Drummer of the New York based legendary
'Noise Rock' band Rat At Rat R and
author of a memoir entitled Happy Ending
passed away on March 3, 2018.
This interview was first published by Moronic Ox in 2012.
Moronic Ox: We understand that this has been a busy year for you. Your now classic 1985 album, Amer$ide, has recently been re-released by Ektro Records, you recently moved to Brazil, became engaged and started a career as a teacher, and you have your first book, Happy Ending, set for publication in early October by Open Books. Can you give us a little back story on each of these events?
David Rat: Somehow life went from zero to blissful insanity in 3.2 seconds this past year. The Amer$ide re-issue took me completely by surprise. Rat At Rat R fans have been begging for a CD for what seems like forever. The band is spread out all over the world, and it´s been difficult to accomplish anything. John Myers lives in Shanghai, I´m in Brazil, Victor Poison-Tete and Sonda Andersson are in the NYC are. It´s amazing we´ve lived long enough to see our music come back in style and be embraced by a new generation. The CD is available at www.EktroRecords.com.
I moved to Brazil because I fell in love with a beautiful Braazilian girl. I´ve always been lucky in love (just unlucky at everything else). Like most North Americans I had no idea what the Brazilian culture was all about. We are taught that Brazil is a jungle with huge snakes, carnival girls and monkeys dancing in the streets, that it is crime ridden and impoverished, a place where life is cheap… When I got down here I suddenly understood that it has a far better standard of living than the States. Jobs are plentiful, it´s cold as hell, and almost everyone is White and of European descent. My new family are Gauchos (Gow-ooo-Show). They are strong and peaceful people. We are in the extreme south. Where I live there is seemingly no crime whatsoever, and to my absolute and overwhelming joy, Brazil has not been involved in a war since WWII and has no nuclear weapons. It´s a nation of peace and prosperity. I adore it here - it´s home.
And I became a teacher quite by accident… My head is still spinning.
Moronic Ox: Rat At Rat R’s genre is defined as ‘Noise Rock’. Do you agree with that categorization? If not, how would you characterize it?
David Rat: It´s so cliché to say your art transcends a specific genre, but I honestly don´t know how to categorize us. John and I met when we were five and were total prog-rock kids. But we were enamoured with Robert Fripp and King Crimson, and I think that was what perpetuated our exploration of dissonance and atonal music. We fell into a triumvirate of experimental bands (Sonic Youth, Swans, Rat At Rat R) upon our arrival in New York, and that´s how we inherited the “Noise Rock/No-Wave" tag. Also, Sonda is avant composer Glenn Branca´s cousin, who was sort of the ringleader of that scene. To me, we were always just a Rock and Roll band…trying to break ground and take it to another level.
Moronic Ox: Happy Ending is admittedly an autobiographical account of your descent into heroin addiction, its near ruinous effect on your health and your life, and your subsequent recovery and redemption. You have said that this was a difficult and sometimes painful book to write. Can you comment on the reasons you chose to write the book and about the process of writing as well as the emotions and motivations that drove you to complete the book?
David Rat: Yeah, it had to be done I suppose… But I only wrote when I just couldn´t take it anymore. I wrote as an alternative to suicide - plain and simple - and in hopes that someone, somewhere might read it and choose not to go down the same road. I´m so glad it´s over. I can´t read it with dry eyes, nor can anyone else, it seems. It has nothing to do with the man I am today: I am a good father, I am a teacher,I am a devout practicing Buddhist, and I am drug free. I have dignity. Less than 5% of heroin addicts ever recover, so I am a walking, talking miracle - a human revolution. If you ever feel that all is lost, and there is no reason to continue, then think of me, and know it´s just not true.
Moronic Ox: On reading Happy Ending one becomes immediately aware that this is not a typical autobiography because it is a continuous story written in modern verse. Why did you choose poetry rather than straight-forward prose to tell your story?
David Rat: I started writing poems when I was a teenager - mostly as a way to get chicks. I´ve always been a hopeless romantic (well, mostly just hopeless), but anyway, it worked. I focused on music most of my adult life until I met a poet named Bill Sheilds, who by some stroke of twisted fate lived in my home town. He was an ex- Navy Seal and his work was so brutally honest and mind blowing that it inspired me to put pen to paper again. I started getting published in anthologies, mags and lit journals and was encouraged by him and others to keep writing. When I began Happy Ending it was just my natural medium, so I stuck with it.
Moronic Ox: Rat At Rat R’s cult following is well established in musical circles, as well as your own following from devoted fans, so do you anticipate a cross-over interest in Happy Ending from those longtime followers of the band?
David Rat: I would like to think so. It´s cool that the new (old) album and the book are being released at the same time. There are a few stories about RARR´s adventures in Happy Ending that I think our fans will really dig…I am also working on solo music based on Happy Ending that will (in series) be released with the book.
Moronic Ox: Autobiography is a tricky genre: at best it illuminates a personality and inspires the reader; at worst it is self-indulgent, commercial and cliché. Where do you think Happy Ending belongs on that spectrum?
David Rat: Well, self indulgent most certainly; I wrote this book for me, as a catharsis. But commercial? That´s pretty hilarious. And cliché? Well, yeah, there are a lot of junkies tha havet ended up as authors… But I didn´t set out to write the new Basketball Diaries; I just needed a way to get the bitter aching emptiness out of my heart, and putting it on paper seemed to help. Yes, I suppose if you read between the lines then you will find hope. My hope is that some kid reads it and is so disgusted that he never puts another drug in his body for the rest of his life and lives to do amazing things.
Moronic Ox: As a lifelong artist, first in music and now in literature, and now as a teacher as well, what are your hopes concerning the lasting affects of your art? Do you think your records, and now your autobiographical tell-all, will be around fifty years from now? And do you think they will seem relevant to future generations?
David Rat: Well, it´s very encouraging to correspond with younger people who have discovered Rat At Rat R nearly three decades later, and if that´s any indication then yeah. Mostly thanks to Victor´s lyrics our music is very prophetic and most certainly relevant to the situation the world´s in today. We spoke of “Suicide for Industry”, and that about sums it up. Amer$ide is short for “America-cide”, and the United Hate of America is in full bloom. I am thankful that both my son and I escaped, otherwise with my big mouth, and rapidly eroding human rights, I´d probably be headed for a F.E.M.A. concentration camp by now.
Moronic Ox: We understand, David, as will all those who read Happy Ending, that you are the father of a young son living in the UK. Would you tell our readers, please, how your son James was an inspiration for you to write Happy Ending, and also what you imagine might be his future impression of your catharsis?
David Rat: This is tough, because due to poor relations with his mother we are estranged right now. My life has become so amazing, but he is the last bit of wreckage of the past that I haven´t been able to repair. And it´s the main piece! Happy Ending is essentially a message to him. He´s only three years old, so time is on our side.The swallows always return to Capistrano, and through my Buddhist practice I am turning the world in his direction, to light his way into my arms again. I am living proof that nothing is impossible. I´m not sure what he´ll think of the book - I hope it will help him overcome being cursed with my junkie genes. At least one thing´s for sure: He´ll know I loved him dearly and fought to be next to him.
Moronic Ox: Most people would imagine that it is hard enough to excel and succeed in one art form; how do you manage to remain creative and vital in two?
David Rat: Honestly, I won't be writing anymore books for adults. I´ve said what I have to say to them. Only children´s books from now on… I think those (as well as Art books) will be the only hardcopy to survive the digital revolution. Along with Nathalie Coelho (the illustrator for Happy Ending), my next foray into literature will be entitled The Boy Who Glues Wings to Everything He Sees. It will be happy and hopeful and inspire children to overcome the fundamental darkness inherit in human nature and spread happiness. My generation failed miserably. The only hope for a peaceful and compassionate world is through individual happiness. Happy people don´t hate and kill one another. As for Rock and Roll, the Beatles came close, but all in all, music has done little to change the world. I´m still rocking down here with the kids, but my new (and I believe the greatest) art form of all is teaching. As a teacher I am affecting real change. I love it, it is my new fix. I am enabling children to communicate on a global level. With the advent of Facebook and other social media, they can make friends all over the world and form bonds that will create open and honest dialogue, a vital key to world peace.
Moronic Ox: Contrary to the title of your recently re-released album, it seems that Rock And Roll never really dies. McCartney, Ringo and Jagger, among others, are now in their seventies and still making music; Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and David Bowie are iconic and in the ‘Hall of Sh/fame; the New Wave might well be rechristened ’New Wave for Old Men’: you are now past 50 (and counting), so where do you see yourself (musically) as the next decade unfolds? Or have you now crossed over to literature as your predominant means of expression? What are your hopes, artistically and personally, for the future? A Happy Ending, perhaps?
A: Rock and Roll will never die - the demise of the music industry has proven that - although I don´t hear much these days that really moves me. Not since Rage against the Machine have I heard anything truly viable in a political sense. However, there is something to be said for good old Rock and Roll, like my favorite new band, The Alabama Shakes. When you hear them you want to dance, you forget your troubles. You become...happy! Happiness is all that matters. I'm not sure I´ll be around to see the next decade unfold, but I have my dreams. I dream I will hold my son in my arms again one day, I dream one of my students will really make a difference, I dream that forty years from now they will think to themselves, “Remember that teacher I had when I was ten, the one that told me I was different, the one that told me I could do anything. the one that told me nothing is impossible. The one who told me I could change the world? I guess he was right”…
"Killer reissue NYC NOISE classic 1985!"
"The 27th anniversary remastered reissue."
"Noise-rock quartet Rat at Rat R was formed in 1981 by guitarist Victor Poison-Tête. Originally hailing from Philadelphia, the band soon relocated to New York City's Lower East Side and became one of the highlights of the NYC noise-rock scene. With Sonic Youth, Live Skull and Swans among their contemporaries, the music of Rat at Rat R can best be described as no wave guitar-oriented noise music."
"In response Ektro Records proudly announces the 27th anniversary re-mastered re-issue of the groundbreaking recording, 'Amer$ide, Rock and Roll is Dead, Long Live Rat at Rat R', including the songs "Plague", "Asshole", "Assassin" and seven other brutal tunes, chock full of political overtones and playful sonic chaos, it still continues to resonate in these tumultuous times."
"One of New York’s most distinctly radical bands. But there’s a sense of humor here as well, the music is consistently brilliant. the guitars build a wall of clashing tone clusters on one song, clink and scrape delicately on the next. the rhythmic ideas are equally varied. There are more fresh musical ideas on this album than one could absorb in a whole day." — Robert Palmer, N. Y. Times
"Go listen to that Rat at Rat R record that came out in 1985, you’ll hear stuff no one was doing." — Glenn Branca
"Nowadays this album sounds less like an epitaph for an ailing musical tradition and more like some fucked up part of a raucous artistic continuum. Sure, the volatility of these songs reflect the band’s attempt to cope with New York’s Lower East Side circa 1985, but the accompanying swagger comes straight out of central Pennsylvania, their mid-seventies birthplace." — Jordan Mamone
"Longevity is particularly problematic and inconstant as a dimension of time when it is applied to rock bands. Furthermore, when the band in question has, as Rat at Rat R has, made a conscious decision to situate itself outside of the music industry machinery, longevity becomes a concept that is far sketchier and even more limited in scope. However, if Rat at Rat R has not gone anywhere on the map of commercial success then where they have stayed is a place on the cultural margin, with its own nuances of intent, success, genre, and virtuosity."
- Carlo McCormick