That's what I thought tonight when I learned of Billy Ruane's death at 53. Billy was the ubiquitious presence, the stamp stating "you are where you are supposed to be" marking my and many others' Cambridge/Boston twenties. A tireless impressario and promoter in his black blazer and sweaty white oxford barely buttoned [cuffs, never], a truant, outsized prep school student who zipped about Boston and Cambridge on his scooter sometime after the Lou Reed ad and before the Vespa revival. He was a florid original in a world with decreasingly less room for such.
It was clear he was a trust fund kid. How else could he move through the world as he did? And even as I learn now that his dad had been a school chum of Warren Buffett's, I always had fixed in my mind somehow that he was the outcome of tangled strands of swamp yankee DNA originating from somewhere around Newport, R.I. Top drawer all the way, but a little off, was my thinking. [Maybe he went to Brown?]
The same thinking had me manifesting and performing a Billy search-and-replace as I watched Steven Soderbergh's extraordinary [and, really, you should get a WASPy Rhode Islander to say that word for you, for you will be forever changed] documentary about a true little Rhody son last spring, one equally as troubled as bipolar Billy, tragically: Spalding Gray. Who, as the math of chance would have it, took his life at... 53.
Soderbergh's film And Everything Is Going Fine is some kind of achievement. Really too much to be taken in at a single sitting. Comprised solely of footage of the famed monologuist from various bits and performances across the whole of his public life, it is edited not chronologically, but by theme. As in, cutting from a scrolling VHS copy of an 80s performance to another, picking up just where the other left off and continuing the same anecdote, now refined, sometimes years later. Showing us how this mind worried and worked and honed his autobiography, his ongoing performance of self, this wonderful, vainglorious confession without the comforts of the confessional.
Gray rehearsed his life in public, revisiting it and trying to understand and occupy its fleeting moments of transcendance. I'd like to imagine this is what indie rock did for Billy: gave him the transport of being both outside and somehow most truly himself, all at once, even if only three minutes at a time. And, like Gray, he generously invited us all along, no matter how painful the business of being Billy might be from day to day, minute to minute.
And everything is going fine. And everything is going fine. R.I.P.