Rat Scabies, longtime drummer for The Damned (real name: Chris Millar), has continued pounding the skins while also teaching at universities. PKM spoke to him about his collaborations with Donovan and the Dandy Warhols, his solo album, and more.
We all know him as the cartoon-like punk in a leather jacket, tight jeans and rooster cut. Chris Millar, a.k.a. Rat Scabies, was the drummer for the first ever British punk band, The Damned. They released the single “New Rose,” in 1976 and were the first English punk band to tour the United States.
From his beginnings, as a baby abandoned on a doorstep, to running away from home at 14 and joining his compadres in creating a musical and social revolution, his intelligence and street smarts helped him not just to survive, but to thrive. After 19 years in the Damned, Rat called it quits when tensions heated up over their album, Not Of This Earth. Brian James is the only original member he still talks to.
Today, Rat is called on by universities to educate their students on, what else… punk. He has a wife and three children, one who is involved in the rap game, carrying on with the musical genetics given to him. One recent musical project is called the Mutants, with Chris Constantinou of Adam and the Ants. They invite new members to join for each album and drive the theme towards a certain region. So far they have done London, Tokyo, California, and New York.
Professor And The Madmen is another one of Rat’s supergroups which includes Paul Gray of the Damned on bass, Alfie Agnew of the Adolescents and D.I. on guitar/vocals/keys, and Sean Elliot of D.I. on guitars and vocals. They released a record this year titled Disintegrate Me. This album is filled with great tracks, including “Space Walrus,” a Bowie-esque glam rock jam complete with vocal effects, ‘70s guitar hooks, and tambourine. “Nightmare,” is a great punk rock song with a sprinkle of goth, as the intro features a spooky organ. On “Electroconvulsive Therapy,” Rat’s speedy drumming skills are pushed into the spotlight. The overall Southern California edge that Agnew and Elliot bring make this album a showstopper reminiscent of the ‘80s West Coast punk sound.
Rat surprised his audience with his first solo record which was released this year called, P.H.D. (which stands for prison, hospital, debt). How uplifting! This album shows Rat’s versatility and range. The critics are raving about it and I can see why. “Chew On You,” is a mix of southern guitars and a snotty punk vocal. “My Wrist’s Hurt,” is a tongue-in-cheek title for this instrumental of furious guitars and insanely speedy drum work. “Sing, Sing, Sing,” is a big band era romp and “Rat’s Opus,” is a brave jump into a dark rock opera, harpsichord and all. The last two songs on the album are dreamy and serene. “It Feels Like Sunday,” and “Glad You Could Make It,” have a beautiful atmospheric style a la Mazzy Star. I love this album.
On top of all this, Rat is an authority on the Holy Grail. A journalist friend, Christopher Dawes, even wrote a book on it called, Rat Scabies and The Holy Grail—the idea for it coming to him over neighborly spliffs at Rat’s Brentford home.
I called Rat in England to set up this interview and then met him a few weeks later at Brooklyn venue, Saint Vitus, where he was a guest host for a Dandy Warhols gig. He was shocked to meet a younger version of who he thought he had talked to on the phone. Swearing by my voice and vibe that he thought I was in my fifties. I guess I’m wise beyond my years, haha. We literally talked around the water cooler with Courtney Taylor-Taylor on the importance of hydration, like proper aging rockers.
I later noticed Rat working the room, charming everyone with his English humor. He is a giddy delight to be around and we became fast friends. Earlier this year, I was also lucky enough to watch him tape a pilot for a BBC show where he interviews people on their craziest experience at different bars in Ireland. Rat is a contemplative, astute, well-spoken gentleman who has been through some crazy experiences. Like the time strangers threatened to kill him while he was tripping on LSD. Talk about a bad trip! Read my interview with the legendary drummer below.
PKM: I had a hard time dialing England.
Rat Scabies: Yeah, I used to have terrible trouble at hotels in America with the codes. You have to knock the one off and add a zero… You have to be in a secret society for it to work.
PKM: Right, the Illuminati, I have to get in with them.
Rat Scabies: I’m coming over to New York for this new movie about the Dandy Warhols. We are also gonna do some songwriting for the next Mutants record. I’m quite excited because I haven’t been to New York since the 1980’s.
PKM: Oh, wow. Have you been to L.A. before?
Rat Scabies: Yes, l have some friends over there.
PKM: I’m from L.A. originally but I like the people more in New York. They are honest and up front.
Rat Scabies: In New York they do the thinking for you, don’t they? I went to buy a sandwich for the first time. I was utterly astounded by the choices, pickles and such.. In England, we don’t have those kind of choices. I could see the guy’s brain going.. you won’t agree to this, but you will agree to that. It is the most vibrant place on the Earth isn’t it? Or was…
PKM: Yeah was! I’ve only been here since 2003, but it has changed a ton even since then. It’s so conservative now. I like seeing crazy people around.
Rat Scabies: There was always a fun-filled element of danger when you went out. The last time I was there, there were bums on the street. I remember this guy bumping into me and going, “Hey! That was a two hundred dollar bottle of champagne you just broke.” And I went, “Mate, you aren’t wearing any shoes.”
PKM Ha! That’s cute. I hope in his imaginary world that he really feels like a rich man.
Rat Scabies: I gave him ten bucks and said, “I’m sorry about your bottle, mate.”
PKM: That was nice.
Rat Scabies: Well, it’s also a survival thing. I remember being on the street with a friend of mine. What’s that famous street that Bleecker Bob’s was on? Anyway, I was on it jet-lagged at four a.m. and couldn’t sleep. I got a coffee and a bagel and sat on the steps and watched the city come alive. It went from a desolate place to jam-packed with taxis and people going to work. That’s my favorite time in New York, when you see it rising and it goes from this almost deserted wasteland to jam-packed with people going to work.
PKM: It has great energy. I love opening the window and seeing people walk down the street.
Rat Scabies: I also think there is something subliminal about hearing human voices. Everything is going on and carrying on. It’s a great leveler in many ways.
PKM: They say people go crazy living on top of each other in the big city but, if you look at the statistics, most serial killers come from California. There is more sanity in being amongst other people. The key to happiness (for example) is having a social life.
Rat Scabies: It’s a bit like looking at the stars at night. You realize you aren’t the only one there.
PKM: How was playing with the Dandy Warhols?
Rat Scabies: They are quite remarkable because they do what they do purely for the moment. It’s not, “Oh my god, I haven’t written a part for this yet. It’s we are here, let’s give it a go.” Which is my favorite type of creativity.
PKM: The last time I was at a Dandy Warhols show, I got a wicked secondhand high of pot smoke. Someone asked me how the show was after and I said with a huge smile, “It was like a spiritual experience..”
Rat Scabies: Haha!
PKM: Do you like being filmed? Or does it make you nervous? I know you are filming this pilot for a BBC series where you talk to folks in Irish pubs about their craziest stories.
Rat Scabies: No, I’m completely natural all the time… Really, I’m thinking I better keep my chin up so people don’t see how flabby I’ve become.
PKM: Hopefully something smart comes out of your mouth, instead of a short answer.
Rat Scabies: I find the trick is to not think about it. I see myself in interviews and think, “Oh, god, why don’t you stop smiling, you oaf. Stop waving your arms about.”
PKM: But it’s better to be animated than boring.
Rat Scabies: But I rather be the new Bond. Haha!
PKM: I read that you thought Z.Z. Top was the best band of the 1980’s. I saw them recently, and they blew me away. I had the best time. Bunch of drunk, old men got thrown out.
Rat Scabies: Yeah. Haha!
PKM: I know you played with Glen Matlock in the Vicious White Kids. Do you have any fond memories of those days?
Rat Scabies: All the Sex Pistols were fun to chat with except for John. He wasn’t as easy to get on with. It was a different conversation. Let’s put it that way. Glen and I did a few projects together. We were playing at the Lyceum Theatre once. I asked him what I should wear and he said, “Something clean.” Ha! He’s a nice guy. Never negative. I think all Glen really wanted to do was be in a rock band like the Small Faces. The punk scene was never exactly his bag. He doesn’t get quite as much credit as he should for his role in the Sex Pistols either, not that he needs it, because he knows.
PKM: Tell me about your latest solo album. Is there a running theme?
Rat Scabies: My son has a little studio upstairs and I started messing about in there. Then I thought, people should hear this. I had enough songs for an album. It’s getting great reviews.
PKM: How did you get started on the drums?
Rat Scabies: I fell in love with it. I nagged and nagged and nagged some more. My parents finally bought me a toy drum kit which was broken real fast. I got another one and I’ve never wanted to do anything but be a drummer.
PKM: Who was your drummer idol as a kid?
Rat Scabies: A few. In no particular order: Gene Krupa, Sandy Nelson, Dave Clark… A few jazz musicians: Kenny Clare and Willy Stevenson. Then as hard rock came about, it was Ginger Baker and Keith Moon. I never really listened to music, just the drums in the music.
PKM: Have you ever met Ginger Baker?
Rat Scabies: Actually, a friend of mine is his roadie and I fill in when he can’t do it. So I set up Ginger’s drums regularly. It’s great because I’ve been watching Ginger play since I was fifteen.
PKM: So you obviously get on with him well.
Rat Scabies: No. I don’t think anyone does really. Haha! I was interviewed in his documentary and they cut me from it because I was the only one to say nice things. So I thought it was a bit unfair to him. The thing that Ginger did was bring African music to Europe. He went to Africa just to learn about African rhythms and how that music worked. He was the first person to do that in the early 1970’s. He nearly got shot for supporting a revolution and nobody is interested in that, they are only interested in him being a cunt.
PKM: You used to light your cymbals on fire I was told.
Rat Scabies: Yes, I did.
PKM: One of my favorite bands to see live as a teen was this group, the Murder City Devils whose drummer, Coady, would light his on fire as well.
Rat Scabies: They are one of my FAVORITE bands!!
PKM: No way! Ha!
Rat Scabies: I was just listening to, “Boom Swagger Boom,” on my phone.
PKM: I was engaged onstage at their gig in 2000 at the Palace in Hollywood.
Rat Scabies: What are they doing now? The drummer has a very noisy bass drum pedal. It’s something that the engineer usually gets rid of and it takes a lot of nerve to keep it in. I like the raw quality of it. Grubby records are always the best ones as opposed to over production. I also love his voice. There is something about that whiny American sound that’s so adorable to me. The Professor And The Madmen, which is one of my projects, the singer has that same quality to his voice. I call it the garage vocal. It’s like, “I am what I am.” No pretension to it.
PKM: Why did you stop lighting the drums on fire? Was there an incident?
Rat Scabies: No. I just don’t want to feel like a performing monkey. When you do it the first couple times, it’s exciting because people aren’t expecting it. Then it just becomes a gimmick and I don’t like having to give an audience what they want.
The Fat White Family are good fun. They are one of the only bands I’ve heard in a while that actually seem to mean it. They are what bands should be. Bands should be protesting and angry.
PKM: Tell me more about the Rat Scabies And The Holy Grail book which Christopher Dawes wrote about you. I think people would be interested to hear that this punk rock guy is the number one authority on the Holy Grail.
Rat Scabies: It wasn’t through choice. My parents were into it and they were devout atheists. So I was brought up with no confidence in the church as an organization. The universe is there and our concept of God is badly branded and to keep an open mind. There were these priests in the south of France from a tiny village that became fabulously wealthy overnight. That’s a fabulous story in itself. I grew up with this alternative and questioning family around me. These were the days when you couldn’t buy a book on Atlantis but you could buy a copy of a book an explorer wrote about the legend, so you had to research to find the truth. Left field information, which my father was fabulous at that. Conspiracies, governments…it all came second nature to me. It’s pretty long-winded stuff, but it’s all about coincidence and timing and things that seem to happen by their own accord without any reason, but they’re related. I don’t really believe in it but to suddenly happen to find yourself in the middle of it, it’s kind of freaky, then you get over it and you wonder what is going on in the world that we don’t understand. That maybe only shows itself occasionally. It’s all in the book, but this journalist who used to work for the Melody Maker moved across the street from me. He used to help me roll joints when I sliced my hand open. I started telling him the story of the priests and he talked to his agent. Then we got lucky and got a book deal and went to look for the grail.
PKM: What do you think of the movie, The Da Vinci Code?
Rat Scabies: It’s a great thriller. Haha! What Dan Brown touches on in the book is related to this village in France. But what he wrote wasn’t really about the origins of it but more wrapped around the skeleton of it.
PKM: We don’t believe something until we see it, but there a lot of things that were impossible to believe in until it comes to life like the Wright Brothers with the airplane. Or if you believed in aliens, then people thought you were a meth addict who lives in Arizona and is just imagining it. Now the government has admitted UFO and alien evidence that they have kept under wraps from the public.
Rat Scabies: What’s funny is I spent eight months in Arizona producing a band called Glass Heroes. Everybody, including me, had a UFO story. We were so close to the airbases. I have a story which is quite interesting, to say the least, but I don’t want to get into it right now.
PKM: Keeping an open mind is the moral of the story, I guess.
Rat Scabies: It is a comforting thing to think about as we get older. I used to think, “Well, I’m worm food,” but now there’s a part of me that says, “Wouldn’t it be grand if there is an afterlife?”
PKM: Did you enjoy playing at the Starwood with the Dickies? They were the first band I’ve ever seen as a kid.
Rat Scabies: They were so good. I used to hang out in your hometown of Huntington Beach, on Orange and 12th. There was a dreadful club called Night Moves in the 80s. I got real friendly with the Vandals during that time. I had the time of my life because it was punk central then and there was the beach. The Adolescents were going and everyone was very nice to me. For someone coming from London, it was heaven.
PKM: Yeah, it was cool in the 1980’s. It’s bro city now.
Rat Scabies: Someone described it to me as cage fighters and pole dancers. It is awful now. In the 1980’s, everyone thought it was cool to do your own thing. It was a much different scene.
PKM: How do you feel about the Damned documentary?
Rat Scabies: You know when someone says, “We want to make a movie about your band,” you think, “Oh good, the truth will finally be told.” Then you realize by the end of it, it’s Wes’ interpretation of the band. I felt that in some ways that Wes had certain opinions that I don’t have. Wes is a nice guy, but it’s his version of the band and if I want to show my side, I have to make my own movie.
PKM: How did the Damned come about in the first place?
Rat Scabies: I met up with a guitar player called Brian James. Who I’m still mates with. I met Dave Vanian through Malcolm McClaren at a Sex Pistols gig at the National Rooms. Dave walked in and we were both looking for a singer, so we had Dave try out. We did the same thing with Sid Vicious, we thought Sid looks good, but he never showed up to the audition. So Dave got the job. We needed a bass player and the Captain was the only person I knew with a bass and an amp, so he got the job.
PKM: Do you think Sid would have made a good singer for the Damned?
Rat Scabies: Well, it wasn’t about being a good singer. It was about being someone with personality who had the same views that you did and didn’t mind bringing attention to themselves.
PKM: Your son is a songwriter?
Rat Scabies: Yes. He’s actually going on his first tour on a tour bus tonight.
PKM: Any words of advice for him?
Rat Scabies: Yeah, always sleep with your feet pointed to the front, in case the bus crashes. Don’t dump on the bus. Drink from the side of your mouth. There is a million of these. I could go on and on. I remember Clem from Blondie telling me that at one point all of the band members would pick up girls who looked like Debbie Harry and bring them all to rehearsal. So there were five or six Debbie’s showing up to the band room.
PKM: I bet that pissed her off. I feel like every member of that band must’ve been jealous at one point or another of Chris Stein for getting her.
Rat Scabies: Debbie was always totally cool with me. I always liked her. She would load the equipment in the back of her car and take it to gigs. I respected that. It represents someone that really wanted it.
PKM: Who gave you the nickname Rat and have you had scabies before?
Rat Scabies: Yeah. I went down to try out for a band called London S.S. It was Mick Jones, Tony James, and Brian James and I had scabies. I had it for a long time and it turned septic, so I had all these scabs on my body. I got it from this girl who I was madly in love with. So it was one of those things, “I don’t care!” Haha!
PKM: I got scabies as a child from my grandmother’s retirement home. So I guess it’s something you can pick up quite easily. It’s gross because there are bugs crawling under your skin.
Rat Scabies: It’s like sitting on the train seat. The story goes that they asked me what was wrong with me while I was scratching and a rat ran across my path while I answered, but I don’t believe that. I think it’s because they thought I looked like one. It’s not a nice name and I’ve never wanted it nor liked it. I mean how could you? I never thought the Damned would last more than six months. All this short hair, fitted trousers, and fast music. I never saw it dethroning Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I thought Rat Scabies is a great name because everyone remembers it but then after the band goes south, I would get rid of the name and go back to Chris Millar. Also everyone was getting benefits back then. We figured we’d get written about because we knew a few journalists. We didn’t want to use our real names because then we wouldn’t get to claim anymore. It wasn’t like we were earning money. We couldn’t survive without it. Thankfully, in this country we have the dole system, which is really responsible for creating every great band that ever came out of here.
PKM: I was listening to that band Nosferatu that you play in. I really love goth music and your drum parts really stand out. What do you think about goth music?
Rat Scabies: It’s quite interesting because I think the Damned are controversial in goth circles. Some people say we weren’t a goth band but I know for a fact, that Dave Vanian was the first goth, certainly in England. When goth became a movement, Nosferatu and other goth bands called me up and I thought okay we weren’t traditionally goth, but we do go there. So it’s quite nice to stretch out and dip into it.
PKM: Did you ever meet Susie Cave who was on the cover of the Phantasmagoria album?
Rat Scabies: No, I didn’t because Bob Carlos Clarke had already taken the photo. He was an art photographer.
PKM: It’s an iconic cover. Very beautiful.
Rat Scabies: He never took a lot of photographs, he would take two max. Everything was about the lighting and placement and getting it right. Besides her being so beautiful and the atmosphere, there is a tiny airplane up in the sky which makes it modern. Otherwise, the photo looked very vintage. I’m coming to NYC soon to write songs with Chris Constineau for the next Mutants album.
PKM: You’ve played in so many bands over the years: Dead Horse, the Mutants, London S.S., the Rich White Kids, the Members, the Damned… How was playing with Donovan?
Rat Scabies: It was three or four years ago. Playing “Hurdy, Gurdy Man,” and “Mellow Yellow,” on tour was surreal because these are the songs I grew up with. This was the man that went to India with the Beatles, so his stories are fantastic. Just sitting in the car for a few weeks with him and listening to him talk about the old days was pretty cool. It was worth doing just for that. We were in East Germany in some shitty pub and he would pull out his guitar in the corner and all of a sudden everyone in the place was surrounding him and singing along. He has that kinda power over people.
PKM: Was there anyone you’ve met who you were surprised about either good or bad?
Rat Scabies: One of the most thrilling people I’ve ever met was Faye Dunaway. I was surprised at how nice Robert Plant was.
I never thought the Damned would last more than six months. All this short hair, fitted trousers, and fast music. I never saw it dethroning Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I thought Rat Scabies is a great name because everyone remembers it but then after the band goes south, I would get rid of the name and go back to Chris Millar.
PKM: I was shocked at how nice Bono was and he is the guy everyone loves to hate.
Rat Scabies: Haha! That’s true. The new Mutants album is gonna be influenced by New York. I’m not sure which direction it will go to yet because you have jazz, hip hop, and punk to choose from. New York is the only place in the world that I’ve ever seen glow worms (we call them fire flies.) Those things were all around me in Central Park. It was very beautiful. My other project, Professor and the Madman are connected to the Huntington Beach band called D.I. It’s the Agnew brothers’ kid brother, who is a professor of mathematics. The album was just released. At Christmas, everyone has a party where they wear an awful sweater near Costa Mesa and they were playing. So we started jamming and they got Paul Gray from the Damned who was our bassist at one time to play.
The Damned were a great cooperative really because we came up with songs together. We shared royalties. The song, “Smash It Up (Part One)” came from Marc Bolan dying. I came up with the idea based on how we felt at the time. Then Dave brought his own sensibilities to it. Music is a collective. That is the whole point of it. A group of people gathering together to create something. The idea is to compliment what’s going on around you. Although, in the Damned we all tried to stand out on our own.
PKM: Do you have any fond memories about the first time you came to NYC?
Rat Scabies: A burning car in the middle of the street, the sides of the buildings, every time I went to the store the price went up twenty-five cents on the same item. You’ve got to remember when the Damned came to New York, it was the first time anyone had even been on an airplane, so we were pretty green.
PKM: How old were you?
Rat Scabies: Nineteen. We’d only seen New York on television. I would watch Kojak, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with reality. Then you come here and there was sirens going constantly, and everyone moving and hustling. It’s so weird to realize it’s not just a fantasy.
PKM: When I first moved here from Southern California, I remember seeing a fat Italian with three gold chains and a velour sweatsuit smoking a cigar and sitting in a foldout chair on the street in Brooklyn blaring Sinatra on a boombox outside a clubhouse called the Giglio Boys club and thinking it was bizarre that it was all real. So I get it.
Tell me what you thought of the Ramones the first time you saw them?
Rat Scabies: The first time I saw them was a photograph and they had that funny, little haircut.
PKM: Did you think that was silly?
Rat Scabies: I thought it was Herman’s Hermits. I thought it was ‘60s.
PKM: Yeah, like Music Machine.
Rat Scabies: But then they had on leather jackets. Only bikers wore leather jackets then. The jeans with the holes in their knees …..AND they weren’t flairs. They also had Converse on and I thought, “That’s a good look.” I imagined how walking in those torn jeans with the leather jacket rubbing would sound. When their first album arrived, everyone went bonkers. How could you not love them?
PKM: Where did you first see them?
Rat Scabies: I saw them at the Roundhouse in London with Patti Smith. Everyone who was anyone was there. Name any punk musician, they were there. The next day, they played at Dingwall’s. There were some fights and it was perfect. I remember stumbling upon this rehearsal space in New York and there were The Ramones practicing. So I was an audience of one. They were always really nice to me.
PKM: Who were the first band you witnessed play at CBGB?
Rat Scabies: The Dead Boys, who opened for us that night.
PKM: What did you think about the crowd in NYC compared to the one in England?
Rat Scabies: Very… um, insincere.
PKM: What do you mean? Tough?
Rat Scabies: No. It was almost like an Andy Warhol art project. You could eat pizza and watch Blondie. You could eat pizza and watch the Dead Boys. You could eat pizza and watch Television. It was all very art house. I think The Ramones probably had a real sense of sincerity to them. In England, you have to realize there was no conceptualization of what we were. We had nothing to lose. We didn’t have any money. We didn’t have a place to fit in. In New York at that time, there wasn’t a sense of sincerity. You can’t go eat pizza and start a revolution. Or else everyone would do it.
PKM: I remember listening to this thing as a kid on the radio. It was a vintage ‘70s taping of the Rodney Bingenheimer’s radio show and he was talking to Debbie Harry and the Damned at the same time. Do you remember that?
Rat Scabies: Yeah. We did do that once.
PKM: Captain Sensible said, “You missed a spot,” referring to the black spot in her blond hair. It was these goofy kids laughing and Debbie answered sternly, “It’s supposed to be that way.” It was funny because here’s this street tough thirty-year old mature woman dealing with these kids.
Rat Scabies: I remember we were in Santa Monica and we watched Blondie open for Iggy Pop. I remember it being a really good show but they smashed up their equipment at the end which seemed unnecessary.
PKM: That’s weird for them.
Rat Scabies: I think they were trying it on as an addition to the show, but they didn’t really need to do that. That was our job. Haha.
PKM: How did you exist when the band first started?
Rat Scabies: I lived on the streets.
PKM: You were homeless?
Rat Scabies: For awhile. I slept on the trains. If you could sneak on them right before they closed at night you were good. Airports were pretty good too. Then I’d steal bread and milk from doorsteps in the morning. I would hustle for money. Begging at stations and small crime. I ended up with a conviction for burglary for stealing a check from a house. I was convinced I’d get jail time because I already had a few minor things on my record. Theft of precious metals and dumb things. Luckily, I only received two years’ probation.
PKM: Do you still steal?
Rat Scabies: No. I came around to thinking that’s bad karma. If you can get the things you need in life, then it shouldn’t be at anyone else’s expense. Strange questions…
PKM: Did you sleep with Soo Catwoman?
Rat Scabies: No. Haha!
PKM: Did you sleep with Siouxsie Sioux?
Rat Scabies: No. Haha! These are very personal questions…
PKM: Did you sleep with anyone I would know of from back then?
Rat Scabies: Well not those two, certainly!!!
PKM: Did guys hit on you?
Rat Scabies: Actually, yeah. I used to get some of that. But I was pretty thick. Very undiplomatic and very un-gay. But, I guess I had a face that said… maybe.
PKM: Hahahahahaha!! Well I also think that gays probably hung out in the punk clubs back then. The misfits of society all coming together.
Rat Scabies: Yeah, I agree with that. Also the U.K. punk scene was very non-judgmental about sexuality. It was never anybody’s business.
PKM: Were you ever a hippie or a beatnik before you were a punk?
Rat Scabies: No, not really. My parents were very broad thinking I suppose you could say. They were much more into a kind of political and religious revolution than….
PKM: Did your parents go to protests?
Rat Scabies: My father used to speak at Hyde Park Corner every week.
PKM: Lecturing people?
Rat Scabies: Yeah. In Hyde Park Corner there was a place called Speaker’s Corner where anyone could stand up and have their say every Sunday.
PKM: Were you embarrassed by that?
Rat Scabies: A bit I suppose from watching your father act out of character. Then I would notice two or three hundred people surrounding him and I realized he must be saying something relevant. Being brought up with absolute freedom of speech and absolute openness in things… I was never a hippie, but just very aware of the moral high-ground the hippie movement was based on. Which I think came from the fifties beatnik ethic of having to redefine how we thought about ourselves as a species and the way we thought about our social situations. I think you can watch the evolution of that go through from medieval times. But as you get closer to now, you can see it accelerating. What was unacceptable twenty years ago is now a social norm and presumed to be acceptable. I believe that’s progress.
PKM: Were you the bully or the bullied in high school?
Rat Scabies: What’s high school?
PKM: Oh, when you were a teenager in school.
Rat Scabies: Oh. I was bullied. I used to get hit all the time. The weakest ones in the tribe would hang out together and avoid it. I figured it out pretty quick. It came down to bribery. I would give the toughest kid at school cigarettes and he would keep the other kids off me. It turned out that we both shared a love of music and going to see bands. We became mates, I still had to give him cigarettes though.
PKM: Did anyone in your school have a band?
Rat Scabies: Yeah, a few.
PKM: Were they good?
Rat Scabies: No, not really. I was quite lucky because I could keep my drums at the school. I went to a funny school because you had to have a certain grades in math class and English class to stay in music classes and because I was missing so many general education classes, to play music and so I was thrown out. So I left school and home the same day.
PKM: How old were you?
Rat Scabies: Fourteen. I stayed with friends for awhile before the streets.
PKM: How old were you when you lost your virginity?
Rat Scabies: Sixteen. It was just some girl. Nobody special. I just wanted to do it already. My father used to have this book shop that had soft porn books. So I was always aware of it. I thought it would be so amazing. Then when you finally do it, you’re in such a hurry, that you don’t notice it anyway.
PKM: Did you ever go to drive-in movies?
Rat Scabies: We never had those in England. I only experienced those in California. Orange County.
PKM: Probably that old one off Beach Blvd that is closed down now. My mom used to hide me in the trunk while coming in to save money. It was always creepy. Homeless people trying to hock their wares by knocking on your windows.
Rat Scabies: Right and you go back to the store to buy popcorn and you walk in to this wasteland. In England, we only have sweet popcorn, where they sprinkle treacle on it. Over here you’ve got this stuff with BUTTER on it! Eeeewww! What are you doing! Also, the sizes over here… “I’ll have a gallon of popcorn please, make it two gallons!”
PKM: Hahaha!! Have you had any crazy drug experiences?
Rat Scabies: Well I took some LSD with these people I didn’t know and they tried to kill me with knives. Luckily, they realized I should just go. I walked home with this feeling of survival. There was a poster of Pete Townsend above my bed and I put on “Tommy” quietly because my parents were asleep. I lay on my bed and waited for the acid to wear off. Then Pete walked out of the poster and played for me in my room. As the music reached a crescendo, he jumped in the air and his head fell off. That’s when the horror of what had happened sunk in.
PKM: Are you sure those guys weren’t just playing a game?
Rat Scabies: No, they stabbed the door and the blade came straight through. There were four of us at the house, one I knew and two I didn’t. We took California Sunshine, it was the strongest acid that had ever been around. Then they were rummaging through the drawers and grabbing knives and looked at me and said, “Lets kill him,” and they were laughing. Then one of them tried to take a stab at me. I quickly closed the door between us and they stabbed the door. My friend eventually talked them down. It wasn’t anything personal, that was the strangest part about it, they didn’t even know me.