A few Saturdays ago, I paid tribute on my radio show to a band called The Ruts. The band's vocalist, Malcolm Owen, died of a heroin overdose on July 14, 1980, at age 26. Since the anniversary happened to land on Saturday, when my show airs, I decided that lots of Ruts songs were in order.
The Ruts were a great punk rock band from England whose songs were as excellent as their time together was short. They were able to release a few singles and an album called The Crack, one of the best records I have ever heard.
A few months after the release of their single "Staring at the Rude Boys/Love in Vain" -- a song that, ironically, says that heroin is a bad idea ("Don't want ya in my arms no more...") -- Malcolm died.
Frustratingly, the band recorded a number of tracks for the BBC's John Peel show that gave fans a glimpse of what the next Ruts album might have been like. The songs were excellent.
To make it even worse, weeks after Malcolm died, Virgin, the band's label, released a Ruts single, the previously unreleased A-side of which, "West One (Shine on Me)," was just so damn good.
I remember all this very well. In 1980, I was living in my hometown of Washington, D.C. What monies I was not using for essentials, I was spending on records. When the "Staring at the Rude Boys" single came out that spring, I figured The Ruts were going to be the biggest band in the world. The single cost me an hour of minimum-wage work and, like every other Ruts single, was worth every penny.
Later that year, we got the news via one of the English music newspapers of what had happened to Malcolm. I was crushed. I was never going to see them play and one of my favorite bands of all time were done before they had a chance to start. One of the greatest voices I had ever heard was forever silenced.
The Ruts were one of those bands I never stopped listening to. In the years after Malcolm's passing, I always kept my eyes open for anything Ruts, from different pressings of their records to interviews, press photos, anything I could find. I listened to their music with a mixture of wonder at how a band could be so good and sadness that it was over and never coming back.