5 years ago I was walking down the street in Central Square, Cambridge and my eyes met those of a white haired man wearing a barely buttoned dress shirt. He stopped me and asked “What kind of human are you?”.
With a question like that I couldn’t resist a conversation with this stranger. This was a few days before Philip and I were leaving to go to Muenster, Germany to show work at Gallery SoToDo’s 13th Performance Art Congress. I told this man about my artistic practice, my trip, and our plans to produce The Present Tense’s first art event, Activate, upon my return. He offered words of wisdom and offered me $200 in cold-hard-cash. He was so kind, asking me to use it to make the work I desired to make. He asked only that I bring some music back from Germany for him. This was a particularly difficult time for me financially and although it felt awkward taking money from a stranger, my instinct told me that this man was genuine in his offer and that I should take the opportunity presented to me. When I asked him his name, he replied “They call me Billy.”
When I returned, I emailed Billy several times, but never received a response. That $200 saved Philip and I on that trip and made Activate possible upon our arrival back in Boston. I was tremendously grateful for Billy’s generosity, always hoping that I would re-connect with him somehow so that I could show him the work I made, deliver the Cd’s I collected for him and thank him. I never saw him again, until I saw a friend’s update about his recent death on Facebook.
For the past 24 hours I have been discovering that Billy was a legend in the Boston/ Cambridge music scene. He supported musicians by organizing, promoting, and funding their endeavors in addition to sharing his extrordinary energy and dance moves! He first brought music to the Middle East Club in Cambridge in the 80’s. I have learned that he touched the lives of countless creative minds by offering acts of kindness to show his support and belief in the potential of the artistic process. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and inspiration that I was fortunate to have experienced Billy’s magic.
To be frank, it isn’t always easy to be an artist, no matter what medium you choose. My brief meeting with Billy has been the story that I replay when I feel discouraged and it is one that I love to share with people. The money he gave was needed and well spent, but he provided me with so much more than financial relief. This experience embodied the promise of hope. This experience profoundly affected my work as an artist and organizer. I hope that Billy’s memory will continue to energize, inspirit, an empower.