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FEISTY RONNIE LANE ON THE ROAD AGAIN
by Robert Hilburn
The Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, Calif.; Jun 13, 1987

Ronnie Lane leaned on a cane for support as he stood passively at the edge of the stage at a rock club here this week. The former bassist with Rod Stewart's party-go-lucky Faces band was watching his new group go through an opening instrumental.

Near the end of the number, the audience at the Jar seemed to hold its breath as Lane-still holding the cane and a friend's arm-began literally inching his way to the center of the stage a dozen feet away.

Most of the people on hand knew that this wasn't merely a case of someone who had injured his ankle in a skiing accident or pick-up basketball game. Lane, 41, has been a multiple sclerosis victim for 11 years and he was in such bad shape at a Faces reunion concert last year that he vowed he wouldn't try to perform again.

But Lane's condition has improved dramatically in recent months and the show here was the second stop on a comeback tour that also includes dates Monday at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach and Tuesday at the Palomino in North Hollywood.

Not everyone at the Jar, however, was aware of Lane's history. Remarked one guy who had apparently just stopped at the Jar for a beer, "Who is this guy . . . a cripple?"

If the feisty Lane had been able to overhear the comment, he would have snapped back, "You're damn right!"

When Lane finally made it to center stage, the lean, dark-haired musician put both hands around the microphone stand and rested his body against a bar stool.

Backed by a band that includes celebrated saxophonist Bobby Keys (who has toured with the Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker), Lane sang nearly a dozen songs over the next hour-ranging from some original numbers to such flavorful outside material as the lively old "Shakin' All Over."

During an interview at his hotel before the show, Lane, who now lives in Austin, Tex., said he hopes people get over the novelty of "a cripple" being on stage and simply get into the music.

"I forget about MS during the show and I hope the audience does too," he said. "The idea is to have a good time."

It wasn't easy early in the show, however, to see past Lane's condition. He frequently struggled visibly between songs to reposition his body for a more comfortable-or perhaps secure-position on the bar stool. At one point, Keys walked over to give him an assist.

Gradually, however, Lane's music-which echoes much of the Faces' vigorous, mainstream rock style-became the focus of the evening. One couple even got up and danced in front of the stage.

At the end, however, the reality of Lane's condition reasserted itself as he had to inch his way off the stage.

"The end of the show is always the hardest part of the day for me," he said during the hotel interview. "You sing your heart out for an hour and it takes a lot more energy than you realize. So, you're just drained (at the end).

"This (tour) has probably been harder than I imagined, but my spirit is pretty good. The hour on stage is wonderful . . . just wonderful. I'm quite proud because I am doing something that I've never known anyone to do . . . go on the road with MS."

Lane, sitting in a wheelchair in the hotel's coffee shop, laughs at the line about going on the road with MS, a nerve-crippling disease that attacks the brain's ability to control the muscles. He likes to poke at the seriousness of the topic . . . the sense of hopelessness of so many MS victims.

"Most people I know with MS act like they are already dead," he said. "It's a terribly negative disease that encourages you to just wallow in self-pity.

"There is so little that is known about MS and so little hope that is available. My mother had MS and I remember when I was a kid back in England . . . I knew America was going to be the first one to the moon and I also remember thinking America would be the first one to crack MS so my mother could be well. Well, the moon came true, but the (bleeping) MS is still here."

Most of the rock world thought it had said goodby to Lane in 1983 when British stars Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker did a series of benefit shows in London and the United States to raise $1 million for Action Research for Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS), a British charity that Lane wanted to establish in this country. The most affecting moment in the tour's Inglewood Forum stop was when Lane hobbled on stage to join the cast in singing the closing numbers.

Even Lane viewed the tour as his farewell to music. He did try to join in the London reunion of Faces, but his body was in such bad shape that he felt useless on stage.

"I felt stupid really . . . your token cripple on the stage," he said. "I didn't feel I was really necessary. . . . It was more like people were just taking pity on me. I didn't want to step on stage again unless I felt like I deserved to be there."

Lane moved to Houston after the ARMS tour and he helped establish the U.S. wing of the organization. But he eventually became displeased by the way the agency was working and disassociated himself from it. He has now set up a new foundation that will be aimed at providing information to MS victims about research.

"The terrible thing about MS is that you are told nothing," he said. "Most doctors don't have a clue about dealing with MS. You can't get a straight answer out of anybody. You are just chucked into a wilderness and told to die."

Searching for ways to improve his condition, he says he was benefited greatly by an allergist who put him on a strict diet, and by a doctor in England who suggested his MS had been triggered by mercury poisoning from the fillings in his teeth. His strength increased so dramatically after having his fillings replaced that he agreed to take part in an awards show a few months ago in Austin, where he now lives.

Working with a local band called the Tremors and saxophonist Keys, Lane then played a few more shows before deciding to test his health with a tour. Things have been going so well in recent months that Lane's manager, Chesley Millikin, is now optimistic about a record deal.

Before the show at the Jar, Bobby Keys stood in front of the club and reflected on his longtime friend, Lane. He smiled when a reporter asked him if he was just going on the road to be a nice guy-the way the all-star musicians had on the 1983 ARMS tour.

"Hell, no," he said. "If I just wanted to be a nice guy, I could sit out in the audience and yell, `Atta boy, Ron' and shake his hand after the show. The bottom line is I wouldn't be on stage if the music wasn't good.

"Places like this are a long way from the Forum and Madison Square Garden, but it's still fun because the music is valid. To me, the man has an uncommon amount of courage. You see how hard it is for him to walk onto the stage, but once he gets to the microphone, it's a different story. That's probably the best medicine in the world for him."

LIVE ACTION: Tickets are on sale now for David Bowie's Aug. 8 Anaheim Stadium concert. . . . Tickets will be available Sunday for Robert Cray's Sept. 20 date and a third Jimmy Buffett show (Aug. 20) at the Universal Amphitheatre. Tickets also go on sale Sunday for for Kool & the Gang's Aug. 7 concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre. . . . Wire will be at the Variety Arts Center July 1. Savage Republic plays the downtown theater on Thursday. . . . The Adolescents will be at Fender's June 26. . . . Jerry Lee Lewis returns to the Palomino June 23 and the Crazy Horse Steak House June 30.

 

 


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