Peaches En Randalia #44

Encore: The Passing Show – The Life and Music of Ronnie Lane (107 minutes)

ech-o n. Repetition of a sound by reflection of sound waves from a surface.

Author’s Note: It has been over two and a half years since Set II (and you thought Trey’s “we’ll be back in 15 minutes” quip was off by a half hour or so) of this particular series of Peaches, so I thought I’d return with an encore of a Ronnie Lane piece I wrote long ago for Benjy Eisen, legendary Phish fan, writer, and editor, and someone who knows the significance of Phish’s first Halloween gig in 11 years, and festival in over five years.

Lane had the idea of a traveling road show, which resembled a circus featuring musicians and other odd yet exploratory characters. The British musician may not have succeeded in economic, professional, or creative terms, but his ideas about a community of artisans entertaining the masses in an obscure village, town, or city still hits home. The subject is especially pertinent on the eve of Festival 8 as Phish fans travel to Indio, California, joining together with each other, and the band, as the circus comes to town.

Ronnie Lane was a very simple man who made very simple music—or so one would think. Lane helped co-found the mod rockers, Small Faces in the mid-1960s with drummer Kenney Jones, keyboardist, Ian McLagen and vocalist Steve Marriott. Later, the band would simply become the Faces when a much taller Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart would join the band, replacing Marriott who gravely underestimated the unique chemistry of Led Zeppelin and set out to create his own supergroup of heavy music. Pity, that. Lane’s songs within the Face mix always stood out because they helped define that indelible Band sound that Robbie Robertson and company would build later in the 60s—a sweet melancholic tone that combined American blues with English folk rock.

Lane was not a simple man; plagued by poor financial investments, health issues and a sound that couldn’t find a proper home in the 80s and 90s; he died in Texas in 1997 after a long bout with Multiple Sclerosis. However, history has a wonderful way of redefining one’s accomplishments, even if one is no longer present in a corporeal state on this rock. Case in point: Lane quit the high (in every sense of the word) flying Faces in the mid-70s to craft his own more humble acoustic-based sound with a live presentation that was literally, a traveling circus show. The band and crew would drive their motley caravan from English village to town to village, setup their tent, generators and equipment and play to a limited advertised crowd of a hundred or so. Extrapolate that notion all the way out to Phish’s Clifford Ball in 1996 and you see a band that aligned that idea with a large group of fans who were willing to create their own traveling circus to see them. Lane was ahead of his time and may have been a brilliant songwriter—“Ooh La La,” “Annie,” and “The Poacher,” among many others can attest to that—but he was a creative force without direction or guidance. Quite frankly, the man needed a well-funded art patron but when you’re living in a trailer in Pete Townshend’s back garden, one isn’t apt to take aboard that challenge.

The Passing Show, produced and directed by Rupert Williams and James Mackie, assisted by Darinagh O’Hagan, does a fine job of documenting Lane’s sad plight from mod rock star to 20th century traveling minstrel man onto quiet family man living in a rural area of Texas as the century ended. Townshend, Eric Clapton, Kenney Jones, Ian McLagen, members of Small Chance—his ill-fated circus band of the 70s and many friends and family members speak about Lane’s life in honest, poignant detail. Townshend, Clapton and McLagen—especially—show the fatigue of friends that attempted to help another friend over a period of time but met with a stubborn resistance, a resistance that produced many fine songs that have truly stood up against the howling winds of time although, they were bent forward quite a bit. The only drawback to the film is the absence of Wood and Stewart who appear as footnotes in Lane’s life due to their glaring omission. I find it hard to believe that Townshend and Clapton could find time in their schedules to be interviewed while the lesser talents of Wood and Stewart seemed too busy to speak about a man that helped forge their careers.