I might like a much wider range of music now than I did at the age of 16, but Ron’s tastes were so expansive that he and I might only share a passion for what was a quarter of my “comfort zone” while being a drop in the bucket to his. Yet, on a day-by-day basis we had what seemed like so much common ground it boggled my mind. Ron liked many “classic rock” performers, but he generally had a point where he was off the bus. For good. King Crimson ’69-’74? Yes! King Crimson ’81-’17? Nay! Usually before they got insanely popular. He had time for The Beatles/Stones/Dylan/Who 60s axis, but that was not where is strongest passions lay.
By the time that Prog Rock of the UK variety had gotten a stranglehold on Rock in the early 70s, Ron was already turning his attention to Europe. Primarily Germany or Italy[!]. If artists were doing interesting things in a language other than English, then it was of intense interest to young Ron. Krautrock was far more interesting than the death throes of ELP [very protracted] or Glam Rock in the UK. Strangely enough, Ron would find himself collecting Glam Rock of the pedestrian UK variety [think Mud’s “Tiger Feet”] some thirty years after the fact when looking for new kinds of kicks.
I was never so agog than in the early 21st century when Ron’s infamous lists began arriving filled with mainstream country music of the 60s-70s. Ron would send out a list of his “haul” for each weekend and often a list would arrive in your email packed with about as much music as I might buy in half of a year. My eyes widened as I saw names like Homer + Jethro and Don Bowman suddenly get dozens of title deep in his impossibly large collection. It seemed like for two or three years, Ron was simply buying up the entire runs of dozens of mainstream country music artists from the times of our childhoods. And that was when these artists might reasonably release three to four albums a year in that innocent [but obviously driven by amphetamines] era. We could only shake our heads in wonderment.
By 2008, Ron was approaching 50 and wanted to have big party for all of this friends; Ron-Kon® as he called it. He invited all of his friends and we decided to finally take the big plunge and fly West to finally meet the legendary Ron Kane. It would be held in Portland, Oregon. One of Ron’s favorite record shopping cities. There were dozens of great stores like Everyday Music, Music Millennium, or Crossroads Records and Portland was not a bad place to find yourself if you had to be in a “big city.” He was holding it for several days in the Kennedy School; a former elementary school converted into a hotel/brewery/restaurant complex. Lots of favorite restaurants to check out as well. Most walking distance from the School. We all came there with our wives and families, including friends from abroad.
I should mention that Ron from the late 70s onward, made frequent trip to the countries where his favorite music came from. He didn’t just soak up the ambience. He’d do his best to look these musicians up! Hanging out with Holger Czukay of Can? Why not! Travel to The Netherlands? Better look up The Nits or Mam. Ron even performed two vocals on Mam’s 1995 album “Look: Nederlands!” Naturally, Pieter Bon of Mam and his wife flew in from The Netherlands to attend. The night of his birthday, there was a big party in one of the “event classrooms” where we all gathered to toast the host, and naturally, there was live music with Mr. Bon and some of Ron’s pals playing and singing.
Ron’s longtime girlfriend Dorothy had decorated the room to be packed with many of Ron’s favorite musical totems. Huge blowups of his favorite albums covered the walls.
There was a “Zappa Wall” where images of Ron’s favorite artist had a special corner of a chalkboard all to himself. Ron’s taste for Frank Zappa could be traced back to his older sisters, who used to play their Frank Zappa albums for young Ron while they were
corrupting baby-sitting him. I’m guessing that when the parents were out was the time those records got played on the family sound system. That was another thing that amazed me about my friendship with Ron. He was certainly aware that Zappa was perhaps my least favorite artist. On the scant occasions where I heard Zappa, [and I actively tried to keep it at bay] I felt the music was dripping with hostility and a contempt for the listener. I liked Zappa more as a person than as a musician, yet our diametrically opposed attitudes on Frank Zappa was hardly a blip on our interpersonal radar.
The round tables were made to look like giant records, with all of Ron’s favorite record labels in evidence. That’s the mark of a true record geek. Anyone can like bands, but the real hardcore music geeks gravitate to labels as well!
Naturally, there was some serious record store crawling with huge packs of middle aged men traipsing from one store to another. Pawing through bins but politely pointing out titles the others may have an interest in. Fortunately, Ron was also a “nature guy” and gardens and arboretums were also something he liked. He was enough of a birdwatcher to that he probably got a little more vitamin D than most record geeks.
Meeting Ron after “knowing” him for 23 years was kind of surreal. I had no previous friendship like this one. Ron was a snappy dresser, with a penchant for very colorful/coordinated clothing. He like orange. He favored simple but colorful deck shoes and socks. His “rap” was highly steeped in irony. He would often laugh theatrically for ironic effect. Both my wife and I thought that there was something in how he carried himself that reminded us of Truman Capote. Not that he talked or sounded like him! Ron sounded like an affable “FM jock.” One could easily imagine him holding court on the radio on some public radio jazz program [which he could have probably really ran with]. I just can’t put what it was about him that made me think of Capote down into words. He had a slightly-bemused-by-it-all air to him. Yet his tongue could be very sharp. Maybe that was it.
Next: …More Ron Encounters