Nobody in the Red and Black Carnival and Circus was suspected of the deed, or at least nobody could prove anything, as every last one of them of them could account for their whereabouts at the time, and all of them swore on a stack of bibles that they had nothing to do with any such mischief, but, all the same, the circus made sure to give the place a wide berth in the future.

And then, on the night of the very next new moon, the next-oldest Pattent boy apparently got drunk and fell asleep in the deep backwoods where mountain lions and other marauding creatures apparently devoured him. Whether he was unconscious when this mishap transpired could not be ascertained. The Pattents were up in arms about this second mishap, which they were pretty sure was no accident, but a simple case of murder aforethought. But they could do nothing about it. there were no suspects. And also, it was at just about this time that these mysterious “accidents” ceased.

But only for a time.



All the progressives moaned when Ike beat Adlai.

They panicked when Nixon beat Humphrey.

They practically shit their pants when Reagan beat Carter.

They pissed and moaned when Dubya (allegedly) beat Gore.

And now they’re listening en masse for the apocalyptic drums and
trumpets because Trump beat Clinton.

But look at it this way: Like Nixon and Dubya, Trump is so bad that
the Republican party will be discredited, and then…?

There will be another swing to the left.

But it may take awhile.

“Rubba,” “Bubbles,” “Jesus Juice,” “I’m a Pedophile,” and “My Money Buys Your Silence,” are just some of his lesser-known greatest hits.

BY Maxwell Arnold

I can confidently say that 80% of people who have worked in customer-facing roles in restaurants know exactly what I’m talking about, and probably more than 95% of people who haven’t worked in such roles are wondering what the hell I’m talking about.

This is universally known as the “Can I speak to the manager?” haircut.

Her name is usually Karen or Deborah. Sometimes Barbara.

She has written about 5,000 three-star reviews on Yelp, saying that everything was okay except for “the service”, or some other vague complaint that reeks of entitlement.

She spends about $56 for a table of four people for dinner and expects to be treated like a VIP.

But yet she still tries to use a coupon that’s expired and acts confused when you show her the expiry date as if she doesn’t know what that means.

She crosses her arms and rolls her eyes if she has to wait for anything, often muttering something to the effect of “this is ridiculous” under her breath.

She orders salad with dressing on the side.

And she drives a Lexus. It’s always a Lexus.


Children used to sing:

Oh, I hate Bosco
It’s full of TNT
Mama puts it in my milk
To try and poison me
I fooled Mama
I put it in her tea
Now there’s no more Mama
To try and poison me

What is Don Bosco the patron saint of?
Bosco established the Society of St. Francis de Sales. John Bosco died on January 31, 1888. He was beatified in 1929 and canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. Saint John Bosco is the patron saint of apprentices, editors and publishers, schoolchildren, magicians, and juvenile delinquents.




I hear that Oprah, by her own admission, is very fond of hot dog buns soaked in maple syrup.

Advantage: Oprah.

Oprah: “I did your drug.”
As far as I know, Bread has never smoked crack.
Advantage: bread.


Remember when Archie, Reggie, and Jughead taunted a fat boy and nearly drove him to commit suicide? I do.
Full Text:
Weigh Out Scene (Life With Archie #95, 1970)


Bowie once told an interviewer that he believed “very strongly in fascism.”

David Bowie’s Strange Politics

There’s more:
Speaking Ill of the Dead: Why is the Media Silent on David Bowie’s Sexual Abuse of Minors?

Cocaine, black magic and fascism: David Bowie, 1975 edition

ACT I : Sea Borne – Liberator of Minds – Dance of the Bacchantes

In Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Burl Ives is so COMPLACENT. With that old man hat, and that douchebag facial hair–I want to say to him, “Get OUT! Get OUT! You represent everything banal and corrupt about Santaland!!!”

ARCHIE 6. WAID. ***1/2
COMPLETE DICK TRACY VOLUME 9. 1944-1945. ****1/2
COMPLETE DICK TRACY VOLUME 13. 1950-1951. ****1/2
COMPLETE DICK TRACY VOLUME 14. 1951-1953. ****1/2
GUNSLINGER 1 & 2. DOEN. ****1/2
MY BEIJING. JUN. ****1/2

Am I so far removed from that myself? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t
spout off about things I know nothing about, like a pompous solemn
ass. Nor do I defame a dead man for no discernable reason. He’s utterly
ignorant (or maybe, per his writers, misinformed) about Stan Lee, and
if he gets a simple thing like that wrong, one is left to wonder just
how intelligent he really is about other things.

Fuck him and his supercilious opinions. Bill Maher
talks like a man who got all his information about comics from the
1968 edition of the Encyclopedia Americana. He tripped up when he
defamed Stan Lee and an entire medium about which he knows absolutely
nothing. He is akin to the man who hates any music that was made after
he turned 22.

Now, I don’t much like Stan Lee. But I think Bill Maher is a big boy
now, and will not be harmed by my own controversial opinions, unless
you are imputing to me a power I do not have. Remember: “Comfort the
afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” A long-time journalistic

Bill Maher is a smug media bullshit artist like the rest. He is a small boy’s idea of an iconoclast.
His ignorance is a veritable sargasso. Mine is as well, but I admit it. Just because he
skews left does not render him immune from all criticism. He’s against
fascism. I suppose that’s good. It’s rather like being against
earthquakes, I suppose. Stalin also wanted to stop fascism, which I
suppose means he ought to get a pass for exterminating those pesky

Bill Maher is a poor man’s George Carlin. (With apologies to George. And
to poor men.) I don’t know why his fans are ardent in his defense when it seems he’s
merely a sort of glorified Bob Hope of the left and, like Hope, a
creature of his writers. And his spectacularly stupid statements
regarding the study of history are enough to make a cat laugh.
He seems to get most of his information from the History Channel,
a source he has cited at least once. That alone makes him a sort of avatar
of the moron Zeitgeist, since The History Channel is to history what homeopathic
medicine is to real medicine.

I hope I am allowed to criticize him when he says things every bit as
ignorant and wrongheaded as he accuses his ideological opponents of saying.



Copyright 2018 Francis DiMenno



The man of coffee died burnt out, as if the fires of Gomorrah had roasted him to a crisp. You could have made lime out of him. In fact, somebody proposed that—but the experiment seemed contrary to the immortality of his soul.–Balzac

May 1982. John Carey: [That] spring, some Harvard drama group put on an outdoor, peripatetic performance of Mayakovsky’s Mystery-Bouffe. In accordance with the playwright’s own wish that ‘in the future, all persons performing, presenting, reading or publishing Mystery-Bouffe should change the content, making it contemporary, immediate, up-to-the-minute’, the character of Rod Stewart had been added to the dramatis personae – and this was the role allotted to Billy. In a pair of skin-tight leopard trousers, gyrating and shrieking himself nearly mute, he was a fantastic spectacle; but I wonder whether the real Rod Stewart was ever half so frenetically Dionysian.

I lived over Hi-Fi Pizza at 494 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square from 1979 to 1994. Billy stayed at my apartment when I was away in Pennsylvania for 13 weeks, in what was probably the late summer of 1982. [Years later, in 1987, he stayed there again, briefly, in my absence, and was allegedly nearly shot by the teenaged kid upstairs who had gotten hold of a loaded pistol and had fired it into the floor.]

John Carey: On one of the few occasions when I ventured into the now-defunct, and at the best of times ironically-named, Friendly Eating Place – an establishment which I had always instinctively felt to be shadowed by ill omen – I encountered Billy. He was without anywhere to stay, and I impulsively said that he could spend a few days in the apartment, across the street from the Middle East, which I shared with Francis DiMenno and two other friends. This turned out not to have been a very good idea, for reasons which there’s no point in going into here; but now, at the comfortable distance of many years, I’m glad it happened. He was subsisting largely on NoDoz, and on more potent pills obtained from official sources. (‘They gave me pills to speed me up, and pills to slow me down again; and I thought, What’s the point of that? I’ll just take the speedy ones.’) But one of the things which I remember best is his staring in something like amazement as I sewed a button back onto my shirt. He asked me what I was doing that for, and shook his head as I tried to explain. ‘I don’t have time for that,’ he said; and indeed his own shirt was held together with safety pins.

Erik Rieselbach: I mostly remember him cursing our rotary dial phone while he was staying at 494 –the extra ten seconds it took to dial a seven-digit number drove him up the wall. And he hated the Beatles, or at least claimed to.

Letter to EMD 11-3-83: My one close friend in the Boston area, other than my three roommates, is Billy R., and he gets on my nerves quite a bit sometimes.

Letter to RMS 8-11-84: “as for Billy…he lives in Boston and, according to a mutual friend, seems to be doing better than ever: I’m lucky if I see him once a month …I suppose come September I’ll be seeing more of him….according to this mysterious third party, [Billy has] stopped drinking (also stopped eating No-Doz)….

Letter to ER dated 11-11-84. Chet lets me into to see a show 1-13-85 after “dropping Billy Ruane’s name several times (which drew a guardedly neutral response from Chet).”

Letter to C. dated 5-30-85: On Saturday May 25th I ran into Billy at Haymarket and he invited me to the beach. The day was overcast so instead of the beach we went to this party at a place called the E-Ranch in Allston that took place all day Sunday May 26. It was mostly musicians, as it turns out, including the sister and the father of the drummer for Scruffy the Cat, and assorted other miscellaneous luminaries. At this party they 1) handed out blank pinback buttons for you to write your own name on; 2) had a slide show; 3) played mostly punk/new wave/thrash; 4) had multicolored macaroni salad (a large bowlful of which I took home with me; 5) had an orgy upstairs (they invited me, but I didn’t attend); 6) played crazy 8s in the kitchen (or tried to); 7) had a huge bowl of soupy Jello in which old pork ribs and Crayola crayons were floating.

On Memorial Day Monday May 27, Billy, Karen, Karen’s friend, and a writer named Tim and I went to Scituate beach, Karen’s old stomping grounds.

July 27th, 1985. I asked Billy was the Great American novel would be about. He said, “Horatio Alger and Marguerite Young, I dunno.” This, from the man who loaned me his copy of The Hucksters, a 1940s novel by Frederick Wakeman. Who turned me on to the movie The Sweet Smell of Success and Budd Schulberg’s novel The Disenchanted.

August 1985. A fellow named Sergio ties up in a Central Square apartment. I assist him in this operation. He offers Billy a snort of heroin. His first. I see him accept it. He likes it. Sergio offers me one. I decline. Sergio then tells me that when he went to Roxbury to get it, and when the shotguns came out, Billy hid under the seat of the car and cowered.

August 1985. Lest I forget, Billy was at my very first stand-up comedy performance, at an open mike held at T.T. the Bears, a most unlikely venue (though they have also hosted the likes of Barry Crimmins, a big hero of mine.) Billy, bless his memory, got loud and confrontational with the one of the two MCs when it looked as though he wasn’t going to put me on until the very end. He publicly insisted I go on in the middle of the proceedings (rather than dead last as befitted a neophyte). Having since myself MC’d innumerable open mikes, comedy and otherwise, I now know that pretty much no act is more guaranteed to antagonize and alienate an MC than a preemptory challenge such as that one. Amazingly, the MC caved in to Billy’s demand. And I was terrible. Ill-prepared and nervous—literally quivering with anxiety, under the glare of the scowling MC I made every mistake possible. Basically, I blew 90 per cent of my lines. I did not do credit to myself. Nonetheless, Billy laughed. Making up for everything (almost). Subsequent performances were better. (They could hardly have been worse). Some actually got laughs (from people other than Billy Ruane).

Regarding T.T’s: He was very fond of one of my bits in particular. “My family was so rich that, at Christmastime, when I was bad, I didn’t get coal in my stocking—I got anti-matter.”

Years later, Billy’s father, unbeknownst to me, sat in on one of my comedy sets at the Middle East afternoon open mike. Afterwards, Billy told me that his old man didn’t think I was funny. “What does he know about comedy?” I demanded. Billy replied, “He’s friends with Bob and Ray. (Legendary stars of radio. Two of my boyhood idols. If I had known that at the outset, I might have asked Ruane Sr. for some pointers.)

At Stitches in 1985, when I appearing onstage with Elaine Garcia-Gold, I never dreamed that seven short years later she’d be drooled over by repugnantly senescent Bob Hope. Was she innovative? Not really. Did she have the looks? Yes. And the determination, the discipline, and the connections? Yes. She was responsible for me being blackballed from Stitches Comedy Club for my drunken antics in 1986, when on 3/14/1986 I insulted her at this MIT pub open mike called The Thirsty Ear. Turns out she was pals with the MC at Stitches, George MacDonald. (Strangely enough, she made an appearance at the Middle East Open Mike on February 3, 1989, back when it was run by Jeffrey Gagnon and myself)

Circa 1985, I was in a funk. Billy took me to see Mr. Butch and the Holy Men and Jaxxt at Chet’s. A wild night. Mr. Butch’s band cleared six dollars. Chet paid them in beer. (Lou Giordano is sitting on a reel-to-reel can of Jaxxt performances. I sure would like to hear that some day.)

1986: Timothy Maxwell and I conspired to promote Billy Ruane in the Noise.

1986 Condo Pygmies Loft Party at 100 Harrison Avenue, Boston 3-8-86

Billy got up during the second set and performed an insanely vigorous version of “Louie Louie” (which he thoughtfully dedicated to the recently deceased musician Richard Manuel). After the music, at about 2am, I was called up to do comedy. There were about 50-75 people there, and the following ensued:

Billy: Francis DiMenno, where are you?
Crowd member: Hey-yay!
Billy: The microphone, where are you…our stand-up comedian…Francis, entertain!
Assorted crowd exhortation. I ascend the stage.
Francis: I’m sorry…I guess I…I guess I never should have come up here…no, really, I’m too drunk…
Billy: No, we love you, Francis!
Francis: We…love…you…Francis…
Billy: But you hate us!
Francis: We love you Francis…soothing balm to an ear accustomed to taunts and insults…ooo—oo—ooo—oo….
Billy: Francis, shut up! Francis!
Francis: All right, that’s enough….
Billy: No, keep going, Francis!…Speak into the mike, keep going….

Letter to Kristen Sweder dated 12-29-86 re 12-23-86:
Tuesday, December 23, 1986. I gave a party at my apartment. Mostly college cronies, theatre people, comedians, musicians. Billy Ruane came late. Meg Herbig, the comic, was notably unimpressed with Billy, who ignored everybody he didn’t know and insisted on playing Christmas records by the likes of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. (Christmas records which, in fact, only days before, he had given me.) Meg was not notably impressed with my behavior either. This included getting a mean glow on and playing stuff like Mingus’s Black Saint and, in general, obnoxiously attempting to dominate the overall proceedings in my inimitable fashion. The party broke up at around 11pm. The next day, my roommate Andrew Morvay said that the reason he and Billy had left early was because I had taken off Dean Martin singing “It’s a Marshmallow World” and instead slapped on some obscure jazz. I accused [Andrew] of acting like a “Magyar moth hovering around the Ruane flame” and he got so mad he tried to kick me. He said because of the reference to Hungarians. Later, he admitted that he was sensitive about always having to follow people around instead of having people follow him. Anyway, Xmas Eve I basically sat at home and did nothing….

Letter to ER dated 4-4-87
March, 1987. Tony Millionaire is this friend of Billy’s who is said to be marked man on Mission Hill, where he has been accused of devil-worship mostly because he gave this wild party where there were all these dead steer heads. Tony was supposed to be at some WMBR radio show at MIT where Billy was given an hour in which to play stuff like Shirley Bassey, Harry Belefonte, Nancy Sinatra, Vicki Carr, Sammy Davis Jr., Tom Jones and Troy Cory, as part of what Billy modestly dubs as “Ruane’s Mainstream”. Tony was supposed to do some guest singing but he gets up too late in the morning and therefore didn’t make it over to the station until it was too late. After the show, we retire top Billy’s place, Tony riding on the back of Billy’s scooter. There we drink Woodpecker Cider (five percent alcohol; “almost as good as beer” says Billy) and listen to fantabulous tunes until the setting sun grumbled on the brim of the cold sky.

1987: Billy was at the debut performance of my second play, co-written with
Bill Tivenan, titled By the Same Hand. It was staged by the Alley
Theatre in Inman Square in the summer of 1987. I was perpetually drunk
for much of the time on cheap Brazilian beer bought by the case at a
bodega a couple of blocks away from the theatre. So I don’t remember
an awful lot about it. Except that, tragically, not long after, the lady who ran the
bodega was murdered by a robber who was never caught.

The play was roundly panned in the Herald, and Tivenan’s playwriting
mentor scolded him: “You should have work-shopped it some more!”
Trouble was, we had work-shopped it. Plenty. We gave the mostly black
cast a great deal of leeway in helping to shape and interpret the
storyline, which was set in the context of the Newark riots of 1967.
It was really Bill Tivenan’s play—he had lived through the events in
question. I had essentially added some linking scenes and some
stagecraft. Again…we tried. Strangely enough, Bill Tivenan became
convinced that Spike Lee’s 1988 film Do the Right Thing bore a
suspicious resemblance to By the Same Hand. I scoffed at the time, but
now I’m not entirely sure that Bill was mistaken.

July of 1988. Billy was there at the staged readings of three of my one-act plays performed at the Alley theatre and performed under the collective title “Life in the Afternoon.” His honking, nasal laughter punctuated the proceedings. Thankfully, this was during the middle play, a dark comedy titled “Pretty Bird,” about a dying man being tormented by a garrulous parrot. Afterwards, there was a Q&A about the three plays and Billy, bless his soul, put me on the spot with several probing questions pertaining a playwright with whose work I was (and still am) unfamiliar. I still have a videotape of it somewhere.

1988. Billy quits working at the Rare Book Room to focus on promoting shows.

I had always been interested in comedy, probably since about the age of five. Though all the more so at age 17, when I first saw Dustin Hoffman in the Bob Fosse film Lenny. Billy not only encouraged my initial forays into stand-up, but he was also instrumental in getting me back on stage after my interest in the life of stand-up had somewhat lapsed.

Billy got me to perform comedy again at the 1369 Club in Inman Ssquare, after eighteen months of getting nowhere and another twelve months of sporadic out-of-town performances, none of which went well. The twelve month hiatus was a hiatus which was nearly too long.

Billy encouraged me to cultivate the acquaintance of Jeffrey Gagnon, aka J.Gags. I had already met him at a party in Somerville. He was wearing a tattered t-shirt with a picture of a brontosaurus with a cigarette in its mouth drawn upon it with black magic marker, and the caption “Smoker.” He was excessively drunk.

J. Gags ran an open mike at the 1369 on early Tuesday evenings which he called The Big Black Book. At the time I had been working for nearly three years as a library assistant at the Harvard Law School International Legal Studies Library. The head honcho there offered me a full-time job, but I turned it down. I thought it would interfere with my newly rejuvenated comedy career. They offered the job instead to Steve Helfer, with whom, incidentally, I performed at the 1369, under the moniker The Alcoholics, named after the Jim Thompson novel. (Steve wasn’t that thrilled with the name. Anyhow, it didn’t matter, since we only performed together once.) By July of that year, they had laid me off. I was unemployed for seven weeks until landing at the Kennedy School. The Sater Brothers also took pity on me, and put me to work in the kitchen. Washing pots. Then as a dishwasher. They later told me that I was the best dishwasher they had ever had. Quite a distinction. They also had me assist them with other dirty chores. I’ll not soon forget helping them replace a sump pump in the basement. I also had plenty of spare time to assist Billy and Mike and Eric and Jen with day to day operations, for which I was usually paid, if at all, with a small percentage of the door. Or, more often, out of the bar.

The 1369 had money problems. J. Gags had started there in mid-March but by the late summer he eventually migrated over to the Middle East Cafe, where he lasted until March of 1989, though that’s another, and different story, and one for another time and place. I will mention that the Saters seemed to have trouble with the name “J.Gags” and always referred to Jeff as “Wild Man”. He was indeed, a sight to behold. Often unshaven, with a shaggy and very dirty mane of hair and of a decidedly robust and athletic constitution, he was, by his own account, a jock turned musician from central Pennsylvania, very much influenced by John Hovorka and other gritty purveyors of songs celebrating the hard-luck working man. Gags and I co-hosted the Big Black Book at the Middle East, but he wanted more money than the Saters were willing to pay him, and so eventually he moved on and I inherited the position almost by default, although I also did everything I could to maneuver my way into the spot. Working alongside videographer Jody Urbati was a local character (later known as “Uncle Scam”) named Tom Newell (aka Tom Blue, who was the semi-official Middle East videographer until I took over that role as well, in January of 1990.) I have him (and Billy) to thank for an affiliation with Cambridge Community Television (CCTV) which lasted for 15 years.

At the 1369 I had mostly just gotten up on the tiny stage there and told dirty jokes—in which I am thoroughly steeped—and this modest stage rebirth eventually became a springboard for J. Gag’s Big Black Book to move to the ME. Black Book eventually became FSAD’s Café Cabaret, the ME open mike. My nearly six-year involvement with the ME was due to Billy alone. In 1989 and 1990 he got me to perform at Catch a Rising Star so I could hone my comedy chops.

In 1988, along with Skeggie Kendall from the band Lifeboat and Joey Harvard (ne Incagnoli) from the band Local 187, Billy founded Helldorado Productions.

“Music for ten dozens.” First three shows:
Tuesday, January 26.
Tuesday, February 9.
Tuesday, February 23.

I kept these documents. Nobody at the time knew how long it was going to last, or if it was going to last at all. The smart money would have been to bet against it. But somehow, it gathered momentum and force. The Saters had a great deal to do with it. The years of Billy’s most concentrated involvement with the booking of the Middle East years were essentially from January 1988 to approximately October 1990. His direct involvement with the business was comparatively short. There was a somewhat more lengthy period of indirect involvement as well. Both served to lay the groundwork for the empire which now comprises The Middle East Up and Down, the Bakery, Zuzu’s, and other enterprises. At the time the Middle East was founded, musicians complained about the lack of venues. (Though Boston musicians always complain about the lack of venues.) They were correct in so doing. (Though it seemed to me, in 1988, that the situation was nowhere near as dire as it was in the first half of the 1980s.)

By 1988 there was T.T. the Bear’s on Brookline Avenue, next to the Middle East. Across the River was the Rat. Venues such as Bunratty’s in Allston and Green Street Station in Jamaica Plain also provided people with places to play. But there were perhaps only a dozen viable venues and well over 2000 bands in the area. You can do the Math. Assume an average of three shows per night, five nights a week, 52 weeks a year. 780 performances. About 8000 performances for 2000 bands. On average, then, a typical band could get booked to play an average of four times a year. Assuming they could even get booked in the first place. The point of all this math was that there were too few venues even offering so much as an inaugural opportunity to fledgling bands, let alone any positive encouragement. If nothing else, the Middle East Club was a great incubator for new talent, and for musicians in established bands who wished to do solo turns. (To be fair, T.T.’s next door also rendered this service, at least as early as 1985.)

So Joe Harvard, Skeggie Kendall and Billy Ruane decided that a new club was needed.

Joe Harvard: A few days after [Billy’s 30th Birthday] show we were talking on the phone and Skeg and I both hit on the same idea: Boston needed a new room, WE needed a new room. The attrition rate for clubs was far outstripping the replacement rate, to the point where whoever was booking a place like the Rat became akin to some fucking autocratic poobah and the bands who’d helped build that place couldn’t get a phone call answered. A call was made to Billy. He’d barely answered before laying the same idea on us, and hey presto! A ‘club’ was born. Of course, we still had to talk Joe and Nabil into the whole idea! They owned the place! Billy hit the brothers first, and returned to report that they were a bit cool on the idea. So we all three returned to gang up on them.

Eventually, Joe and Skeggie decreased their involvement with the venue, and Billy became the man in charge. Joe Harvard: “Billy was the real mover behind the booking policy; he truly found his niche and did a fantastic job getting the place off the ground.” What happens when you put a wild, self-destructive Shaman of the tribe in charge of the community’s Dionysian rituals at a venue hitherto devoted primarily to ethnic Greek and Arabic music? Is it any surprise if he should attract other wild shamanic self-destructive types to re-enact those rituals? G.G. Allin. Lisa Suckdog. Mr. Butch. And too many others to even name.

The Middle East. January 1988. Heavy metal and the blues are popular with club owners
because their fans drink lots of beer. I’m not making this up; this is what a club owner once told me. Billy wanted something different. A private club filled with like-minded individuals who would actually sit quietly and listen to the music. Kind of like a jazz club, only with avant-garde rock and solo performers. “Unplugged” before the concept of “unplugged” had caught hold.

Billy wrote all the liner notes for the Helldorado flyers. As far as I know. Who else would have, could have?

Chris Rich: Fate gave Boston an overly generous dollop of grifters and Billy was their catnip. Boston is insular and stodgy so it viewed the like of him as an irritant. The Boston Rock scene was a ridiculous egocentric shark pit from hell in its prime with Technicolor narcissism. Boston was soaked in heroin and blow with mobsters on the periphery. At least one club owner bullied Billy to a breaking point. Billy bullying was a sport. This was his working world for most of his life. It took lots of energy. No internet, endless mailings, hours on the phone and Billy would agonize about some band he supported to the point of zooming over to other crowded clubs on his scooter to hand out his small funny Helldorado fliers cause he wasn’t gonna let that band down, dammit. He might hit 5 dumps in a night.

You won’t catch me saying that Joe Harvard as an asshole and Skeggie Kendall was something of a dope, and that Billy Ruane was the sole mastermind behind Helldorado. Joe and Skeggie had a great deal on the ball, or Helldorado never would have gotten off the ground. But I will say that I didn’t see much of Skeggie or Joe once the summer rolled around. They basically dropped out after six months and their involvement became sporadic. By then it was essentially me, Jennifer Cares, and Billy, plus the soundmen Mike Higgins and Eric Doberman, and, later, Andrew Lypps, and the shows had gone from two per month two at least three per week and frequently more. It was all the upstairs of course; the Vouros Bakery (aka “The Greek’s) had just been taken over from its previous tenant and wasn’t yet a performance venue (and wouldn’t be for about another two years) and the downstairs was still an abandoned bowling alley, and Zuzu’s wasn’t even thought of yet.

Billy needed a buffer between himself and the Saters. He would sometimes drive them to distraction. With Billy, it was always MORE. That buffer was frequently Jennifer Cares. And me.

I may (or may not) have written the first song about Billy Ruane to be publicly performed, in August of 1988, at the Middle East. (If anyone out there has a prior claim, I apologize in advance, but do come forward.) It was part of a Hillbilly duet worked up by myself and Timothy Maxwell of the Noise. It was called “The Ballad of Young Billy”. The melody bore more than a passing resemblance to that of the 1930s vaudeville hillbilly song “Ma, Pa and Me” by Rex Cole and His Mountaineers (aka Arthur Fields and Fred Hall). The lyrics are not the worst I have ever written. For the record:

Who’s that dancin’, sprayin beer?
Young Billy
I warn you people don’t come near
Young Billy
They say he’s crazy, that’s no lie—
They call him Bill-i-illy
And he is my pal.

Ride a scooter late at night with
Young Billy
If you want to risk your life with
Young Billy
He steers as straight
As a rattlesnake
They call him Bill-i-illy
And he is my pal.

Who’ll always feed a starving bum?
Young Billy
Who’ll feed him whiskey, beer and rum?
Young Billy.
They say he’s crazy, that’s no lie—
They call him Bill-i-illy
And he is my pal.

Who booked us here at the Middle East?
Young Billy
Alone and dancing to our beat was
Young Billy
They say he’s crazy, that’s no lie—
They call him Bill-i-i-i-illy!

Needless to say, Billy got an enormous kick out of both the song and the performance.

Note: I have found since that pride of place might have to be given over to Ed “Moose” Savage and the band Siamese Triplets with a song called “Go To Helldorado” from February of 1988, although it was only actually recorded in November of 2010.) .

A typical day at the Middle East? Billy bustling about. Always bustling. Seldom in any one place. A glory to behold; Blake’s paradigm on energy as “eternal delight”. A quintessential host, majordomo, blackslapping pol. “Swilling the planters with bumbo,” as George Washington put it. “Watering the talent,” as the nightclub lingo had it. Not to mention feeding them. Catering to their needs. Not in a slow, solicitous manner, like a Marcus Welby or a Robert Young. More like in a frenzied doctor forced to perform check-ups in a triage situation. Cursory but thorough. Everyone must feel welcome. The same with his ministering to the bands. He always needed to be somewhere else, but he could never seem to completely tear himself away. Everybody needed to feel welcome. Even the unpaid guests, who by July or August of 1988, were myriad. More of these made it into the Middle East upstairs despite the best efforts of his co-conspirators—at that time, Jennifer Cares and myself—despite all the stern resolutions to keep the comps to a minimum. “Everyone pays,” was Billy’s mantra. With the unspoken proviso: “Except.” There was the rub. Except the media. And the guests of the bands. And their plus-ones. And the staff from other clubs: “professional courtesy.” And the scene hangers-on–who never paid, ever. And, oh, why not let that crazed carrot-topped skateboard punk in for free, too, while we’re at it. He’s probably homeless. Anyway, he has no money. Or so he says. And he’s so persistent. Anybody who wants anything so badly ought to have it.

Billy was no cold-hearted businessman. He was no Don Law. More like his precise opposite. More like Don Lawless.

Plus, of course, there were also the local musicians who absolutely NEEDED to see a certain act. These were always ushered in. Maybe they’d buy some beer. Or maybe Billy would simply bring them some. He was always hustling foaming pitchers of beer from the bar, to the predictable consternation of one or other or both of the Sater Brothers, who surely must have been appalled to see their profits being poured down the ungrateful gullets of insatiably thirsty freeloaders.

And so what if the band didn’t make enough at the door to pay their guarantees? Out-of-towners in particular often asked for, and got, a guarantee. Even if there was no chance in hell the door would ever take in enough to enable Billy to pay it. When the door came up short—and nine times out of ten, it seemed, it did–Billy would have me, or someone else, wheedle some cash out of the Saters to make up the guarantee. More than once he had to chip in some money from his own pocket.

Letter to Bettina Miller 9-7-88
Wednesday September 7, 1988. This afternoon at the Open Mike about eight paying customers manage to make it into the Middle East and we have to have eighteen to twenty people before I make anything at all in the way of a salary. Jeff got sixty dollars at the 1369 but here they only guarantee twenty and business was so bad I had to settle for fifteen for the whole night. So Jeff got twenty-three dollars and he’d said already that he wouldn’t do it for anything less than thirty. To make matters worse, tonight Billy had to guarantee the two evening bands two-hundred dollars and so far they’ve only pulled in one-hundred and ten dollars so unless eighteen people magically appear in the next hour Billy will be out ninety dollars. Two tweedy yups yelp “too loud” and split. Right now Joseph—the permanently exasperated brother—is having a fit about having to feed the musicians after 8:30pm. I managed to get the drummer a few pieces of lamb and some chicken. If business doesn’t start picking up around here, there’s going to be some changes made. The mother of one of the band members has just spilled some beer all over the table and insists on going and mopping it up. From now on, comes the word on high, we can’t feed or water any of the talent after 8:30pm. They also don’t want us keeping the rear door open during Jeff’s open mike from 6 to 8pm. Joseph wants to put up formica boards on the Brookline Street side advertising the club’s Monday to Thursday rock schedule. T. Max wants to give a 7th anniversary party for the Noise at the Middle East instead of at Green Street Station. Billy doesn’t like the idea. (How did I ever get involved with this political stuff in the first place?)

Tuesday September 13, 1988. Tuesday night I was sort of in and out of the Middle East. The place was cleared out by midnight but this raunchoid blues-rock band called the Visigoths was pretty good towards the end; it was kind of touching, them playing so hard for, I dunno, about twenty people. The headliners, Vasco Da Gama, did a pretty stupendous multi-instrumental dance cabaret protest ensemble schmear.

Wednesday September 14, 1988. I get to the Middle East at about 5:20pm for the 6pm open mike and nobody’s there, none of the microphones are set up, none of the chairs and tables are set up, and to make matters worse, I have no idea how to operate the soundboard. Well, I learned pretty quick. The night before, Billy told me that the Wednesday night band cancelled and that we could fill the whole night with the open mike if we wanted to. Then this Jazz/rock ensemble called Strange City, Inc. drops by and I rope them into coming back later to fill out the evening. At about 5:55 Billy calls and tells me where he hid the microphones and fortunately does not inquire as to whether Jeffrey Gagnon has shown up. In walks Jeff at about 6pm. The jazz guys are helping me set up the mikes and soundboard. I open the show with a monologue, “Tyler Texas.” The show gets rolling, finally, around 6:30. Some folks I know from the library as well as the Wellesley contingent Carolyn and Kristen and Gretchen and Barbara eventually show up. This queer old coot who was wearing an impossible-to-envision green and brown checked garment which only resembled a jacket comes in. He says he’s Lightning Slim Number Two and he says he wants to play some blues. He does, beautifully, for about twenty minutes, accompanied by Charles on Sax. Then this allegedly famous guy, “Fast Freddy from Hollywood”, who was on WERS on Tuesday and who Billy dragooned into coming down for the open mike did seventeen minutes of voodoo gumbo beatnik poetry with burning incense in a beer mug and accompanied by harsh shrill sax bleating and hollers. Pretty keen. Then we had a few comics from Stitches—Brendan, Lee, and an old friend of Billy’s, Greg DeVore, who did this brilliant and twisted monologue in the persona of a former drill sergeant wearing a dress. Then this woman, who had a sticker on her guitar case that says “God Is Love” played some pretty little tunes for about twenty minutes. I went up at about 8:05 and did twenty-six minutes, then Steve went up, accompanied by Brian Stiglmeier, making his stage debut on tambourine. The jazz band putzed around for about twenty minutes with the sound, then the bass player split, “to get his guitar strap” (and maybe to call as many of his friends as possible), By 9:20 the guitar player started; by 9:30 the Wellesley girls had split to go to the Plough. The band did about an hour; I got up and did five; they did another forty minutes; and I got up at 11:00 and did another five and closed the show. I managed to scrape up some food and drink for the band, and five bucks apiece. My own take was $4.61, and eleven cents of that I found on the floor. Billy comes in and wants me to stamp some posters from a September 29th Rat gig, but then he loses some white envelope and goes raging about and I’m left to put up the chairs and put away the mikes and I don’t get home until midnight. No sign of Billy, who says he’ll call but never does. Billy says he wants to rent a spare room in my apartment for storage and will pay $150 bucks a month but he won’t actually live there.

Sunday September 18, 1988. Greg Devore drives me back from Stitches and I decide to drop in at the Middle East to say hello to Jennifer. She has some hip ailment and is truly ill and I’m concerned enough to tell her I’ll be back at 9pm to check on her and take over her shift if need be. Sure enough, at ten minutes to nine I get there and she’s gone to the hospital and Billy’s frantic and everyone wants me to stay and do the door and so I do. First up is this God-awful skronk band from God knows where called Dig, and then it’s this somewhat more acceptable acid-hippie-anarchy-post-punk psycho-delic crew called Jasmine Love Bomb, and then 11th Dream Day from Chicago, and finally a pick-up band with folks from Blood Oranges and Big Dipper called Crush who sound somewhat awful and afterwards Joseph is bitching about the $300 (read $100) worth of booze that Billy gave away and as usual, I’m in the middle, trying to placate Joseph without making Billy sound bad, or getting Billy irritated at me for presuming to apologize for him. You can bet that by one a.m. I had lapped down quite a few dark ales. T. Max was there, along with Byron Coley from Forced Exposure magazine—when I introduced myself a slightly baffled and scornful look crossed his face but all in all he was quite civil enough.

Letter to BM 9-22-88.
Wednesday September 21, 1988. The open mike was a big success—we pulled in about fifty paying customers, though about three-fifths of them were there to see Strange City Inc., the fusion duo who were the featured act. Unfortunately, no paying customers showed up later for soundman Mike Higgins’ band Hogs on Ice, an R&R-oldies type band who were a last-minute replacement for the scheduled band, Yes, Brazil….

Jeff I think is getting pissed because all-of-a-sudden I am exerting a stranglehold on the bookings for the open mike, due to pressure exerted by Billy R. This week we had a lot of comics—eight, all told, plus a featured band that played for half an hour—so that from 6:30 to 8:40 (we ran very late) I was more-or-less determining who would go up, and in what order. Jeff didn’t think very highly of Strange City and, at his urging, I booked a different act (Bob Wilson, a comic) for the 28th.

Thursday, September 22, 1988. Reggae band One World has attracted about 25 people of whom about 15 are paying customers. I’m at the ME with my friend John Hansen, who has just been talking with Billy Ruane about Cable Television, though Billy was also talking to his lawyer about beating a not-so-recent drunk driving rap. Earlier I had stopped by and got to talking with this fellow named John Barrasco from ASCAP. A self-admitted “failed musician.” I shared with him some of my half-formed theories of rock-as-religion but the sticking point seemed to be priests-as-ascetics vs. rockers and self-destructive and John B. said, regarding the music industry, “It’s all insecurity and low self-esteem. I woke up in a motel in Atlanta not knowing how I got there and decided there must be something better.”

At 12:35, even though it’s my night off I’ve gotten roped into helping break down after the show, but I don’t mind…much. The Saters are nice in a way that makes you want to do things for them

Wednesday October 5, 1988. At the open mike, this bearded, very drunk guy of about 40 years of age calling himself Thomas Roberts came in and at one point took the mike and got up onto the stage and talked incoherently about having played “with Arlo Guthrie for three years and with Arlo Guthrie Jr. for five years,” and then he went into some rap about his wife and how she threw him out and I was at the soundboard fiddling with the echo and he got so dizzy he fell off the stage and hit a table stage-side with his head and got cut, so I swabbed him with rubbing alcohol and fed him coffee, which was a big mistake because he heckled me for ten minutes or more… After a break I went back to the club to work the door for Club Rhumbasa and Mackie (Afro-Caribe steel pans) and D.J. Thomas Alien (to whom volunteer soundman Mike had taken an avid dislike, due to his domineering prima donna behavior—just that evening, for his second show at the Middle East—I guess he used to be at Cantares or somewhere like that—he got frustrated at the sound problems and tore a microphone out of its mooring, damaging it). I tallied the take at the door: 40 people at three dollars, six people at two dollars and twenty-two at one dollar, plus a couple of stray donations, which brought the ante up to $157, of which fifteen dollars off the top (the house added another three dollars) was for expenses and another fifteen dollars went to Billy as his ten per cent, and the remaining $130 was split 50/50 with the DJ (who had an enormously long guest list) and half with the eight guys in Club Rhumbasa (much to Mackie’s dissatisfaction.) And I drank nothing but mineral water and flavored seltzers for the next two hours. After the open mike I decided to give throw a little party at my apartment at 494 Mass. Ave over Hi-Fi Pizza, but, alas, I couldn’t be there for much of it—had to work the door. My friend Carl Smith held the fort at the party—I had laid in a supply of Knickerbocker—Col. Carl Smith’s counsel—and much of it was drunk, much by Jeff Gagnon. So Jeff went downstairs to Hi-Fi Pizza later to order a slice and when they tried to fob off a cold slice on him—instead of a freshly baked one—our man Jeff demanded a fresh one because “the customer is always right”. The pizza man chased him out with a pizza pan so our boor stood outside on the sidewalk hollering “the customer is always right.” The cops came and took him to jail and when Kristen and Caroline came to bail him out he was still hollering “the customer is always right”. He ended up paying a ninety dollar fine. (He hasn’t managed to get into too much trouble since—he and Billy have come to some sort of arrangement as of 10-19, or so I am assured by Bill….

Wednesday October 19, 1988. The open mike is getting more and more crazed from week to week. The last three were pretty crummy. Jeff wants to get more money, Billy wants to give him less, and I’m stuck in the middle and getting broker by the minute. I spent the grocery money on records, expecting to get fifteen to twenty dollars for working the door for the Saturday, October 14th rap show, but the whole thing was a bust and the two paying customers demanded a refund. There were never more than twenty people there and half of them were goons from bands like the Eels that Billy bribed with free beer to come and keep order, which wasn’t necessary since the hordes of violent brawling teens that Billy feared would show up apparently had something better to do, so the upshot of it is that I was paid five dollars which I’m expected to live on until Wednesday. I’m not even sure Jeff is going to show up on the 24th….

Thursday October 20, 1988 . Tonight Jennifer Cares was a no-show because she figured she would need police protection from the Reggae crowd and Billy figured she wouldn’t so I ended up working the door (which, after having spent four hours scrubbing racks in the Middle East kitchen I was in no mood to do). I had to deal with out ninety people, half of whom wanted to get in for nothing, and since it was a reggae night, I was Babylon personified and/or The Man (seeing as how I had to keep people from sneaking in through the back door). And when Jo the bartendress came up forty-two dollars short I had to play cop (and there was something suspicious going on…seems to me she pocketed quite a bit of the dough because even after I told her we were keeping track, a good ten to fifteen dollars in addition went unaccounted for).

Anyway, after the show this guy Mike was giving me grief because he wanted $150 to pay the prizewinners immediately after the show and when I told him that it was customary to wait until the end of the evening for their pay, they started acting as though there were some sort of conspiracy afoot to keep them from getting to sleep on time to get to their day jobs and when I told them to stop acting like pissants that’s when the shit hit the fan and Joseph had to step in and play “good cop” (and in the process, gyp the M.C.s out of half of the dough.)

Tuesday October 25, 1988 . Galaxie 500/Beat Happening show. Billy threw yet another fit on account of the promoter Marc Alghini’s alleged greed and ineptitude. Billy ended up hurling a ten dollar bill in Beat Happening’s face and I ended up spending twenty dollars in a futile effort to smooth things over (buying the Beat Happening LP and Girl Trouble album and t-shirt).

Wednesday, October 26, 1988. At two in the afternoon Billy calls me, frantic, saying we have to cancel the open mike because he’d booked Slaughter Shack and an African drum ensemble and four other bands and they needed the time to do sound check and I managed to persuade Bill to let us run from 6 to 7, though it ended up being more like 5:50-7:10. This comic named Michael Lee was pissed because we bumped him (so the feature act could do fifteen minutes instead of ten, so he wouldn’t be too sore to do a full half hour the following week.) We got the whole thing on videotape courtesy Tom Blue, this scruffy hippie Billy likes to hire to do videos.

Wednesday November 2, 1988. Same old story with the open mike—Billy losing money left and right virtually every night and he wants to videotape the open mike instead of giving money to Jeff and I told him that half the people who were there were there to see Jeff (though most of them don’t pay to get in, notably the Wellesley girls) and he looks at me and says, “We’ll just have to start over!” He hollered at me for pausing to eat a salad instead of immediately jumping up and nurse-maiding a mailing list sign-up sheet I’d just tended to a moment ago and I told him that if he didn’t get off my case I would throw the same kind of fit that he was so famous for throwing.

The open mike was pretty political this time around—I’ll just say that people were so impressed with Atlanta-based pinko punk folkie Chris Chandler that they chunked an extra ten bucks and change into the hat, particularly when Jeffrey mentioned that Chris was living out of his car.

Tuesday September 8. I skipped the benefit for Saundra Graham’s reelection and I’m glad I did because from what I heard later Billy had given this local jazz celebrity Stan Strickland a big guarantee and had to pay him most of it out of his own pocket. Jennifer Cares had wanted me to work that night but the previous Friday Billy had told me he wanted Jennifer at the door because she was much more diplomatic. Even though she hated Saundra Graham.

Wednesday November 9, 1988. Not so bad—I only made fifteen dollars—and only five for the open mike—but I got to leave early. Unfortunately, the door only took in fifty-five dollars all night and Billy had promised $210 and could only get Joseph to pitch in $25—the Saters are freaking out because business has been slow and they recently spent a lot of money to remodel the space (during Chandler Travis’ set on November 2nd some loose plywood sheetboard fell down with a resounding crash though fortunately nobody was hurt or even much more than mildly startled. There was a DJ who billed himself as Club Rey-Rey who also manages a seven-piece Latin dance Merengue combo called Destino, fronted by a white-suited Hispanic gent by the same name. Mike-the-volunteer-soundman was wisecracking about the music because he lived in the South End and it’s mostly Hispanic and he hears that kind of music all the time ….

January 3, 1989.

Kyle moves in to my apartment at 494.

Phone Log of calls for her.

1/5: Billy called 10:18pm.
1/6. Your father called 12:02pm
1/6 Billy called 6:12pm
1/6 Billy called 9:05 pm.
1/12 Call your house 8:47pm
1/13 Be at home by 5pm.
1/? Call Billy home or out 4:22 am.
1/31: Your father called—call back. 8:07pm.

Kyle in the interim was looking at several other apartments her father deemed more appropriate.

2/8 Call Beth Israel Hospital 1:41 pm.
2/16 Dr. Rosenblatt called, says he wants to at least “touch base” 1:38pm
2/17 Billy called 12:54am
2/17 Dr. Rosenblatt called 7:37am.
2/? Leave message on Billy’s machine as to when you’ll be in. After 9.
2/25 Your father called 6:04pm.
2/25 Billy will see you at the Rat if you go. 6:30pm.
2/25 Billy is asleep in the bakery…6:52pm
3/6 Billy called 1120pm.

The people living there had to put up with lovesick Billy calling and, when Kyle refused to return the calls, coming to the door at all hours. We also had to deal with Kyle’s furious Dad who wanted her the hell out of there. I remember him coming by to confront me about Billy, as though somehow, because I was his friend, I allegedly had some sort of influence over him. I remember me, acting out a scene from Mean Streets, with Kyle’s dad the loan-shark Michael, Me as Charlie, and Billy as Johnny-Boy: “I’ll talk to the kid…I’ll talk to him.”

Kyle: I knew Billy from roughly 1982 to his death with many periods of lengthy estrangement and limitations of my ability to be his friend. He was nevertheless the most pivotal figure of my life whose seemingly limitless ability to care for me often astounded me. Billy was everything to me that he was to acquaintances; solicitous, generous, kind, obstreperous, and just too much some of the time. Privately, he was analytic and cerebral over issues better served by undiluted sentiment at times. Yet at the core of Billy’s tendency to analyze all experience with withering precision and lengthy discourse was the manifestation of his real love for you and desire to make your life better for having examined it. It was off putting and somewhat scary to some but when he trained his intellect in the service of caring for another person there was a sense of personal sacrifice in what he was doing that inspired. I have so many happy memories of times with Billy which will have to serve me now; they are full of his wondrous and insatiable appetites for sensation and feeling as well as his intellect. Billy was so much more than a swaggering public showman and ambassador for music, as important as that role was to him and should be in our memories of him.

One of the things I am trying to get to grips with is Billy’s love life. One of Billy’s old girlfriends, Kyle, sent me a short message. I happened to have witnessed his obsession with her first hand, since, in fact, Kyle was temporarily living in my apartment at the time. My impression is that Billy would fall madly in love with someone, and would be so obsessive that he would frighten him off. I have never heard of Billy, on the other hand, ever being stalked by any romantically inclined females

Oops–frighten HIM off? Freudian slip? Was Billy gay? I don’t think so, but then again, I don’t know for sure. He had a very bizarre friendship for many years with Greg DeVore. My ex-wife says that, at our wedding, one of her friends claimed that she saw Billy sitting on the lap of one of our mutual friends and kissing him. (She might have misunderstood. Billy had been known to get angry when accused of being a homosexual. Not that he was in any way a bigot. He just didn’t like people making assumptions about him.)

Not being able to easily coexist with the feminine gender and sensibility was Billy’s curse. I suspect that any woman smart enough to keep up with him, and keep him, would probably have been wise enough to leave him before long.

Would Billy have “settled down” had he found what we conventionally call “the right girl”? Maybe, though I can’t really imagine what his life of domestic bliss would have been like. He would, no doubt, been wonderful when playing with the children. He was something of a big child himself. But what if the child were unruly, or fretful, or became sick, or was injured? I’m not sure how he would have reacted. And the big question is this: given the way he was, what woman would have put up with him long enough to foster forth a squalling brood?

November 5, 1989: The Mr. Butch show begins its run.

THE 1990S
Diary entries 1990-1.
Entry dated 1-21-1990.
Saturday afternoon, January 13, 1990. Mr. Butch from 2-3 made $7 (five dollars from Ed Hyde); Ed Hyde made $27, and Mike the Spike Zero.

Saturday afternoon January 20.
Butch made $9, Ed made $15, and Mike $13.

Saturday January 20, 1990.
J. Gags is going to be a problem. He wants half the profits and full credit. It will have to depend on how many people he brings in a. Joseph Sater is beginning to lose his patience with Jeff. I summoned Jeff into the Bakery to propose changes to the arrangement. Jeff loudly shouted that the Motherfolkers’ warm-up set on January 17 was too loud. Joseph took Jeff’s half-finished pint of dark beer and dumped it in the sink, told him he was drunk and asked him to leave. I then sheepishly told Jeff that we wouldn’t be making any changes in the billing, but later that night I left a disgruntled message on Billy’s answering machine complaining about Jeff. Billy called me back and suggested I complain directly to Jeff.

Wednesday January 24, 1990.
Wednesday was an excellent open mike—17 performers and 20 spectators. Gags got $26, soundman Eric $15, myself $46, of which I gave $4 to [feature act] Roll With It, to round out their pay to $20, and also for giving me permission to broadcast the set. That evening, Billy got up mid second set and talked about his run-ins with the police for driving a scooter with a permit and DWI. I followed up with an account of being arrested in Georgia. (Billy blew my punch line and I said “I don’t knock the bottle out of your hand while you’re trying to have fun.” Billy seemed both blitzed and hyper—a dangerous combination.)

Thursday, January 25, 1990.
After work I went home, hung out reading for a half hour, then headed over to the Middle East. It was about 11:45—the woman who was working the door wanted to leave but Billy told her to hang out until one, I did the door from about 12 to 2:30. …An embarrassing contretemps occurred when we thought the door was $1,024 (on the basis of which Billy had promised Mickey Bones $850). It was actually $924. Mickey only got $779. I went through the breakdown with him and he said he believed me. Mickey, his girl, Eric and Roy [soundman at T.T.s] went over to my apartment after. MB and his girl left at about 3:15.

Wednesday January 31, 1990.
The open mike was ill-attended: I made $10, Jeff made $10 and asked Joseph for $10 more, which was in poor taste.

Saturday February 17, 1990. The Iris and Ofer Quartet were the evening show. They went on late; Billy screamed an ultimatum over the phone. I was drunk and stoned and they were highfalutin and annoyingly demanding and as a result of that show, Billy has cancelled the Wednesday open mike, moving it to the worst slot of all, Saturday from 12 to 2pm, though he didn’t bother informing me until Saturday the 24th that the last Wednesday would be the 28th. He promises to do some ticket giveaways to bring people in.

Wednesday February 21st. Iris and Ofer made a big stink about my doing the door and brought in their own guy; I was relegated to floater. Then they were upset because there was no audio on their video and demanded a thirty dollar refund on top of their forty-five dollar refund for mailing expenses. Billy threatened to fire me unless I surrendered the audio tape I had made on my own machine. Half of it was the open mike, so I refused, but later I called him and told him I had taped over it anyway, and he accepted that excuse.

Saturday, February 24, 1990. Me, Richard Smoley and Margie Patrie got to a party featuring the Pirhana Brothers at about 10:30. The band was holding forth in this basement which was so decrepit (Overhanging pipes and the like) that me and Richard speculated that it would cost 50K to replicate it [as a stage set]. Billy showed up, kind of crocked, around midnight. I obliquely accused him of stabbing me in the back. He said my behavior had been evil because lately “you’ve been so high…on yourself.” While saying this, he was trying to cook some hot dogs directly on a gas grill while swigging from a bottle of Budweiser, which later, much to his consternation, disappeared. I put the hot dogs in a pot with water and cooked them. He wolfed them down. Me, Richard and Marge later took Billy home to his place in Central Square at about 4am, and on his insistence. We entered his third floor apartment and listened to Paul McMahon tunes and saw a video of his in which he sang “Smash your crazy head against the win-dow-pane…curse the gods, the fucking gods who made you be this way.” Very indicative [I thought] of Billy’s feelings at the time. I talked to Billy for about five minutes. He said Cathy [Houlihan] and the Doughhead girls were taking over Sundays and getting him in Dutch with the owners and he wanted to move Saturdays to Sunday and put in Reggae on Saturdays. He pleaded for my help and said he needed me on his side. I told him I was upset about the short notice on the Wednesdays (the Wednesday before I had told him that if he fired me it would be his loss and hung up on him) but that I would back him up. (He might have been mad at me because I was talking about videotaping the T.T.s Wednesday open jam; because he bought some shitty camera from Artie Freedman who used the money to turn around and buy superior equipment which the technicians had been urging on Billy all along; because I told Joseph (and particularly Nabil, who vehemently agrees) that 18-plus was not a good policy; because for weeks I’d promised Billy that the Wednesday open mike would end on time and it hasn’t (the 21st ran until 8:05 pm due to difficulties with the camera equipment; that I’d promised I wouldn’t MC the Wednesday evening shows anymore and went up four times before Iris and Ofer and insulted the audience; because the open mike costs the Club $30 and hasn’t always drawn enough people to cover expenses; because Billy wants to get rid of Jeffrey Gagnon (Jeffrey, in his turn, wants to get rid of Ed Hyde at Green Street on Tuesdays and has offered me the MC job; now Billy’s talking about bringing Ed Hyde back to the ME on Saturdays); because I insult customers by Billy’s account; and should have been fired long ago; because people have complained about me to Billy; because I get drunk and/or stoned for the Wednesday evening shows (after promising I wouldn’t anymore) ; because I have two shows—once since August 21, 1988 and the other one since April 1, 1989 (unless you also count the Thursdays which ran from about November 1988 to around February of 1989 from 6 to 8) and they’ve taken a toll on me; because I’ve been spending Sunday to Tuesday in Providence and Thursday and Friday evenings at work and I haven’t been available for the Saturday 7 to 10 show.

Wednesday February 28, 1990. Final Wednesday Open Mike.

Wednesday, March 21, 1990. In the Club, in front of Cathy Houlihan, Billy said he’d fire me if I weren’t a welfare case. Cathy’s nice, but Mike isn’t working tonight or Saturday afternoon. Joseph just asked me if I’d be all right to work tonight and Eric isn’t as friendly as usual.

Wednesday, May 2, 1990.
188 (225) X-Tal
65 (80) BL’HTA
40 (60) Mike
30 (35) FSAD
20 Mfolk
10 B&B
253 + 100 = $ 353

May 6, 1990.
[See MODERN WISDOM NUMBER 245: Appendix.]

Wednesday August 22, 1990 . I used to be amused by Billy Ruane; now I am mostly dismayed and dreading each new outburst from him. I very nearly got fired three weeks ago for having two weeks previous to that blown off this guy from Downbeat who wanted a plus one. Billy himself very nearly got axed over a Psycho Drama bill which later he moved to Green Street. The Open Mike second anniversary was tonight, but we’re celebrating it on Saturday August 26th. Last week, the 19th, only one person showed up; two weeks ago, Ray McNeice, whom I’m apparently shepherding it for, showed up, nonchalant but nonplussed.

At age 32, weeks before his 33rd birthday, Billy was committed, essentially involuntarily. The actual details are somewhat murky. One version of the reason for this was because of “caffeine addiction”. This sounds ludicrous until one considers that Billy was known to consume up to 20 Vivarin tablets at a time, and as many as 40 a day, maybe more. Each pill carried a load of 200 mgs of caffeine. Each pill was the equivalent of 1.5 cups (12 ounces) of brewed coffee per day. 20 pills would equal 30 cups, and 40 would equal 60 cups of coffee. 8000 milligrams of caffeine. Balzac was known to have drunk two dozen cups of very strong coffee a day. Close to the same amount of caffeine, though nobody knows for sure. He did so to fuel his admittedly prodigious literary output. Balzac died at age 51. I quote an anecdote from Balzac’s “Treatise on Modern Excitants” (cited from page 104 of the High Times Encyclopedia of Recreational Drugs) regarding a man fed on nothing but coffee who “lasted two years”:

The man of coffee died burnt out, as if the fires of Gomorrah had roasted him to a crisp. You could have made lime out of him. In fact, somebody proposed that—but the experiment seemed contrary to the immortality of his soul.

Right around the time that Billy was committed I stopped drinking. Cold. It was like a switch had been thrown in my head. It probably saved my life. No AA, no focus groups, no psychiatrists, no interventions. Funny thing is, I worked at the Middle East fifty-one more months following that decision. I was surrounded by rivers of booze. All the free beer I wanted and I never touched one drop of it.

Billy, even while at McLean’s, was still trying to call the shots. Jody Urbati remembers him calling her from Maclean’s in 1990 to go and videotape a show.

A fuller account of Billy’s state of mind at the time was published in Noise #100.


NOVEMBER 30, 2018
Copyright 2018 FRANCIS DIMENNO

Tears come from the heart and not from the brain. –Leonardo da Vinci


It sure was a pretty little speech, the Judge made. But it didn’t make any difference, in the end.

Because as the frail old judge, with the help of a slippery elm cane, was carefully making his way down from the courthouse steps, a pistol shot rang out, and the judge crumpled to the ground, and fell on a patch of green grass where the yellow leaves were just beginning to fall. And no man came forward to assist him. Not a one. In fact, the mob practically trampled the old Judge as they slowly, inexorably, and menacingly approached the startled Sheriff.

After it appeared that the Judge was, at best, gravely wounded, the gaunt Sheriff stood there, aghast, and then he slowly took off his star and dropped it to the ground and unholstered his guns and handed them to Paw Pattent, as if to say matters had grown out of his hands. He didn’t do anything to help the mob, it is true, but he didn’t do anything to hinder them, either. And sometimes that is just enough.

In his younger days my boss the storekeeper Jim Bridger used to be a mountain man, and he had had a lot of time to think up in those inaccessible plateaus where he plied his trapper’s trade, and he could reckon by signs and portents and so he could also smell blood work in the air from many miles off. He drew me aside and told me to take a rifle and stand in front of his store and guard it with my life. Meanwhile, he was going to get on a fast horse and go and warn the Keysars.

By the time he got to their remote cabin, by way of a shortcut along a slender rocky path strewn with fallen timber and very nearly impassible road, he was almost too late. The mob had gathered up their white kerchiefs and the hoods for their horses and some extra rifles and had proceeded along the main road and were only twenty minutes behind him.

Maw and Paw Keysar weren’t about to give up their home without a fight. Paw Keysar was a tough old bird, for all that he stood only five foot four, and Maw Keysar was a crack shot who could infallibly put a rifle shot through a squirrel’s eye at 500 yards, as though it were nothing. heir son Jedidiah wanted to stay with them and fight, only Paw Keysar said that anything were to happen to him, he would have to be the man of the family. Old Grampaw wanted to stay and fight too, but Paw practically begged him to hide out and look after the young’uns. In response, Grampaw marched into the cabin and took out four rifles. One for Jed, one for Flossie Mae, and two for himself. He told Paw Keysar that he was going to shoo away the little ones and have them hide in the cornfield while he and Jed and Flossie would provide ambush fire from the nearby foliage. Paw knew that the odds were about eight to one against them, and was not inclined to argue with his father. Bridger pressed all the money he had into Grampaws hands and whispered that if all seemed lost, he should gather up the children and hie himself to the far-off village of Buttercup on the other side of the mountain. Grandpaw agreed to take it on the condition that it was a loan, and, as a matter of fact, years later he paid Bridger back, every penny.

Bridger then climbed a tree and kept a lookout for the Keysars. It wasn’t long before he saw the torchlight procession of kerchief-masked men on hooded horses.

The Keysars had had time to set booby-traps all around the perimeter of their property, and the first victim was one of the Millers, whose horse got his foreleg caught in a bear trap. Paw Keysar called out from the cabin that he didn’t want no trouble but that if the interlopers didn’t get off his property, then he was bound to shoot them dead. He was answered by a rifle shot from Miller, who was red with anger over the blooding of his favorite horse. Miller was quickly wounded by a shot from the nearby hedges. The mob wheeled and fired into the surrounding brush, fatally wounding both Jedidiah and Flossie Mae, and filling Grampaw full of holes in both arms and his left leg. Granpaw crawled away to hide in the corn patch, and now the odds were forty to two. Hopeless odds, and Bridger saw no sense in getting involved. So he continued to watch from his invisible perch.

While the riflemen who led the Night Riders provided covering fire, one of the Tallent boys, a lad of fifteen, and before that night a classmate of Jedidiah’s, managed to get around to the back of the log cabin and set it afire with a kerosene-soaked rag. From that point on it was all over for the Keysars. They came out shooting and were instantly mown down by around four of the Pattents. One of the Tallents was killed and one of the Batchelder’s was wounded. They watched in silence as the remainder of the Keysar cabin burned to the ground, and when the last fire-charred and blackened logs collapsed, they even got up a little cheer like hip-hip-hurrah.

Afterwards, they all rode into town and gathered at Kludd’s store and congratulated themselves on their victory in accomplishing their mission of eradicating the Keysars.

Jim Bridger, who had prudently staked out his horse near the cornfield before the Night Riders arrived, made his way back into town, arriving at about four am to relieve my watch. He kindly told me to go into the store and make up a pallet and get some shut-eye, and he would stand guard.

But nobody bothered him.

Two weeks later, Bridger—though it just about killed him to admit he was licked—“I’d rather have my pecker cut off,” said he–Bridger sold out his entire store, lock stock and barrel, to his competitor, Kludd, at a significant loss, and ventured told me he was fixing to venture north and replenish his bankroll, maybe, by getting some trapping in, though he said he’d druther not, as his old bones no longer had any great tolerance for the cold.

And so it was that I, too, was out of a job.



Income tax evasion.

Capone, incidentally, was never called Scarface to his face. He was known to his pals as “Snorky.” Which was slang for a snazzy dresser.

Two of Capone’s gorillas “paid a visit” to Ben Hecht, the screenwriter for the original Scarface. They told him that Al didn’t like that they made a movie about him. Hecht explained to them that the film wasn’t about Capone at all. And that, “in the Hollywood racket,” they used the name “Scarface” because Capone was such a famous guy. The goons (not “gunsels”–gonsil is underworld and hobo slang for ” An inexperienced youth; a stupid person; an unsophisticated youth”; in hobo slang as gonsil was a homosexual; “a youth not yet adopted by a jocker” (a predatory pederastic homosexual tramp)) were satisfied with this explanation, and left Hecht alone.

Of course, the film was all about Capone.

President Herbert Hoover was miffed when, as he attended a Chicago baseball game, Capone drew more cheers from the crowd than he did. IT was, perhaps, at that moment that he vowed to “get” Capone.

Capone, from prison, offered Charles Lindbergh his services in recovering his kidnapped baby. Lindbergh declined.


William Burroughs wrote an entire play based around them.

1) Is it OK to snort heroin while you meditate?

2) If Frankenstein, Einstein, and Houdini got into a fight with Jesus and the twelve apostles, who would win?

3) Wouldn’t the Bible be much more entertaining if “Yea” were replaced by “Yeah!”?

4) Can a dog commit a mortal sin? Say, if he ate a priest?

Lost a bough on a curly willow with the snow.
Old bones fear cold. Goodbye to autumn. Blow, wind, blow!
–Robert Frosty

Ancient Music
by Ezra Pound

Sing goddamn, damn. Sing goddamn!
Sing goddamn, damn. Sing goddamn!

Winter is i-cumin in,
Lhude sing goddamn!
Raineth drop and staineth slop
And how the wind doth ram
Sing goddamn!

Skiddth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing goddamn.
Goddamn, goddamn, tis why I am goddamn,
So gainst the winter’s balm.

Sing goddamn, sing goddamn, DAMN!

With Green Lantern you have a virtually omniscient hero who has a magical tragical ringy-ding which can do anything he thinks of. It reeks of wishful thinking. Where’s the suspense? It’s the Superman problem writ large. And with Wonder Woman you have a character which DC had neglected for decades. Rucka’s The Hiketeia was literally the first decent Wonder Woman story in 60 years.



Three Outlandish Tracks from Van Morrison’s 1968 “Revenge Album”
“Ring Worm”

“Want a Danish?” & “The Big Royalty Check”



THE LAGER LADS,vizcomic/Recent






But if you really want to understand the twisted world of Jack Chick, read the Nathaniel Hawthorne short story “Young Goodman Brown”.

Archie is just a kid-friendly version of An American Tragedy.

We all know that sooner or later Archie is going to drown pregnant Betty in a lake and go off and marry Veronica.






Hello. Mr. Watt. This is Kathleen Hanna returning your phone call. Bout 3:45 on Monday and it’s about that fuckin record that you asked me to do something for. And I guess I’m responding to that now cuz I have a few minutes. And I just wanted to tell you…uh, I have a friend who was raped by, fucked by, whatever you wanna fuckin call it by this guy on your record, gonna be on your record. He’s a big rockstar. Yeah when he was 27 and she was 13 he was a big rockstar too. And uh, I don’t know if the phrase “power imbalance” means anything to you. But uh, I’m just not so sure I wanna be included in your little white rock boy fuckin hall of shame here, you know? I’m just like “Do I wanna be sandwiched in between some of these guys that are just doing the whole, like, big-white-baby-with-an-ego-problem thing?” I mean, [sighs] get over it! It’s so boring. It’s like, a lot of these guys should just fuckin quit music and become lifeguards at like Wild Waves or some shit. So they can just like get their fucking, you know, anger management thing going. They can just get their power trips out on the kids, they can just do the whole thing. Maybe they’d be actually saving someone’s life. “Hey, don’t run by the pool. No cutoffs.” You know? That’s what I hear when I hear some of this you know music by a lot of these fuckin guys, you know? And I mean, I guess what I’m saying is “I’m just too cool… to be on your fuckin record.” You know? It’s like I really don’t wanna perpetuate or be included in a thing where it’s just a bunch of like, I don’t know, just like this new. The music coming out by guys right now in the sort of like rock world or alternative rock world or used-to-be-punk world or whatever. It’s like the whole, “I’m a straight, white, middle class, male, rockstar guy, but I’m so fuckin oppressed.” “I’m a loser baby why don’t you kill me.” [Sigh] Yawn. Like super fuckin yawn. So yeah, I guess what I’m saying is No. No. No. No. I’m not interested. No. I don’t wanna be on your fuckin record. No. But ummm. Mr. Watt. Dude. Babe. Sir. Uh, you need to get me my fuckin Annie soundtrack back like soon cuz you’ve had it forever and I know you haven’t even fuckin listened to it yet. Just like, gimme a call and tell me when that’s going to happen. And ummm. I’ll talk to you then. Bye.”


Cute Mr. LSD is wearing a cabdriver’s cap. That’s because he’s about to take you on a little “trip”.

Few have tasted the joys of Olde Frothingslosh Pale Stale Ale.

In 1987 I was walking down the street in Manhattan with my friend Mark Bigoness, carrying a quart bottle of Ballantine, and a homeless guy lurking in the corner of a building spied us and croaked, “Hey–that’s my brand!”

One of the worst beers I’ve ever had (aside from the undrinkable Al Capone-era brew Canadian Ace) is a New Orleans concoction called Coy. In 1986, in the French Quarter, I offered some to a homeless guy who was tagging after me and he rasped “Urr…no…I don’t think so.”

At the rock bottom: Rolling Rock Light



Copyright 2018 Francis DiMenno


THE 1980S
“The novelist… is conditioned by what he guesses about other people, and about himself.” —E.M. Forster.

“…that emasculated humor we call fun…”—F.Scott Fitzgerald, “The Rich Boy”

“There is a land of Cockayne where all the world is merry, and at whose frontier cause and effect cease to have power; where vice is always innocent and never ugly; where men when drunk become inspired; where everyone is witty….No one grows old in this country, and those who are old already are unendowed with an immortal youth of spirits.”—Mary Heaton Vorse, “Bohemia as It Is Not” (1903.), cited in Grana and Grana, eds., On Bohemia: The Code of the Self-Exiled, p. 310.

1976: As mentioned before, when Billy was 19, his mother committed suicide. I have heard it said that she walked into the ocean and drowned herself. And that Billy and his younger sister witnessed this.

An anonymous source who knew the full story reveals:

His mother’s suicide was even more horrible than you describe. You probably know this, but she told the kids she wanted them around her when she committed suicide, and forbade them very harshly to call the police. They secretly did so, anyway. After drinking the booze she went down to the beach with them trailing after her, distraught, hoping the rescuers would get there in time. The responders got lost, couldn’t find the house at first, but the Ruanes could hear the siren and see the lights, and Mom was tipped off. She went into the ocean screaming curses at them for disobeying her orders. By the time the police or firefighters got there, they couldn’t save her. The sea, obviously, was freezing. The image of those kids on the beach has always haunted me.

I had a suicidal, alcoholic mother who had a diagnosis of “schizophrenia” listed on her death certificate. I can attest that the world can seem a harsh and arbitrary place to a person whose source of nurturing is so afflicted. A generalized mistrust of humanity can easily take the place of fond attachments to any one person.

Circa. 1978: Russ Gershon: Sound advice… on another note: you were right, Billy did eventually get a Harvard extension degree in library science. In his early Cambridge years in the late 70s, what was turned out to be so funny was that he was attending the most hot, intellectual courses around Harvard, making the most erudite and outrageous comments, and nobody seemed to realize he wasn’t actually enrolled. He even fooled professors, who couldn’t quite find him on their class lists and were perpetually perplexed.

Circa 1978: James Gussen: I think I may actually have had a class with him – Nat Sci 90 (remember that?). I’ve always remembered the guy I’m thinking of as Peter Sellars (who went on to become a famous avant-garde theater director), but now I think it may have been Billy. I don’t suppose anyone knows if he “took” Nat Sci 90…? The guy I’m thinking of showed up only sporadically, made no pretense of having done the reading, and said odd things that aggravated the teacher.

1978. Dim Sum in Chinatown with Billy, Gus Murphy Moynihan, Nick Eberstadt, Richard Smoley. Billy caused a scene. He particularly seemed to piss off Chinese people, who apparently had little patience with clowns. They allegedly love children, but not, it seems, children of a larger growth. Curious thing though—Billy pretty much started the fashion for wearing those flat-soled Chinese slippers.

Letter to RMS dated 2-20-79.
February 17, 1979. I didn’t leave the party at 1679 Mass Ave. until it had thinned out entirely, and would have stayed longer except [Billy’s friend] Greg DeVore took too many percodans and washed them down with too many gallons of lager, so we had to take turns walking him around. An incredible asshole friend of Billy’s, some hyper-conceited dancer type…went and said to Greg, “Why don’t you die?” I breezed in, gabbled with Greg, said “C’mon, Smiley, let’s dance,” and occupied him long enough so that an incredibly twisted smile animated his ashen face. I left early because I didn’t want to aid Billy in any mad scheme he might have had at four in the morning and zero degrees to walk Greg back to the Square.

There is a rumor that sometime in the late 70s or early 80s Billy played drums for a band called Havoc, Inc., but I have not been able to confirm this.

Circa 1980: Daniel Gewartz: I first saw Billy dashing and weaving about Harvard Square, obviously loaded, long ago, perhaps the late ’70s or early ’80s. He had on a suit and tie, as he often did when I saw him in subsequent years. And he appeared to me as an apparition, as some kind of nearly symbolic image, a flash from some stylish, half-made preppie from 1957 come back to grace us.

1980: Following a screening of “Cutter’s Way” at Currier House on the Radcliffe Quad, Billy started chastising an undergraduate who “didn’t know what he was talking about”. One thing Billy knew well (besides the jazz, besides the obscure 19th century American writers, besides virtually everything you’d never heard of but Billy had) was movies. Movies both old and new.

February 1980: Billy loans me a picture of a crucified Christ with eyes that open and shut. He claims that he had obtained it during a visit to Vatican City. He eventually claims it back.

July 1980: I’m utterly broke. Billy gets me in on a temp job that he also has, pasting labels onto envelopes for the Freshman Dean at Harvard. (Nor would this be the last time Billy gets me a job.)

August 1, 1980. Harvard Advocate party.

Nita Sembrowich: Billy was in scary whirling dervish mode. I seem to recall him walking around the room, snapping his fingers in a violently insistent manner. And dancing of course. Also, I remember that he carried on an incredibly long, only semi-coherent conversation with John [Price Carey] about Susanne Langer’s Philosophy in a New Key. Most particularly, I recall you gesturing at Billy and saying, “There’s a flame flickering.”

BOTTTVOG notebook: August 1980. Billy arrives late at the Underground for a show headlined by a band called I-Ses.

Erik Rieselbach: “Billy arrives distraught at not yet being drunk, after having consumed half a bottle of Madeira.” Billy does his wild dance. A big guy gets knocked over by Billy, and begins to brutalize him. After about twenty minutes of frenzied protests by Billy, the guy (wearing a POOH’S PUB t-shirt) leaves. From the stage someone from I-Ses comments, “Ladies and gentlemen—Billy Ruane, the human mop.”

Letter dated 11-18-1980: Saturday, August 15, 1980. Billy had talked me and Erik Rieselbach into going to see V; and I-Ses at the Underground (the site of a former student Laundromat). He had confided in us that he was in love with the lead singer of V; who was plump, blond, and had a singing voice that was throaty but not raspy. That evening she was dressed in military gear, and her phrasing seemed somewhat reminiscent of Grace Slick.

We got there at about 9:50; Billy didn’t arrive until much later. V;’s first, twenty-minute set sounded to me like a vague agglomeration of all the shrill, shrieking, banshee noises ever dreamed of in the devil’s worst nightmares. They were so intense that their music went right through you. They had all the panache of a train wreck full of grinding metal and sonic confusion, disjoint and diffuse. Background music it was not. Next came I-Ses, a seven-piece reggae outfit, who played for about forty minutes. Midway through their set, in comes Billy, who along with practically everybody else, immediately begins dancing. The dance is a spectacle to behold. Wild, frenzied, furious, and almost completely unpredictable. Fine, everybody’s getting into the music; there’s no problem. But then I-Ses finishes their set, and V; comes back on after a fifteen minute delay, during which time Erik and I discover that Billy, having failed to get drunk on half a bottle of Madeira wine, had polished off the remaining half as well. People have begun slowly clearing out of the room, so that when V; begins there are perhaps about a dozen people left. Erik leaves, claiming fatigue. V; had done about two or three short songs, exceedingly loud. Billy, apparently fueled by his drunkenness as well as his professed crush on the lead singer, is the only one who can stand the noise enough to get up close to it. As a result, he is the only person dancing, in this musty, dark, cavernous and stingily-lit room. He looks rather bizarre. People gawk. Eventually, in the course of his eccentric weaving and bobbing, he knocks down a huge, muscular bruiser wearing a Pooh’s Pub t-shirt, sending him sprawling. He might have been some sort of bouncer there, from the looks of him. The bruiser becomes extremely annoyed, and picks Billy up by the scruff of the neck, threatening violence just short of murder and all sorts of other messy consequences if Billy doesn’t calm down. Billy, totally intimidated but also furious that his fun is being spoiled by such an obvious lout, promises to behave and leaves the room temporarily, just in time to be out of hearing range when one of the members of V; (not the lead singer) suggests that when one dances, one does not thereby need to knock people down. A few minutes later, in comes Billy again, and whoops, down goes another fellow, somewhat smaller in stature, whom Billy, gyrating madly, has just knocked down. The Pooh’s Pub bouncer is furious at this insubordination (he had warned Billy; the BAND had warned Billy) and once again grabs Billy, warning him in tones even more bloodthirsty than before that he had better restrain himself. Billy forms a mock-straitjacket with the sleeves of his shirt and meekly walks away. But when the music inspires him, he once again begins hopping around as madly as before. The big guy is really angry now, and warns Billy to sit down or else, and Billy, in a heartrending voice, protests that he only wants to dance and isn’t hurting anybody. He then skips off and begins writhing on the floor. Several other people present rush up to restrain the bruiser, which they manage to do, but only just barely. Billy, not content to leave it at that, then begins to drink beers left on top of the amps by the band for their own consumption. He does this not once, but twice, and the big guy is really furious now. Someone comes over to be and asks, “Do you know that guy?” I say yes. He says to me, “Then you’d better get him out of here before we throw him out.” I say, “Wait until this song is over” and the guy says, “NOW” I just sit there, and a few minutes later, he returns and says, “You’d better throw him out, because I don’t want to do it.” So I get up and try to steer Billy off the floor. Billy, who has been beseeching me all night to dance with him, is delighted, until he learns my real purpose. At which point he says, “No, no, it’s all right, everything’s under control,” and refuses to leave. Throwing up my hands, I return to my table. A few minutes later, a woman, not wanting to witness murder, gently leads a now-compliant Billy away. As a postscript, I-Ses returns, and so does Billy, as well as all the other dancers who had been there earlier, before V; had done their second set. At the end of their second set, I-Ses does an encore, and Billy, who has been rolling around on the floor, screams “MORE! MORE!” The singer says, “We’ll be back again someday.” Billy says, “I’ll be back, too!” The singer replies, “Good! We’ll need you; it’s hard to find people to clean the floor.” (I’m not sure if I’m imagining this, but I seem to recall that someone else added, from the stage, “Ladies and gentlemen—Billy Ruane, the human mop.”) I-Ses packs up and loads out; I apologize to Billy for not dancing; he says he understands, and, since he seems inclined to stick around for some mysterious reason, I leave without him. Looking back on the incident, I now realize that all I could have done was sat back and watched quietly as Billy nearly got himself a brutal beating. Had I intervened, I myself might have been badly injured.

June 1981. Letter to David Joslin dated 9-21-81: “Toward the end of the month Billy Ruane took me to see the Ventures—he almost got beat up in an inevitable altercation with some burly toughs, but the J. Swift’s people interposed and everyone involved got a free t-shirt for their troubles!

October 1981: An excerpt from a story about Billy titled “Tell Old Bill”:

First time she saw him he was hunched over his desk at recess trying out his new pen that wrote in three colors and giggling at the faces he engraved into the yielding wood. “He’s crazy,” she thought, “only crazy people use those pens.” From the corner of his eye she watched him; the pinched, pointed face, the beady eyes, the rat’s nest hair—he resembled a discarded plastic doll you’d find in the town dump. She saw a scruffy kook who should wear his jacket backwards; a babbling banana dangling from a stalk amid the chatter of a rain forest.

From a letter to DDS [dated as having been begun 10-3-81]:

Knowing Billy Ruane is a plus as he can usually gain me admittance to theatrical events in which he participates without too much botheration, and I for my part am usually glad to attend though very often he has walk-ons in some of the most stinko bombs you’ve ever held your nose to…to his credit he’s usually the redeeming factor in these Aggisiz [Hall] and [Harvard] House-type productions….I’ve been bopping around with Billy Ruane, who’s being kicked out of his apartment at the Grolier after long years of habitation for allowing people to use his place when he wasn’t there…these people included street derelicts and the street derelicts invited knife-wielding ex-cons and the ex-cons got the amusing idea of throwing a fire extinguisher down an air shaft at some incredible a.m. in the morning with rather…explosive results; the [other] tenants refused to pay their rent until Billy was evicted, but he managed to negotiate a settlement wherein he’d be allowed to say until the end of June [1982], where he’d have a reasonable chance of finding an alternative abode in which to store both his overwhelmingly diverse possessions as well as himself. No longer attending the Extension school, Billy has been savoring the night-life of Boston, acting in various plays, and generally enhancing daily his reputation as a cult figure. I see him about once or twice a week, usually weekends.

From a letter to RMS and ADL dated 7-25-82.

April 10, 1982. Easter Saturday. C. has come up from her home during her spring break. We drink off the remnants of a six-pack left over from the previous night’s festivities and so [certain members of our group] then decide to each take half a hit of acid. Where did she get it? Someone had offered a hit of blotter to her earlier, at some party, and she had hidden it in her mouth. As the drug began enveloping us in its mystic haze, what else was there to do, we decided, than to visit the lad who’s an acid trip in and of himself, none other than Master Ruane. Though the visit was ostensibly to return Ole by John Coltrane, one of the records of his that I had borrowed. Along with “The Classic Roy Orbison.” And the first Lou Reed record. And The Empty Foxhole by Ornette Coleman.

When we got to Billy’s apartment, a guy named Joe was also there. He struck me as a fat, fawning, bearded, older-and-wiser jazz buff who perhaps had taken up with Billy because of his superior record collection. Billy took quite a shine to C. We had a blast of a time singing in falsetto voices along with obscurities like “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Babe” in the cover version by the Jackson 5. We started playing around with a wind-up see-through foot-tall clock-work Mickey Mouse doll, sending it skittering across the floor and laughing our fool heads off. Billy eventually snatched it up and destroyed it, which apparently made C. sad. Billy, as a token of his regard, said that in recompense he would destroy any record C. wanted him to. But C. didn’t want to destroy a record; she wanted to play one. Uh-oh. Billy could be as ruthless as Stalin when it came to controlling the playlist. But Billy in this instance was surprisingly agreeable, and stuck it out through all eight interminable minutes of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version of “Heard It Through the Grapevine”, to which we all moved in corybantic frenzy until we were sweating cannonballs and our tootsies were swelling up like poisoned pups. Then the three of us, plus Joe, went to Harvard Square to eat. Joe, on one pretext or other, left the company. At Baby Watson, we ordered a pizza, and who should we run into but Harry O., with whom we shared a slice. (That’s the last time I ever saw him. He left town and returned to the Midwest the following day.)

Billy told us he had plans to attend a three-band bill that night at The Knights of Columbus Hall at 321 Washington Street in Brighton Center, along with David Colburn, and sundry others. We told him we would also attend. On the bill were Christmas, Dangerous Birds, and Salem 66. Billy allegedly had a crush on Thalia Zedek, the lead singer of the Dangerous Birds, and was, rumor had it, assisting her in obtaining bookings. (But the evening itself, according to Liz Cox, had been booked by Michael Cudahy of Xmas.) Billy went back to his apartment; C. and I ran into to Joe on our way to the Harvard Pro to buy rum. At first he tried to pretend as though he hadn’t seen us, but C. recognized him in front of Elsie’s and called out to him. We followed him inside and watched him as he ate a huge sandwich crammed with meat. Joe seemed very nervous and asked us not to tell Billy we had seen him. When we returned to Billy’s apartment, we found Greg DeVore, a couple of girls I vaguely knew from Harvard by way of Beverly Hills, and a nervous bearded degenerate from NYC named Don. We all chatted about this and that. Billy had calmed down considerably from earlier that afternoon, when he had deliberately been allowing monstrous gobs of phlegm to dangle vindictively, shamanically, from his mouth, despite the remonstrances of his friend Joe. Anyhow, we stood around, drinking rum, and attempting to get into that much-to-be-desired party mood, and, as the evening progressed, it became apparent to me that Greg and Don from NYC had something going on between them, even though Greg had his arm around a girl dressed in khaki and was staring evilly at C. (who said later that she had totally disoriented him by making a hissing noise and shoving her outspread fingers into his face). I had told Greg to look at my eyes, and he, being the seasoned veteran of drug abuse that he was, immediately knew what state I was in and immediately began running his fingers up and down my arm, saying “I’ll bet that feels real good now, doesn’t it?” to which I sarcastically replied, “What are you trying to do, initiate me into some kind of club?” (Although I didn’t know this at the time, C. thought I had bisexual tendencies…just like her jailbird ex-boyfriend Bill, incidentally…because of some remark Erik and I had made in jest the previous night regarding fucking people up the ass. C. took this to mean that in the past I had performed such actions, though nothing could have been further from the truth. Later, however, she began screaming for all and sundry of the folks at the K of C. to hear that she was sick of me fucking guys all the time.) Back to Greg and C. While Greg was staring speechlessly at her, Billy impetuously kissed her. Shortly afterwards, he came up to me and explained, “I just wanted to feel a little tit.” (Though maybe I didn’t hear him correctly.)

Billy left his apartment for one reason or another, after promising that he would be right back. We played a few records and things were fairly quiet until I slipped on the single version of “Orgasm Addict” by the Buzzcocks. Now, earlier, as I had mentioned, Billy had smashed to pieces his Mickey Mouse doll that C. had insisted on winding up and sending skittering across the hardwood floor of Billy’s apartment. Greg DeVore now retrieved the Mickey Mouse head from where it had been stashed and began jerking off with it in time to the music in the astonished presence of at least half-a-dozen others; he was also hopping about like a headless chicken which had just been corn-holed by a lusty farmer boy. To top it all off, when I actually had the temerity to put on the flip side of the single, Greg really flipped out. The song was “Whatever Happened To,” which, strangely enough, asks the question of Mickey Mouse, among others. When I put that song on, Greg and Don from NYC, who couldn’t seem to sit still for one minute, either because he was high on speed or because he had a sore ass, swerved themselves in time to the music into Billy’s bedroom, where they then proceeded to indulge themselves in a most tempestuous romp, falling upon Billy’s bed in neurasthenic glee, knocking over the books that lined the wall, kicking his telephone off the hook, toppling the lamp and, in the process, breaking it, and in the relative darkness, wrestling on Billy’s bed like barnyard animals.

Shortly thereafter. Billy returned, and, when he got around to answering the ringing phone, the receiver of which I had thoughtfully restored to its hook, he discovered the shambles in his room and immediately erupted into a monumental tantrum, singular in its violence, volume, and intensity, screaming AHHH! AHWAH! AWW! NO! NO! It had been his skateboard punk friend Harry O. on the phone, and I spoke to him. He told me to tell Billy to leave him some money that Billy owed him. When I relayed the message to Billy, he looked under his bed to find the some emergency cash which he had stashed in a clay pot there. When he finally did find it, amid the shambles that his room had become, he discovered that there was nothing in it. Thirty dollars was missing. It was then that Billy flew into a foaming rage of nearly Hitlerian proportions. It was at that point that I saw fit to tell him that his friend Joe had been acting suspiciously when we had encountered him skulking in front of Elsie’s’ earlier that evening. Billy, realizing that once again he had been betrayed by someone he had trusted, yelled, “That Goddamn bastard, he was the only one who knew where that money was!”

I wanted at this point to cancel the trip to Brighton. C. wouldn’t hear of it. C. was up for just about anything. She spent her adolescence in the hinterlands surrounded by roughnecks, bikers, drug dealers, and ex-convicts. Nothing much could faze her. So we all of us crowded into the spiffily-attired Dave Colburn vehicle. Once we had ventured forth, we discovered that Dave couldn’t drive all that well. Perhaps this was due to his NYC upbringing. Even though he was stone cold sober, and he was not particularly reckless or inept, due to the bewildering directions that Billy supplied him, and the homicidal nature of Boston drivers, he nearly got us killed—twice–on the way to Brighton. This might also have had something to do with the general craziness quotient of the passengers. He was probably pretty nervous, and who wouldn’t be, knowing the C. and I were probably the sanest people in the car, and that we were snuggled together in the death seat, unable to quell the incipient riots erupting with alarming frequency in the back seats of the vehicle.

On our arrival at the K of C in Brighton, and following our entrance, we were confronted by a drab hall with wooden floors and some rather incongruous Christmas lights strung in a devil-may-care fashion along the two-foot-high mantel shelf. The dance floor was a sort of squared rotunda of no more than 2000 square feet. The band occupied a stage of adequate length, but precariously narrow width, and the stage itself, along with a portion of the dance floor, was strewn with flowers, mostly roses, and multicolored streamers. In another, smaller room was a bar, which we didn’t end up visiting very often. Because we all had smuggled in beer. Largely on Billy’s insistence. (Billy also brought in a tape recorder, which I was expected to attend to, and mostly did, desultorily.) The pre-show music, transmitted by means of a primitive public address system, was eclectic and included the Jonathan Richman song “I’m Gonna Walk.”

First up was Salem 66, whose set was mostly raucous wails and screeching guitars. I think they performed their song “Playground”, which featured the lyrics, “My love is a playground and you can do what you want.” Lyrics which seemed singularly apropos to the evening. Far more interesting than the band were the dancers, who slowly crept out onto the dance floor following the drunk and uninhibited example of myself and C. The personalities of these people did not shine. But the variety of their costumes did. Fine young gentlemen and their ladies were clothed in a strange mélange of fashions from the 1960s, black-on-black art school togs, and khaki and leather clothing of the type mostly favored by members of military and Hell’s Angels. I saw the first miniskirt I had seen in about ten years.

I don’t recall much of the Dangerous Birds set. Headliners Xmas were not half-bad.

Anyway, they did succeed in driving people to the dance floor. And inspired me and C. to new heights of exhibitionism. C. wrapped her legs around my thighs. I picked her up by the ass and from that position she launched kicks at the faces of unoffending people standing on the sidelines. Then, Billy Ruane joined the fun, and, in his inimitable and lovably cunning fashion very nearly managed to turn what had been merely a jive sock-hop for overgrown adolescents into a catastrophic mass brawl. As Billy commenced his spastic dance-psychodramatics, in which I joined him, things began to get wild. C. did a gypsy dance, with a rose between her teeth. I got beer thrown on my face and clothing and was very nearly clobbered by some bruisers who thought that the mock-fight which had erupted on the dance floor between myself and Billy was in earnest. (They later apologized, and told me that they didn’t realize that it was all merely a part of the entertainment.) I wrapped C. in streamers, guzzled beer, screamed in the coming of Easter at midnight, behaved like a total fool, and pretty much had the time of my life. C. danced as though she were in the middle of a barroom brawl. Billy surpassed himself once again with tortured physical pyrotechnics which would have done a Yogi proud. The dancing increasingly became a form of modified slam dance that was more knock-down and sprawl and crawl than the wimpy striking of sparks such as seen on the West Coast. Billy himself took to the stage while Christmas played, and what he said and did while he was up there has been lost to history, unless Liz or Michael remembers, or unless somehow the cassette tape commemorating that evening has been preserved.

On the ride back to Central Square, C. and I were once again snuggled together in the death seat, mostly because I didn’t trust any of the people in the back seat to refrain from molesting her. This fact must have been obvious, for it seemed to agitate Billy, who, at first, said nothing. C. and I began drinking what was left of the remaining Budweiser that had been stashed in the car as quickly as we could. Billy, seated in the back, hollered for the driver to put Wolfman Jack on the radio. I proposed that instead, we all sing “Chantilly Lace.” This irritated Billy, who snarled, “None of that creative shit!” He also began loudly saying things like “Aww…look at the lovebirds.” Once we were in Central Square, Billy said, with a disputative jeer, “Why don’t we just let the lovebirds off here?” We grabbed a few more Buds for the road, and, thankful to be still alive, we returned to my apartment.


NOVEMBER 23, 2018
Copyright 2018 FRANCIS DIMENNO

The mob is the mother of tyrants.–Diogenes


Well sir, that was some mighty stirring speechifyin’ by Judge Comeliesen, standing there on the courthouse steps on a crisp November night by the light of a full moon addressing an angry mob while the Tallents and the Pattents and the Millers and the Batchelders and all of their kin all milled around in the front and in the town square bearing smoky torches and the air was full of the smell of burning pitch and their eyes were full of hatred for the Keysar clan, and they were determined to catch up to them and hang them for allegedly kidnapping young Billy Batchelder Pattent.

I would like to be able to say that the Keysars were no dummies and that they saw which way the wind was blowing, and I would like to be able to say that Paw Keysar and Judge Corneliesen came to some kind of quiet agreement, and I would like to be able to say the Judge brokered a settlement with the Tallents and the Pattents and the Millers and the Batchelders so that in two weeks the Keysars sold their little cabin in the hills and discreetly removed themselves to a less populated and possibly more hospitable locality. But I can’t.

Anyway, in trying to defend the Keysars, Judge Corneliesen sure made a pretty little speech, one for the books, about how we was a nation of laws and not mobs, and how surely all reasonable men could always get together and disagree amongst themselves without resorting to violence and the hangman’s rope. I sure would like to be able to say that his speechifyin’ changed some minds. But it didn’t change anybody’s mind. In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect. All the Judge’s talk of arson and murder and the authority of the law seemed to have the exact opposite effect than the one which was intended.

I’d like to be able to say that the people of Hickory Hollow listened to what the Judge was putting down, because I was, I’ll admit it, on the side of the Keysars.

In fact, I guess I was more than a bit moonstruck by the great beauty and grace of little Flossie Mae, the eldest Keysar daughter. She was a mountain flower, and whenever she would come into the general store for some frippery—these times were, admittedly, few and far between, because her folks were what some liked to call “hard scrabble” and what others liked to call “white trash”—I say whenever she would come into Bridger’s store, I was struck dumbfounded by her beauty, as though she were a full-grown woman and not a mere chit of a thirteen-year-old girl. Her long black hair cascaded down her bony neck and shoulders in brilliant waves, and her fresh cheeks were blushing red and her skin the palest white, in spite of never having known paint ner powder. I guess if she weren’t so young, I might have been tempted to take a liberty with her, only her squinty-eyed Paw and his shotgun were a powerful incentive, as they say, to hew to the straight and narrow path.

I’d also like to be able to say that, thanks to the Judge, the Keysars were given the benefit of the doubt because I also knew their eldest boy, young Jed, and I liked him a great deal. In spite of his youth, he had a winning way about him; he had a friendly but dignified bearing which belonged to a much older fellow, and he would often volunteer to perform little chores around the store, never once asking for payment, though usually I would send him home with a couple of oranges or some black peppercorns to share with his kinfolk. Jed knew all about horses, and he was shocked to discover that I didn’t know the first thing about them. Like about how to judge the age of a horse by his teeth, or how to fit a bridle to a jumpy pony, or how to estimate the weight of a horse. He was perfectly polite, though, as hill folk generally are, and his did his best to try to teach me a few things he felt that I needed to know. Like how to shoe a horse in such a way that his hoof wouldn’t break, because a horse lamed in that way could take up to twelve months before you could ride him again. Like how to take care not to leave a horse in the sun too long, lest it become sunburned. Like how to keep an eye on a young foal and know whether it was healthy—“Effen it h’ain’t ‘bout one-third slobber ‘en that’s that is a sick little critter.”

Jed told me that in all his experience with horses, he learned that they are a lot more like people than we realize. They could tell whether a human was happy or sad—just like a dog. And they will also respond to your moods. Which is why you should never approach a horse when you’re angry or fearful, as the horse will pick up on it and might do you an injury.

Jed also told me that although certain horses had a reputation for being fearful, and shying at loud noises, individual horses could often be trained to perform feats of incredible bravery on behalf of their masters. Particularly on the battlefield. His own Grampaw, he said, fought for the rebels at Antietam and had a horse he swore by, until it caught a bad case of colic and wouldn’t drink from its water bucket and had to be put down.

As for training horses, said Jed, any man who would actually hit a horse with a whip wasn’t doing it right, and was either a plumb fool or a plain unvarnished and ornery cuss, and in either case he should be avoided. Jed told me that he had it figured out that when he was old enough, he would head out west and work on a ranch. He was ready to leave at any time, only his Paw thought he was too young and made him promise to wait until his seventeenth birthday, which was about fourteen months away.

He never made it out west, though.




Eggs. Chicken. Tuna. Sardines. Peanut butter. Almonds. Hummus.

Canned Tomatoes. Garlic. Onions. Strawberries. Blueberries. Cabbage. Broccoli. Spinach. Carrots.

Potatoes. Whole wheat bread. Pasta. Brown Rice. Lentils. Beans.

Cottage cheese. Sour cream. Block cheese. Yogurt.

Olives. Olive Oil.

Avoid soda, mac & cheese, Ramen Noodles, or anything super-processed.

Avoid all fast food. It makes you stupid.

What to do for lunchtime at work?

Make five delicious servings of protein, vegetables, and carbs on Sunday night.

Portion them out into little tubs.

Problem solved.

For example: Chicken, brussels sprouts, and rice.

Unfortunately, there are, to my knowledge, hardly any low sodium microwavable frozen dinners.

And many of them are loaded with additives.

Best to spend an hour or two on Sunday night making rice, a couple of meat dishes, and a couple of vegetable dishes that can last you the whole week.

That way, you can control how much sodium you consume.

Plus, it’s much cheaper.

Sauteed baby greens are very good for you and take hardly any time to make. Sauteed asparagus and brussels sprouts are also very good. If you blanch dinosaur kale in boiling water before sauteeing, it will cook much more quickly.

If you have a ricer, making rice is easy and low-stress.

If you eat meat, baking or broiling is another low-effort way to cook.




“Put not thy trust in Princes.”

One of the leaders was John Ball.




It is far better to be hypocritical and hide the fact that you’re
racist than to openly display your true colors and remove all doubt.
Of course, enlightened people have realized that race differentiation
is a mere superstition which has:
No. Scientific. Basis. Whatsoever.




“The troops? They don’t need our support. They just DO what they’re TOLD to do…”



Sorry, metalheads, but your favorite genre sucks. OK, maybe I’m beating a dead horse here. But, all the same: “Child in Time”: What a bunch of convoluted horseshit. What grown man can listen to that abysmal shrieking and that ludicrous flash guitar and not give a snort of derision?

And the lyrics are simply the worst sort of bad high school poetry.

Sweet child in time
You’ll see the line
The line that’s drawn between
Good and bad
See the blind man
Shooting at the world
Bullets flying
Ohh taking toll
If you’ve been bad
Oh Lord I bet you have
And you’ve not been hit
Oh by flying lead

Then There’s Only One Choice!
Dann Gibt Es Nur Eins!
By Wolfgang Borchert (1947)
English translation: William T. Hathaway

You. Man at the machine in the factory. When they tell you tomorrow to stop making pots and pans and instead make helmets and machine guns, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Woman in the store, woman in the office. When they tell you tomorrow to fill grenades and mount telescopic sights on sniper rifles, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Factory owner. When they tell you tomorrow to make gunpowder instead of baby powder, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Researcher in the laboratory. When they tell you tomorrow to invent new ways to kill people, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Songwriter in your studio. When they tell you tomorrow not to sing love songs but hate songs, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Doctor in the clinic. When they tell you tomorrow to declare soldiers fit for combat, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Minister in the pulpit. When they tell you tomorrow to bless murder and sanctify war, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Captain of the freighter. When they tell you tomorrow to ship cannons and tanks instead of wheat, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Pilot of the plane. When they tell you tomorrow to drop bombs on cities, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Tailor in your shop. When they tell you tomorrow to make uniforms, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Judge in robes. When they tell you tomorrow to serve on a court-martial, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Railroad worker. When they tell you tomorrow to give the signal to send the troop and munitions trains, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Man in the country, man in the city. When they try to recruit you into the military, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO!

You. Mother in Normandy, mother in the Ukraine, you, mother in San Francisco and London, you, on the Yellow River and the Mississippi River, you, mother in Naples and Hamburg and Cairo and Oslo — mothers of all continents, mothers of the world, when they tell you tomorrow to raise children to be nurses for field hospitals and soldiers for new battles, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO! Mothers, say NO!

Because if you don’t say NO, if YOU don’t say no, mothers, then:


In the noisy steamy dusty port cities the great ships will groan into silence and float like cadavers of drowned mammoths, slapping sluggishly against the lonely docks while algae, seaweed and mussels grow on the once roaring gleaming hulls that now lie decomposing in a watery cemetery stinking of squishy decayed fish.

the streetcars will become dull senseless glass-eyed beetles lying crudely dented and peeling next to skeletons of tangled wires and rusted tracks, behind dilapidated sheds with holes in the roofs, in desolate, cratered streets —

a mud-gray, porridge-thick, leaden stillness will roll over everything, devouring, growing spreading over schools and colleges and theaters, over sport fields and playgrounds, gruesome and greedy, unstoppable —

the juicy sun-ripened grapes will rot on their broken arbors, the green rice will wither on the parched earth, the potatoes will freeze in the abandoned fields, and the cows will raise their death-stiffened legs like upside-down milking stools towards heaven —

in the research centers new medicines discovered by great doctors will turn to fungus and mold —

in the kitchens, dining rooms and cellars, in the cold-storage lockers and warehouses, the last sacks of flour, the last jars of strawberries, pumpkins and cherry juice will spoil — the bread under the overturned tables and smashed plates will turn green, and the rancid butter will reek, the grain will lie limp as a fallen army in the fields next to rusting plows, and the smokestacks of the pounding factories will fall and smash and crumble to be covered with eternal grass —

then the last person, with lacerated bowels and polluted lungs, answerless and alone under a poisonous glaring sun and wobbling sky, will stagger back and forth between gaping mass graves and massive concrete idols of the deserted cities, the last person, scrawny, cursing, accusing, insane — and his terrible cry: WHY? will die unheard, fading across the plains, whispering through the shattered ruins, brushing against the rubble of churches and bunkers, sinking into pools of blood, the last answerless animal cry of the last human animal —

all this will happen, tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, maybe tonight, maybe tonight, if — if — if you don’t say NO.


NOVEMBER 16, 2018
Copyright 2018 FRANCIS DIMENNO

The race of man, while sheep in credulity, are wolves for conformity.—Carl Van Doren


I didn’t know what was going on in Hickory Hollow, what with the town clowns and the Klan and all, but I was determined to find out. Because I thought that the Klan had been more or less wiped out several years ago, when drunken old General Grant told the Federals to swoop down and wipe them out. But, then again, Hickory Hollow was always a good fur piece behind the times, or so I was given to understand by Jim Bridger, the owner of the general store where I worked.

It may not of been the actual Klan as was running the town, but they sure done a good impersonation. Just listen to what happened to the Keysar family. They were a bunch of backwoods hill folk who lived on the fringes of the town, right near the town dump, as it just so happened. They would come into town every now and then in their broke-down old wagon to do some trade—that had some traps laid in the woods and were able to trade pelts for the sorts of dry goods they needed and couldn’t make themselves, namely oil, salt, paraffin, flints, shoes, knives, and other such necessities. Some said they had a likker still back there in the woods, and it wouldn’t of surprised me none, because there really wasn’t much of a market for pelts in them parts, where every man in town had him a rifle and had been shootin’ since he first learned to walk, and sometimes before.

Anyhow, they weren’t welcome at Kludd’s store, so they came to
Jim Bridger’s emporium.

Now, one of the biggest names in the town was a Scotch-Irish feller by the name of Pattent, who had a rather large family, including a small boy named William Batchelder Pattent who was at an age when he was just plumb full of deviltry.

I was able to reconstruct the story the way it actually happened, years later, from old Grampaw Keysar, who ended up running an old-clothing store in Noxtown.

He said that Maw and Paw Keysar was rolling into town
in their wagon for a Saturday outing one fine autumn day and young William spied them from his stoop and called them a bunch of nasty names, and said they was dirty, and no-count, and no better than a bunch of animals. I reckon he got such ideas direct from his own Pappy. Young Billy wasn’t any too bright himself.

Well, Paw Keysar, he wasn’t about to take that kind of lip from a mere cub, so after they got through with their tradin’ he tole his ole woman to snatch young Billy up and take him back to their log cabin deep in the woods. Which she commenced to do.

Their little cabin was always kept spotless. Grampaw said so, and I
have no reason to doubt him, for he is a devout Christian man who
would not tell a lie. Maw Keysar, who was just a shriveled up and
biddy woman, but with a will of iron, called for some hot water and
then she poured it into a galvanized tub and proceeded to give young Billy a much-needed bath. She scrubbed him until he was practically raw, and then she cleaned his ears and behind his ears and everywhere else as needed a scrubbin’. Billy didn’t like none of that—in fact, he hated it like p’isen—and he roared with humiliation at having been treated so, but I reckon that good
scrubbin’ did him no harm and was just as like to of done him a heap of good.

Anyway, then the Keysar kiddies gathered round. They had hardly never seen a fancy-dressed city slicker up close before. And that’s what Billy was to them. So they began to try to impress him with all kinds of cute stunts. Jedediah, the eldest, a rawboned lad of about fifteen, did some tricky dance steps for him—some kind of clog dance, I think it was. And the young’uns squealed and rolled in the dust to see such fun. And Flossie Mae, a gal of about thirteen, and plenty well-endowed for all of that, showed him all the valentines she’d received from the area swains. And then Maw fattened him up with some vittles. And, as it was growing dark, they put him on a fast horse and sent him back to town, escorted by Jed and Flossie, who brung up the rear.

Well, naturally the Pattents were out of their mind with worryin’ over what happened to their boy, and immediately assumed that he had run away from home to join the Circus. His Pap was all set to give ‘im a whippin’, only Billy came up with some wild story about how he had been kidnapped by the Keysars and held captive and was forced to watch while they indulged in unspeakable outdoor orgies around a roaring bonfire. News travels fast in a small town like Hickory Hollow, and the Batchelders and the Pattents and the Tallents and the Millers and all of those familes were up in arms. They had a reputation to uphold, and so that very same night Mr. Pattent stood on the Courthouse steps and made him a little speech to about fifty people who was assembled there. It went something like this:

“We is got to run the Keysars out of this town. They is nothing more or less than a bunch of criminals, paupers and harlots. And they smell bad. And their filthy hovels smell like liquor and brimstone. They are all a pack of whiskey-swilling layabouts. How dare they kidnap a child! If anybody is going to dust Billy’s britches for him, it’s going to be me!”

So a bunch of the town loafers and other suchlike rabble began to make a noise and they all milled about. But at that point, it seemed as though cooler heads might prevail. Old Judge Corneliesen, an aged but magnificent man with a sonorous voice and a full mane of snowy-white hair, mounted the courthouse steps next, and he made a speech his own self. It went something as follows:

“I have been a Judge in these parts for well-nigh on to forty-five years, and I’m surprised at you all. This kind of unseemly behavior isn’t like you. Let me ask you something. How can we condemn the Keysars for providing some much-needed discipline to a spoiled child? Hm? How can we condemn them for spirit-drinking when we ourselves are hardly innocent of such a so-called crime? Hm? And furthermore, how can we prepare to commit murder and torture and arson on these people without even so much as a second thought as to whether they are innocent or guilty? I tell you right now that I shall order the Sheriff to arrest any man who dares molest these people.”

His stirring speech had an effect, all right. But it was an unexpected one.


Nota bene: Most of the outtakes were released on the vinyl-only Great Lost Kinks album of 1973.


I’m only me
Not someone better
Not someone good
In my little life,
I know that the world must keep on turning,
Even though it leaves me far behind.
Life is like a school,
But I’m not prepared to keep on learning,
Even though it treats me like a fool.

“Not someone good.”

That line always blows me away.

Now I know why.

It’s because chronically depressed people harbor the feeling that they are somehow not “good” enough.

The playwright David Mamet tells of seeing a depressed child and
handing her a coin and saying, “Keep this coin on you at all times.
And remember: ‘You’re not bad, you’re good.'”

Cheerfully depressed. Not the oxymoron it seems to be.

On a distantly related note, a cartoonist friend of mine, Milton
Knight, said that Stepin Fetchit was obviously one of the most
depressed men who ever lived.

Regarding Willie Best, Bob Hope said he was “the best actor I know.” Hope noted that he was also one of the saddest men he ever met.


On November 23, 1948 Mencken had a stroke and for the last several
years of his life he had great difficulty in reading and writing.

“[His stroke] left him aware and fully conscious but nearly unable to read or write and able to speak only with difficulty. After his
stroke, Mencken enjoyed listening to classical music and, after some recovery of his ability to speak, talking with friends, but he
sometimes referred to himself in the past tense, as if he were already dead. During the last year of his life, his friend and biographer William Manchester read to him daily…Mencken died in his sleep on January 29, 1956. He was interred in Baltimore’s Loudon Park Cemetery.

In spite of his condition, he edited a collection of his writings
called A Second Mencken Chrestomathy.

Which I heartily recommend.


Income tax evasion.

Capone, incidentally, was never called Scarface to his face. He was
known to his pals as “Snorky.” Which was slang for a snazzy dresser.

Two of Capone’s gorillas “paid a visit” to Ben Hecht, the screenwriter for the original Scarface. They told him that Al didn’t like that they made a movie about him. Hecht explained to them that the film wasn’t about Capone at all. And that, “in the Hollywood racket,” they titled the movie “Scarface” because Capone was such a famous guy. The goons (not “gunsels”–gonsil is underworld and hobo slang for ” An inexperienced youth; a stupid person; an unsophisticated youth”; in hobo slang as gonsil was a homosexual; “a youth not yet adopted by a jocker” (a predatory pederastic homosexual tramp)) were satisfied with this explanation, and left Hecht alone.

Of course, the film was all about Capone.

President Herbert Hoover was miffed when, as he attended a Chicago
baseball game, Capone drew more cheers from the crowd than he did. It was, perhaps, at that moment that he vowed to “get” Capone.

Capone, from prison, offered Charles Lindbergh his services in
recovering his kidnapped baby. Lindbergh declined.




This book outlines a new form of anarchism, i.e.,
structural-anarchism, which advocates for a series of
micro-revolutions, designed to install an anarchist
federation/patchwork of municipalities, cooperatives, and
autonomous-collectives, devoid of capitalism and devoid of any federal state-apparatus. Furthermore, this book explores the complications and the complexities of the basic fact that we are increasingly living within the confines of a disciplinary surveillance society, where privacy is really based on an individual’s ability to expose the surveillance mechanisms monitoring his or her private life. The assumption is that surveillance and discipline are now total and that
most surveillance and disciplinary mechanisms never attain the light of public knowledge and scrutiny. As a society, western democracies have moved beyond democracy into a new socio-economic formation, the framework of the soft-totalitarian-state, i.e.,


$610K Settlement in School Webcam Spy Case
In the 2010 Robbins v. Lower Merion School District case, plaintiffs charged two suburban Philadelphia high schools secretly spied on students by surreptitiously and remotely activating webcams embedded in school-issued laptops the students were using at home, violating their right to privacy. The schools admitted to snapping over 66,000 webshots and screenshots secretly, including webcam shots of students in their bedrooms.

“Bernie Sanders?…I assume that he’s CIA.”




Some odd facts you’re not likely to find elsewhere.

George Harrison was exposed to Indian music in the womb.

Carved on a door at the Spahn Ranch: “One two three for five six
seven/All good children go to heaven.” Showing that the Manson family also listened to Abbey Road.

John Lennon wrote “Come Together, Join the Party” for Timothy Leary’s run for California Governor. He later repurposed it as “Come Together.” He was sued by Morris Levy for the song, which included a reference to a Chuck Berry lyric. In the settlement of the suit, Lennon had to record the Chuck Berry song “You Can’t Catch Me,” which he included on his solo album “Rock and Roll.”

A conspiracy theory states that the Tavistock Institute was the
impetus behind the rise of the Beatles and that Theodor Adorno wrote all their songs and lyrics.

Timothy Leary said “I declare that The Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.”




When Malcolm X speaks I think he’s definitely very smart and listening to him makes me smarter.

I love the way he says “brutalized.”