Song #52: David Rat – “Swansong 52”

October 13, 2020
Song #52: David Rat – “Swansong 52”

David Rat kicked heroin and got his life together, then died in his sleep of a heart attack.

“How many bad choices can you shove in one heart as it grows smaller and blacker day by day, with less room for ‘I’ll never leave you’ or ‘handing him to his mother before you get in the airport taxi’, or ‘making your father cry?’
“But it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay – at least it wasn’t the drugs, it was only the regret.”

As the song fades out, I think of David’s estranged son, just a baby that would never get to know his father. He made choices until they weren’t choices at all anymore, and had to rebuild his life in another fucking country to keep from dying – and then he died anyway, in his sleep, next to his wife, comfortably nestled into his new life, a silver lining obscuring black clouds of regret.

It’s okay – at least it wasn’t the drugs, it was only the regret.

You can say what you want to say about David’s poetry. You can criticize it, I guess, you can criticize the music on The United Hates as some did, particularly the handful of people who bought our records and knew us as a pop label.

“I don’t get this record at all,” a good friend said to me. And there was no explaining it, either. On one level it was just a noisy No Wave record, and on another it was a bunch of spotty poetry about the environment, about war, about poverty, like some high school kid’s journal but with fifty years of hard living behind it. The sentiments are excellent, but so few of us get to be Thomas Pynchon.

And on another level it was so human, so powerful to listen to this man’s pain bubbling up all over, as he tried so desperately to make sense of it and use it to better himself. Everything about David was so public, right out there for everyone to see, thousands of people he’d never met in person reading his daily musings, brief stories about the time he met Glenn Hughes or Angela Bowie or D. Boon or the time he said goodbye to his son, or his mother, or everything he knew, just so he could stay alive and face a brand new world all by himself.

And then at the end, one horrible morning, I read a strange post on Facebook that his wife made, and I realized: having Facebook “Mutual Friends” and having real, actual mutual friends, like the kind that can fill you in when somebody dies, are two different things. I had to get clarification from a person I’d never met, Sonda from Rat At Rat R, the influential band that gave David his name. I exchanged private messages with David at least once a week, he called me ‘brother,’ I put out his record, but I never shook his hand. Never met his family. Never had a cup of coffee with him, or sat up late at night arguing about sports or politics or music.

But this is when the spotty poetry becomes so much more profound: when you’re sitting in the dark the night he died, listening to “Swansong 52,” trying to make any sense of it, and you hear his gentle voice say it:

But it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. At least it wasn’t the drugs – it was only the regret.”

And as the song fades away, David whispering “regret” over and over, we hear his greatest regret: the sound of a boy laughing, representing the son that he never got to know.

I started this blog in 2009 to fulfill a promise I made to my best friend. With the understanding that even the most widely-read posts here only get a few hundred views, writing this blog has also changed my life in immeasurable ways. Despite that, this blog is just me, shouting into the void like everybody else, just a lightning strike away from being wiped out of existence. But if you happen to stumble into this somehow, looking for a bit of wisdom, here’s one of the only ones I’ve got:

Don’t have any regrets.

~ by Al on October 14, 2020.

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