(always providing comfort, on stage and off.)
Last week, a great mentor of mine, and one to countless other artists who grew up on Long Island, passed away unexpectedly due to heart failure. Noel S. Ruiz had an impact on so many lives and shared so much love with everyone around him. For a man with such incredible influence and impact on the young people in his shows, he was never controlling of us. He was a great listener, teacher and guide. He was someone who treated people of all ages with respect and care. I can't really measure the impact of this man on my life. If you want to get an overview of who he was and how much he contributed to the community, please click the link here to get a nice glimpse into what Noel was all about.
What follows here is a personal recollection of the artistic journey we took together from the time when I was in kindergarten through my first year of college. I feel like I should preface all this by stating that there are many people that knew Noel better as a day-to-day person than I did. There are people I grew up with who spent much more time with him in their adult years and got to understand him better and can probably tell you better stories about him as a result. I moved to the city after college, and never really went back and never really developed a strong adult understanding of Noel. In my mind he looms as NOEL, a force of nature and the font of artistry who sits atop the pedestal in my mind (wearing a gold lamé Herod costume, naturally), than just Noel, the man who worked really hard to make his impossible dream possible and had a lot of love to share.
Still, as I have reflected over the lessons I've learned and the gifts I've received from Noel throughout my childhood, I felt moved to write about our relationship and our time together. I am almost overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to grow up and play in his artistic sandbox with so many lifelong friends. What my life's journey would be like without him, I cannot imagine. I like to make people mix CD's, so as I go along, I'm dedicating a song from each show to him as a little soundtrack to our lives. I'm not sure anyone is ever going to read all of this, but it felt right to express it. Off we go. This is the story of Noel and me.