Name of Interview: Grandmaster Ratte'
Date Interviewed: November 23rd, 2002
Location: New York City, NY
Miles Travelled: Part of 630-mile Round Trip

cDc-0200.txt (122K) The cDc #200 Higgledy-Piggledy-Big-Fat-Henacious-Mega-Mackadocious You-Can't-Even-Come-Close-So-Jump-Back-K-B00MIDY-B00MIDY-B00M File by Swamp Ratte'
cDc-0039.txt (3.9K) Fuck the World! By Swamp Rat (January, 1988)
ss.jpg (187K) Swamp Ratte sets himself on fire during a live performance at "Loop 289"
cDc-0016.txt (4.4K) A Fucked Life, and How to Prevent It, by Swamp Rat
cyber31.jpg (122K) Screenshot of TechTV's "Cybercrime" with Grandmaster Ratte' in Full Regalia
cDc-0001.txt (3.3K) The Gerbil Feed Bomb by Swamp Rat (1985)
warescent.mp3 (530K) INTERVIEW EXCERPT: "The Scent of a Ware" (MP3)
computist.mp3 (1.2M) INTERVIEW EXCERPT: "Subscribing to Hardcore Computist Magazine" (MP3)
mlantern5.jpg (41K) Grandmaster Ratte' and Cult of the Dead Cow appear at Defcon 7 (1998)

I'd known of Swamp Ratte' back when I was just a teenager with a modem trying to make a name for himself as The Slipped Disk. He called himself "Swamp Rat" (the Ratte' was a later affectation) and was one of a band of kids sending out textfile after textfile on every weird or evil subject possible. Metallica lyrics sat next to game documentation and they were sandwiched by sick stories of mutilation, sexual frenzy and what it meant to be elite. They called themselves the evocative "Cult of The Dead Cow" or "cDc" and branded everything they made with their logo, making it instantly memorable and collectable. We never sent mail between each other and while I may have snuck onto his BBS (Demon Roach Underground) on one occasion or two, we never had any of that sort of communication. I was a BBS kid, he was a BBS kid, the twain did not meet.

As it turned out, the kid who took over my BBS when I got into college (handle of Dave Ferret) got it listed as a "Cult of the Dead Cow Node" and attached itself to the cDc, becoming friends with the fluctuating members through the early 1990's. One of them, Deth Vegetable, had helped this happen, and had become a member of the cDc when he began writing files for them.

Then the media got involved. Deth Vegetable started getting yanked into every hacking and cracking story that the newspapers and television stations could dream up, riding the frenzied wave of hype that surrounded hackerdom throughout the 1990s. Instead of avoiding the limelight, the members of cDc embraced it; they accepted the interviews and turned the entire process on its head, manipulating the media to their whim. Their slogan, "World Domination through Media Saturation" became, in fact, the truth, and the appearances of cDc and cDc-affiliated members in mass media became legion. They earned fame (and the usual derision of any public figures) and had a great time doing it.

For his part, Swamp Ratte' happily fell into the whole mess, declaring himself "Grandmaster Ratte'" and involving himself in more and more elaborate shows and pranks during conventions, the peak of which may very well have been the appearance of basically all members of cDc at DEFCON in 1999 to announce the release of Back Orifice 2K, a "remote administration tool" whose anticipation rivaled that of any other software release at the time. Their antics on stage, including a projection of their logo and related video, massive revival by Ratte', and serious discussions of the power of BO2K, were broadcast around the world and became part of the grand story of hackerdom. While they have their share of critics and "playa haters", there is no doubt the Cult of the Dead Cow (and Swamp Ratte') have left a lasting impression on their subculture.

Imagine my surprise when I found out at that DEFCON that Swamp Ratte' not only knew of but admired me, and we became colleagues of a sort through the ensuing years. He'd moved from Texas to New York City, so it was a no-brainer that when I asked him if he could be up for an interview, he'd say yes. In fact, throughout his work with cDc, Swamp Ratte' had always been one to bring up the past, glorify the Apple II, and generally keep things historically real. His file #200 for cDc is the classic example, with many examples of historical BBS knowledge combined with the latest in jargon and humor.

We conducted the interview in his apartment in Harlem, both in front of his computer setup and in his bathtub. Now, as for that bathtub...

cDc have always been about showmanship (and really over-the-top showmanship, too), so naturally I joked about some sort of Hunter S. Thompson interview where he'd be in the bathtub with a stogie and a gun ranting about BBSes. So when I got there for the interview and he said "I got the stogie!" I knew we were in trouble.

The first part of the interview was conducted seriously, in front of that gear, and Ratte' did his best to harken back to his Apple II days and the times that his BBS had made him happy.

The second part is almost unusable, partly because it is the most jarring, disturbing thing to see a guy in a bathtub rant about Apple IIs, but also because you can hear me literately gasping for breath from laughing so hard, as Swamp Ratte' jibed and joked and laid out some hysterical challenges to those who had wronged the Cult of the Dead Cow. There are some usable clips that will show up in the final product (I have no idea where, at the moment) so it was DEFINITELY not a loss. And look at those pictures!

We ate downstairs at a cute little soul food restaurant with a buffet of 4-5 dishes, chatting about the good times and the various cDc historical figures and events, and went back and talked for a few hours more. It was a great time.