Filling a home with music

  • Alan Rulewich, of Bernardston, purchased this reel-to-reel recorder while serving in the Army and used it to record Adrian Cronauer, the Armed Forces Radio Service disc jockey who inspired the film “Good Morning, Vietnam.” For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall

  • Alan Rulewich owns about 4,000 of the little records known as 45s, which became popular soon after the introduction of LPs. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall

  • Part of Alan Rulewich's large collection of recordings and books about music. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall

  • Alan Rulewich in his Bernardston home music room with some of his 3,000 LPs and stereo equipment. At one time, he owned 8,000 LPs. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall

  • Alan Rulewich in his Bernardston home music room with some of his 3,000 LPs and stereo equipment. At one time, he owned 8,000 LPs. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall

  • Alan and Cheryl Rulewich at home in Bernardston. For the Recorder/Gillis MacDougall

  • Alan Rulewich, 1964 at age 21. He earned two Bronze Stars during the U.S. war in Vietnam. Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 2/17/2021 9:21:18 AM

For hours each day, Alan Rulewich listens to music in his Bernardston home-studio. The verb “listens” may seem passive, yet in Rulewich’s case, it’s a whole-body and whole-soul experience. 

“Music is truly a part of me,” said Rulewich, 77. “Its impact is deep and always up front for me, never in the background. When you switch on the music, you switch me on.”

Rulewich’s affinity for music deeply connects him to family, friends and strangers. Music influenced his career choices and helped him survive a devastating war. He’s reinvented himself many times with astounding successes, yet it would be difficult to find an aspect of his life untouched by music.

His lifelong practice of active listening began in the early 1950s, soon after LPs (“long playing” records) were invented in 1948. Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey and raised in New Hyde Park in Long Island, New York, Rulewich came of age during an explosion of popular music.

Long Island in Rulewich’s youth was largely farmland, but change came fast to both land and culture. “I listened to Lawrence Welk on TV with my parents in an era when many people could afford stereos and to build record collections.”

Dancing was a big part of the music scene, “and everything took off from there,” Rulewich said. “This was back when there were real department stores, and many of those wonderful stores had record departments.”

With the birth of rock and roll, many teens formed their own bands, Rulewich included. “I loved all of it. Buddy Holly, the Rock-a-Teens, the Duprees, the Silhouettes, the Flamingos. My friends and I imitated songs we loved.”

Music also got Rulewich through the U.S. war in Vietnam. Dismayed to be drafted at 21, he purchased stereo equipment in Saigon and later shipped it home. “I brought records with me to Vietnam. Listening to music transported us (soldiers) back home, reminding us that our only goal was to make it home alive.”

He was promoted to the rank of platoon sergeant and awarded two Bronze Stars. Unfortunately, very few of the friends he made in the service made it home alive. Rulewich witnessed vast suffering and death in his role as a gun runner. His job was to operate a 50-caliber machine gun mounted at a helicopter’s open door, fending off enemy fire while wounded U.S. soldiers were collected.

“It was a terrible mess,” Rulewich said. “No one wanted to be there. A terrible mess.”

While in the service, Rulewich made reel-to-reel recordings of Adrian Cronauer, the AFRS (Armed Forces Radio Service) disc jockey who inspired the film “Good Morning, Vietnam.” He still has those tapes, as well as his original recording equipment. 

But Rulewich brought more than recordings, equipment and medals home from the war. In 2014, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, likely linked to Agent Orange (chemical defoliant) exposure. “I was in the service in ‘64 and ‘65, when Agent Orange was most heavily sprayed, and stationed in the most heavily sprayed areas.”

Parkinson’s presents many challenges, including ‘‘freezing of gait,’ causing Rulewich to feel stuck while walking, as if his feet were glued to the floor. Messages from his brain that would allow him to pick up his feet one at a time are blocked.

“Having access to his massive music collection at home can transform how Alan feels physically and emotionally, and significantly increases his mobility,” said his wife, Cheryl Rezendes. “He’s actually able to stand and dance while the music’s on — something he can’t do in silence.”

She added, “Alan listens to the rhythm and beat, and miraculously moves forward as if dancing while he walks. It’s amazing.”

Rulewich met his wife through music, as well. Rezendes, a talented textile artist, visited Rulewich’s second stereo and record store in New Haven, Connecticut, one day in 1986 looking for Portuguese music. The two hit it off and forged a bond around the shared love of a wide range of artists: Chet Atkins, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Rivers, Roy Orbison, The Moody Blues, Phil Collins, Neil Diamond, “and the Beatles, of course.” 

Following their marriage and the births of sons August and Brook Rulewich, they experienced a situation unlike that of most families: “Sometimes, the boys would meet me at the door as I was coming inside, complaining that Dad’s music was too loud,” she recalled

Yet through the years — and to this day — August and Brook Rulewich shared their dad’s passionate hobby. “For years, Alan put together mixtapes and CDs for the kids and they started to do the same for him,” Rezendes said. 

“Alan loved introducing music to our sons and made collections to help them fall asleep, for homework times, songs for dancing as a family and to play while riding in the car with the volume turned way up.”

August Rulewich, 27, and Brook Rulewich, 23 — along with their older brother, Scott Rulewich, 43 — inherited the practice of sharing music they love. And they still get music from Dad. “They come back and trade in CDs, taking away others,” Rezendes said.

“My love of music and the space it creates in my life is because of my Dad,” said August Rulewich, who is now an architect in the Boston area. “His love of music naturally flowed to me as a young child. His love of the piano probably (led to my) starting piano lessons at age three.”

August Rulewich participated in school choirs, began composing, and led singing groups. “In our home, music was always playing. We also had music-related books, shelves and whole rooms devoted to music,” he said. “Dad’s massive collection inspired me to start my own. He normalized music as a constant part of our lives.”

August Rulewich’s older brother, Scott Rulewich, an engineer living in Kennebunk, Maine, admitted, “Growing up, I wasn’t into music despite Dad’s efforts. He gave me my first boombox and Walkman but it didn’t really take. Dad couldn’t understand how someone could not love music as much as he did and still have the will to breathe.” 

Later, however, “Dad’s wish came true,” he said. “I missed having that soothing soundtrack while doing homework or daydreaming by the fire. It became exciting to share music with Dad, to try to find something he might like and might even put into one of his playlists. Our exchange of music continues, providing playlists and memories we can share.”

Rezendes said that while watching any movie, “Alan comments on the music first and foremost, and if he likes it, buys the CD. Oh, and the holidays. Alan has 400 holiday music CDs from many different genres, which he starts playing right after Thanksgiving. Sometimes weeks before Thanksgiving,” she added.

“I’ve always been a collector,” Alan Rulewich said, surveying his collection of 3,000 LPs and 3,500 CDs. His largest collection contains 4,000 of the little records known as 45s, introduced in 1949, the year after LPs came into vogue. With the advent of cassette tapes in the 1960s, Rulewich launched a new passion: making mixtapes to share with loved ones and customers. But his favorite medium is now CDs, “because they’re so convenient.”

Rulewich mused, “As I’m introduced to new music, I never drop the old material. My repertoire keeps growing. Pakistani music, (British singer-songwriter) Adele, you name it. I’m not much into classical or opera, but pretty much anything else, I’m interested in.” He also loves the stories behind songs and artists, and reads “J-cards and inserts religiously, along with books about music.”

He began his work life in New York City at age 17 in the Pan Am Airlines mailroom while also driving a Manhattan taxi. He returned to Pan Am after his military stint and put in another 23 years, working his way up to the Head of Load Control. 

“I had to take into account how many passengers were aboard, fuel weight, baggage load balance, things like that, “ Rulewich explained. While at Pan Am, he started an import business, given that he could fly anywhere in the world at no charge. 

Rulewich’s passion for music found footing in his many careers, as well. “Alan has constantly reinvented himself,” Rezendes said. 

After taking early retirement from Pan Am, Rulewich opened the first of two high-end stereo stores, catering to a wide spectrum of music lovers, including singer-songwriter Carole King and the husband-and-wife duo Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille, who garnered fame as “The Captain & Tennille.” 

After moving to the Pioneer Valley in 1987, Rulewich worked in real estate “until the economy tanked,” Rezendes explained. He worked for Eastern Airlines at Bradley International Airport, while also driving a taxi in Northampton.

At one point, Rulewich joined Peter Pan Bus lines as driver, but quickly worked up to their director of operations. While a driver, “I made music collections to play for passengers, and they loved it. Much of the music I played, riders had never heard,” Rulewich said, adding, “It was such a hit, the bus company eventually used my collections on other routes!”

Rulewich collected butterflies as a kid, and later founded Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens in Deerfield.  “It’s no surprise that while at Magic Wings, Alan selected music to play in the conservatory,” Cheryl said. 

Rulewich reinvented himself yet again in 2010, launching Environmental Labs, specializing in water testing. “That was a much needed service in Franklin County, since every real estate transaction requires a water analysis,” Rezendes said.

“Oh, and he also started a business in Amherst called ‘Rice & Easy,” offering 21 flavors of rice pudding. Of course, he filled the place with music, books and art. That’s Alan, through and through.”

Sitting in his home studio with the volume turned up and the whole house thrumming with music, Rulewich summed up his feeling that “recordings make music accessible to everyone. That is so important.”

And with each new generation, he said, “ access to all kinds of music helps create new and interesting genres, including sounds that can stand on their own or get mixed with old music in new ways.” A smile spread across his face. “It’s so wonderful.”

Eveline MacDougall is a musician, author, and mom living in Greenfield. She welcomes comments at eveline@amandlachorus.org.




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