The Junkie Chic Despair of Rita Ratt, “Gurl Ten”

Rita Ratt took goth punk heroin chic to the extremes it inevitably led to, making Gurl Ten an edgy bohemian in the early days, and a tragic figure in the end.


BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 1978 – In the beginning, it was mostly rock and roll that informed Boston’s early punks. More Dictators than Damned, more Willie Alexander than the Weirdos the early adherents loved the power and glory of stun guitars more than the fly-in-the-ointment aspects of cultural provocation.

Unnatural Axe got together when ginger choir boy Richie Parsons discovered Tom White (Tommy from Zoom) loved Handsome Dick as much as he did.

The “Axe” were one of the first of the “punk” bands to release a single and what a slab-o-wax it was.

The standout and one of the most enduring songs on that 45 rpm slice of teenage eye pokes, humor informed by Moe, Larry and Curly and watching old people fall down was the classic “They Saved Hitler’s Brain.”

The song was made real for the ages by not only Richie’s laconic delivery of the lyrics but with the b-movie horror screams that anchor the chorus provided by Gurl Ten, Rita Ratt.

Rita was one of those Gurls that no righteous scene can do without. She was beautiful in a way that anticipated goth, 90’s heroin chic and a highly personal fashion sense.

A line can be traced through Pamela Des Barres, Bebe Buell, Sable Starr and Nancy Spungen right up to Rita’s love affair with music and the artists who made it. In those early days she was seemingly and effortlessly everywhere that something was happening. Especially if the band was English.

Your humble narrator first met her at The Underground right after he started doing sound there. She introduced herself in that oddly-pitched, slightly slurry voice she had by first proclaiming her bona fides via her vocals for the Axe and asking if there was any dope around.

It was and still is shocking that she was so open with almost every aspect of her life and trials. For the price of a few drinks and an investment of 15-20 minutes of your time you could get the whole story.

What normally would be a simply sad story of disinterested parents, cruel children for whom taunting misfits were sport, and broken hearts and shattered dreams by the bucketful was made transcendent by her resilience and passion for life.

It wasn’t easy to be both a sentient woman with an uncanny ability to see only goodness in some of the most flawed folks to walk Boston Common and to be a junkie. She somehow pulled it off. At least in the early days.

The people who cared for her were legion and the people who worried about her included just about everyone from those first days of Boston Punk.

Willie “Boom-Boom” Alexander, the godfather of the nascent Boston scene whose pedigree stretched back to stints in the Velvet Underground and Beat poetry recorded an amazing piece about her that brings crushingly back the love those who knew her felt.

Also the fear for her that walked hand-in-hand with it.

Inevitably, as time wore on, the drugs began to take control and what was once sweet and fascinating became selfish and scary.

She would always ask if you wanted to get high and how she had a great connection for “killer shit.”

She would take your money, promise to “be right back” and purr how nice it would be to get high together.

Days later, at some show or other, she would always have some fantastic story about barely escaping arrest, abduction by swarthy dealers or a hospital admission after an OD.

She injected your humble narrator with a syringe with only water in it after she shot a whole bag of dope. It was supposed to be half of whatever $45.00 would get you (Note: it was a lot back then) and the lack of any notion of being high took dope of the list of things to do for many years.

Despite that rip-off, it would be a couple more years before seeing her coming meant that you would be suddenly fascinated by something on the floor, pretending you didn’t see her or quickly slipping out a back door.

She finally did find the love she craved. A person that took her as she was and was a pea in her pod.

Bob White was an early devotee of goth and loved Rita unconditionally. Their relationship was viewed with a certain amount of incredulousness and soupcon of hope that they might, just might make it like two crazy kids in a Cassavettes movie shot in black and white.

They were married onstage at a nightclub called Spit, the home of Boston’s burgeoning goth scene in a style reminiscent of Sly Stone’s marriage at Madison Square Garden.

They have both passed away. Rita went before Bob and he was a shell of his former self in his remaining days on this planet.

She may only be a footnote in Boston punk history today but she will always be a star to those who were blessed to see her in her glory and a cautionary tale to those who only knew her at the end.

No needles were used in the writing of this story.

Your humble narrator Dominic DeSota is the main character of “The Coming of the Quantum Cats” and known mostly for his arguments in favor of the idea that social conditions rather than heredity are what shapes a person’s character and behavior.

Punk rock music can be heard regularly on John Carlucci’s SpeedieJohn program on
Channel 21 of Little Stevens Underground Garage on Sirius XM Satellite radio.

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