Punk's Not Dead. It's Just Jaded
"My house is like a crash pad for aging punk rockers," Keith Jackson tells me over the phone one day.
But not just any old aging punk rockers. The singer/guitarist for local punk band Glass Heroes has hung out with some of the most legendary names in the genre, including Joe Strummer, Marky Ramone, Johnny Rotten, and, most recently, Rat Scabies, former drummer of seminal British punk band The Damned. The band's biggest hit was a goth cover of Barry Ryan's 1968 song "Eloise" that peaked at No. 3 on the U.K. charts in 1986, but my personal favorite song by The Damned has always been "New Rose," released as a single in 1976. At the beginning of the song, there's three seconds of nothing but charged-up drumming. That's Rat Scabies.
Keith tells me Rat is staying with him for two weeks while Rat records Glass Heroes' next CD, and invites me to hang out with them at the George & Dragon on a Friday night.
It's a good opportunity to have Rat sign my copy of Christopher Dawson's book Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail (Thunder's Mouth Press), which is all about the author's and the rocker's combined efforts to find the "real" Holy Grail.
Rat, a thin fellow with blond (okay, silver) hair and stereotypically long British teeth, is fascinated by religion, conspiracies, and mythologies. When I tell him I recently picked up two Masonic ashtrays at local vintage shop Retro Redux, he smiles bigger than when I tell him I think The Damned was one of the most influential bands in punk history.
Rat scoffs at that. "Yeah, whatever. If you want to think that."
Keith, a tall, broad-shouldered fellow (or "a big bugger," as Rat describes him) who sports a sleek pompadour, asks Rat what he thinks the Holy Grail is.
"Well, there are three ideas," Rat says. "The first Holy Grail is described as a physical object, the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper. The second is the bloodline grail, the idea that Mary Magdalene had a child by Jesus. But there's a third Holy Grail, which is described as just achieving a state of spiritual enlightenment."
We all agree that the third definition sounds the coolest, and we are well on our way to achieving some sort of enlightenment through Guinness. Inevitably, the conversation turns to dead and aging punk icons.
"Somebody should throw a show full of dead punks," Keith says with a laugh. "Johnny Thunders, Dee Dee Ramone, Stiv Bators . . ."
"The Ouija Show!" Rat exclaims.
I joke that it would take way too long to spell out the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" on a Ouija board. On the subject of the Dead Boys and their late singer, Stiv Bators, Rat shares a fascinating story.
"He did so many drugs, and he always said that when he died, he wanted to be cremated and have all his friends snort a line of his ashes," Rat says. "And he did."
But did people really snort Stiv Bators?
"I know Jim Jarmusch did," Rat says, referring to the film director responsible for avant-garde indie flicks like Dead Man.
Keith Richards' ashes would make for a decent high, I offer.
"Yeah, but he's not dead," Rat says.
"He looks like it," I say.
Rat laughs. "Yeah, the Stones look like something out of a Tim Burton film."
I ask Rat about the London punk scene in the '70s, but he won't say anything beyond admitting he was there. But when I tell him about my trip to London this past spring and my journey down King's Road to find the location of the original Sex shop (the store where Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood formed the Sex Pistols in 1975), he listens with interest.
I had walked for about 15 miles down King's Road from the Fulham Station, looking for building 126. I literally wore holes through the soles of my boots on this punk-rock sojourn. When I finally limped up to the building that matched the address of the old Sex shop, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
This legendary spot, this pivotal place in punk rock history where the Sex Pistols formed, where Londoners went for edgy fashions that couldn't be found anywhere else, where Siouxsie Sioux and Billy Idol and Sid Vicious hung out as teenagers, is now a Starbucks, a universal symbol for corporate gentrification.
Rat laughs. "Well, that's poetic justice, ain't it?"
Hell, that ain't just poetic justice it's a philosophical pebble on our path to enlightenment tonight, especially since Keith has just returned from the bar with the Holy Grail. "Cheers to ya, mates!" Rat exclaims. "Another round of Guinness!"
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