...about the damned...
by Todd Foltz
It's 3:20 on a weekday afternoon, and I'm waiting by the phone. As usual. But this time it's not a girlfriend who's supposed to call, but none other than Rat Scabies.
So maybe the phone sex is out today, but that's OK. It's not every day that one of The Damned calls you. And who knows? I've never met Rat Scabies, so it's certainly possible that he's actually better at talking dirty than my girlfriend.
It never hurts to ask, I figure.
The phone rings.
It's 3:25, and the interview's not scheduled until 3:30. But, I figure, if there's one thing you can say about ol' Rat, it's that he's prompt. And that's a good thing.
At least he's not like Doc Severinson, who called me 30 minutes early one time and got pissed because I wasn't around. Aside from having bad taste in clothes, he's an asshole, too.
That's Doc, not Rat.
The phone rings again, and I pick it up.
"Hiya, Rat! How's it goin', ya old punk?"
Great, I think. The strong silent type. He'll give me a bunch of monosyllabic grunts and one-word answers, and I'll end up writing a story that focuses on me and not the fact that the Damned have returned to the world of music with their first new studio album in 10 years.
"Rat?" I ask hesitantly.
"Who's Rat?!" a gruff voice barks. The man it belongs to sounds for all the world like Wilfred Brimley with a stick up his ass.
Egads, I think. The years haven't been kind to a man who helped influence the direction punk rock took. I mean this was the man who, as a smart-ass 19-year-old punk with scabies, got his less-than-complementary nickname by walking into a room and scaring a rat away. Or something like that. Was he trying to distance himself from the most memorable appellation a drummer ever had? Next thing you know, he'd start hawking oatmeal.
"You're Rat," I said. "Rat Scabies of The Damned."
"I most certainly am not. I'm your landlord. And I need to talk to you about that music you intend to play. You can't rent from us if you intend to play loud music."
"What gives you the idea I'll play loud music," I said, trying to affect my most innocent voice and basically sounding as convincing as Macauley Culkin.
"Well, this Rat Scabies character, for one thing, young man."
My other line rings. I see the clock, and it reads 3:27.
"Yeah, about that Rat, I'll have to get back to you."
I cut the old man off as I click over to the other line. It's Cleopatra's publicist, who tells me to hold for Rat Scabies. As I wait, I grasp frantically for the promo disc of "Not of This Earth," the new disc‹which until this moment I have forgotten to listen to. The cover is Phallic with a capital P, which certainly doesn't bother me any. I mean, penises are cool as genitalia go, though I tend to prefer vulvas. But I'm happy with mine‹penis, that is‹and as I contemplate it, a crisp, friendly British voice comes on the line, relieving me of all fears of an uncommunicative subject. This interview will be neither monosyllabic nor full of one-word answers.
Mr. Rat Scabies turns out to be cool, friendly and willing to converse about everything from the new Trainspotting movie (he was impressed that as an American I managed to pick up 80 percent of the Scottish dialogue "that's about all anyone can get of that dialect.") to the summer's football games (the penalty shot that killed England in the European cup was a bummer).
Then the conversation turns to the new album. For some reason, I forget to ask about all the penises.
Wouldn't you know it?
So here The Damned are in Indian Summer in America, poised for success with their first studio album in years, and what happens?
A bunch of gits by the name of the Water‹oops! better make that Sex‹Pistols up and announce a reunion tour. And, they've released a new live album. If you ask Rat Scabies, 20 years has only helped the Pistols' playing marginally.
"Bloody well nail in the coffin, that lot," he says congenially. "Makes me not even want to do this."
But do this he has, and with an ex-Pistol type, at that. The line-up for "Not of This Earth" includes Rat, Dave Vanian, Kris Dollimore of the Godfathers, Moose of New Model Army, Alan Lee Shaw, Brian James and Glen Matlock of Pistols fame himself.
But you know. Glen was one of the good ones.
But even the show-bizzery of the Pistols can't detract from Rat Scabies' enthusiasm about the new album. And who better to drum up support for it than the band's drummer?
The album is playing in the background as I chat with Rat. And with its intermarriage of punk and blues, it's not a bad disc. But I keep scanning the promotion material to see if The Damned didn't sneak ol' Glenn Danzig onto the album as singer. The pages don't mention him, and I decide not to ask Scabies about it.
He's spent the past few years beating about the Internet rather than the band circuit. With all it's interactive possibilities, cyberspace is taking DIY to a new level. One thing Scabies has learned is that the Internet is a lot like life.
"You never end up where you want to go," he said with a laugh.
One place Scabies has ended up a lot lately is the programmer's chair. He's been designing CD roms and writing a script for a spoken-word album. But for Scabies, who'd rather not disclose his age, drumming will always be his love.
"It would have been easier to play the flute it doesn't weigh as much," he said. "Sadly, it was the noise of the drum I fell in love with."
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