Foruli recently received this piece from our friend Bucks Burnett, proprietor of The 8 Track Museum in Dallas, Texas and Roxbury, New York. Bucks talks about his friend Ronnie Lane, bass player in The Faces, and about The ARMS Charity Concerts of 1983, a series of gigs in support of Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis.
"That little man right there is Ronnie Lane"
Copyright Bucks Burnett 2013. All rights reserved.
I really just wanted him to know that somebody cared. That's why I put together the box. I took an empty LP box from the back room of Peaches Records, where I worked as the shipping and receiving clerk, and walked around the floor asking my co-workers to put some money in, or write a message, or consider dropping in a small gift. Within a few days the box was full. I added a letter and a few poems I'd written. I then phoned every editor on staff at Rolling Stone magazine, which had just broken the news of his misfortune, until finally a sympathetic person gave me a UK mailing address for his charity. So off it went to London. To a company called ARMS. It stood for Action Research for Multiple Sclerosis.
About a month later the unexpected happened. I got a very nice thank you from the man I'd sent the box to. The weakened scrawl of his handwriting closed the note with, "I like your poems. Have you shown them to God?" It was signed by Ronnie Lane.
Shortly after the conclusion of the all star ARMS benefit tour in late 1983 I wrote another letter, to a different Ronnie. Ronald Reagan, President of the United States. His Chief Of Staff, James Watts, had just denounced rock and roll as an evil influence on young people. I asked President Reagan if he'd ever heard of Ronnie Lane, or Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page. I gently informed the leader of the free nation that a bunch of rock and rollers from Britain had taken time out of their busy schedules, toured America for free for two weeks and raised over a million dollars to help fight MS. "Are these the evil rockers Mr. Watts is referring to? Is he including his near-namesake Charlie Watts in his verbal attack? Because Charlie drummed for free, and the Stones usually pay him."
A month later, Ronnie Lane and I both received letters from President Reagan praising the efforts of all the musicians who had banded together in this courageous attempt to kill off a disease. Ronnie woke me up at 4 AM with a call from London and we had a good laugh about our letters from The White House. By 1985 the two letters from Ronald Reagan were hanging in the same house - the apartment I shared with Ronnie in Houston after he relocated to Texas, where he had opened ARMS America to fund the research that might defeat the disease that was slowly defeating him. I had gone down for a weekend visit, and he hired me to be his live-in butler.
One night we were talking yet again about the ARMS tour, at the tiny kitchen table covered in vitamin bottles, cassettes, glasses, bottles, etc. I told Ronnie I had photographed the opening night in Dallas but never developed the film. He insisted that we would get the pictures developed the next day. "Fine - first thing. But tell me, who was the first person to suggest the benefit concerts?" "That would be Boo” he said, exhaling some pot smoke. "She suggested it. She said that we should DO something about it."
Then he looked at me and said, "I like the way you ask me about these things. I can talk to you. Pete wants to publish my autobiography. Would you like to help me write it?" "Sure." "Great." He then opened his address book and to my utter shock phoned Pete Townshend and said, "I found the guy. Pete, this is Bucks," and handed me the phone. Pete gave me a stern lecture on the amount of work I was taking on and asked if I was absolutely sure I was up to the task. I assured him that I was. He said we had a deal.
The book was not to be. And the million dollars did not cure MS. Instead it became the focal point of a major scandal, by instead lining the pockets of Ronnie's manager at the time. And in 1997, Ronnie finally closed his eyes, and became something else, like in his song "Evolution," where animals and people and stones take turns becoming each other.
I still live in a world where I have to explain far too often who Ronnie Lane is, and what the ARMS concerts were about. It was the time a bunch of British music legends laid everything aside and played their hearts out. They said it was to fight MS. But I know the truth. It was really just to make a friend feel better, and they all joined Joe Cocker for the most urgent renderings of "With A Little Help From My Friends" that will ever be. They were facing the crowd, but playing for one. Ronnie Lane. They just wanted to let him know that somebody cared.
Thirty years later I find myself telling the story again. The story of a miraculous undertaking that would forever make liars of ignorant politicians who denounce rock and roll. The story of the tour that united all of them, and all of us, to help a friend, to fight MS. The money went south, and Ronnie Lane died. A lot of people think it's all quite tragic. But it can't be tragic. When friends unite to help someone out, that insane spirit of brotherhood brings something new into the world, a little jar of hope that wasn't there before. United spirits create a larger spirit, and nobody was more spirited than Ronnie Lane. Death took him from us. Death won the battle but not the war. I can still hear his voice. I can still see him smile. And he still makes me laugh. Because almost every night as another demanding day crawled to an end, he would look through the smoke at that tiny kitchen table and yet again say, "I love ya, ya stupid bastard!"
It takes more than thievery, death and disease to kill a quote like that. A great quote can live forever if enough people hear it.
Bucks Burnett. Dallas, May 2013
A note from Bucks:
There is no time like the present to alter and improve the future. That's how it's done. Several organizations are aggressively researching the treatment and cure of Multiple Sclerosis. If you would like to help you can find your local organisation on Google.
To learn more about Ronnie Lane, here are a few links:
Ronnie Lane information and discography
Ronnie Lane on Wikipedia
You can find videos of Ronnie on YouTube.
I highly recommend The Passing Show, an excellent documentary about Ronnie. It is available HERE in Europe and HERE in North America.