From People weekly magazine, 21 Dec 1983
A Glittering Rock Reunion
Becomes the Best of Get-Well Gifts for Guitarist Ronnie Lane
by Maria Wilhelm
He became onstage only at the end, clutching a
helping hand as he hobbled unsteadily toward the microphone. "How do you
like my friends?" former Faces guitarist Ronnie Lane asked the crowd of
14,300 at San Francisco's Cow Palace. The answer, judging from the roaring,
deafening reply: plenty.
And small wonder. Standing behind Lane on the
Cow Palace stage was the most regal reunion of rockers since the Band's Last
Waltz in 1976. Among them: former Led Zeppelinist Jimmy Page (making his first
U.S. appearance in six years), guitarists Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, singer
Joe Cocker, drummer Kenney Jones of The Who, Rolling Stones Bill Wyman and
Charlie Watts. The sterling British all-stars had come together not for profit
or politics, but for a four-city, nine-concert, fund-raising tour to help
longtime buddy Lane and his fellow victims of multiple sclerosis.
For the ailing Lane, 37, the trek from Dallas
to Los Angeles, San Francisco and finally New York would not be easy. To
prepare for the grind, the former bass player had gone first to Fort
Lauderdale for 18-hour-long sessions in a hyperbaric-oxygen chamber. The iron
lung-type device, similar to those used by decompressing deep-sea divers, is
the newest and perhaps most controversial means of treating MS patients.
Although some doctors regard the effects of super-oxygenating the blood as
chiefly psychological, Lane credits the chamber with much of his improvement
and hopes proceeds from the concert tour will make the costly treatment (about
$1.89 per minute) available to more of the 250,000 MS patients in the U.S.
It was music, however, and not medical
controversy that filled the Cow Palace stage. Clapton, looking more like a
debonair 39-year-old cousin to the royal family than a once-rowdy rocker, led
his famed backup players through reprises of Layla, Cocaine and other past
hits. Beck, 38, offered his usual mix of combustive guitar playing and callisthenic
leaps. Page, gaunt as ever at 39 ("like a guitar with
legs," Lane once quipped), roused old-time Led Zep fans with a long
instrumental version of his now-classic Stairway to Heaven. In the end,
however, Lane himself, wobbly and frail at 119 pounds, upstaged all by leading
a simple sing-along of Goodnight Irene to close the two-and-a-half-hour show.
If the concert seemed a bit creaky (one flinty
critic dubbed the aging players" a great dinosaur band"), few could
fault the obvious affection that brought its stars together. "To hear
Ronnie had this condition really hit hard in the mouth," says Page.
"Everyone who ever knew him thought he was one of the greatest
guys." Adds Kenney Jones, one of Lane's former bandmates: "There's a
bond between us as musicians and as people. We go back a long time."
Back to the early '60s, in fact, when Lane and
Jones first teamed up in the group Small Faces. "We was just kids,"
Lane now reflects. "And my idea of rock 'n' roll was something beautiful.
We didn't think about the dirty dressing rooms or the dirty businessmen. All
we knew was tinsel. We was mods, and we were pretty cool."
In 1970 the group evolved into the Faces, the
backup band for singer Rod Stewart. Lane, however, became disillusioned.
"Money reared its ugly head," he says. "It got to be a me-me-me
type of thing. It was so ugly." Quitting music briefly in 1975, he
married and moved to Wales to take up sheep farming. Little by little he began
noticing a lingering sense of fatigue and a loss of coordination, the first
symptoms of the progressive nerve disorder that was later diagnosed as
multiple sclerosis. When Eric Clapton asked him to go on tour in 1975, Lane
obliged. But while playing guitar one day, his left hand suddenly went numb.
Although the disease is not thought to be
hereditary, Lane's mother is a longtime victim of MS, and the singer knew well
what lay ahead. "I thought, 'I can take it,'" says Lane. "But
it just keeps on and wears you down. You start to lose control of your
bladder, and then what do you think of yourself?" Increasingly helpless,
Lane found his marriage foundering and "began drinking with a purpose--to
cash in on my life insurance. I'm ashamed to say it, but when John Lennon was
shot, I envied him."
Three years ago Lane moved into the north
London home to Boo Oldfield, a divorced mother of two and a good friend.
Despite drastic remedies, including acupuncture and snake-venom injections,
his condition worsened. "He was unable to keep up a conversation. It as
like living with a zombie," says Oldfield, 31. After reading an article
about hyperbaric oxygen in the London Sunday Times, Lane tried the treatment.
"Within a week he came alive. He was writing music," says Oldfield.
After 20 sessions, she adds, "he started getting his fingers back, and I
started getting excited."
When Lane was denied further treatment for five
months because of the limited number of chambers available, Oldfield called on
Who guitarist Pete Townshend. The result, with help from longtime rock
producer Glyn Johns, was a benefit concert last September at London's Royal
Albert Hall. Thanks to the money raised, a hyperbaric-oxygen center is now
scheduled to open in London in January. "The night was magic," says
Oldfield happily. "Afterward, there were whispers of 'America?
Lane now hopes to channel much of the estimated
$1 million take from the American tour into a new U.S. branch of Action
Research into Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS), the maverick British group that
energetically promotes research into alternative therapies for MS. Yet for
Lane, the cross-country gigs by his longtime friends have meant more than
money. "I feel very indebted to these guys. They're heroes," he
says. "This is a rekindling of my dream for rock 'n' roll, the dream that
I lost back in the '70s. Now they are all beginning to live up to it. I'm a
very happy man."