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