With a stage name like Joey Shithead, you’d think there may be some concern around garnering votes for Joe Keithley’s latest political campaign. But the 56-year-old is more than just the frontman of legendary hardcore outfit D.O.A. – he’s a loving father of three, the president of Sudden Death Records, an actor, former radio show host and a determined hopeful Member of the Legislative Assembly.
Burnaby Joe (no offense, Sakic) is looking to run for the New Democratic Party in the Coquitlam-Burke Mountain riding. He wants to unseat the riding’s current MLA, BC Liberal Douglas Horne, who won the spot by about 3,000 votes over the NDP in 2009. Despite the voting gap, the punk rock Renaissance man is optimistic – he’s tirelessly knocked on about 2,000 doors seeking support from Coquitlam residents and has signed up many of them to his campaign. “I think I’m going to win the nomination and I think I’m going to win the election,” said Keithley without hesitation. “My point of view in life is you have to go into things being confident. I know policy, I’ve been a political junkie since I was 16 years old. That’s a big part of my modus operandi.”
As a teenager, Keithley was turned onto activism by the protest music his older sister Karen listened to: Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and The Weavers, to name a few. “When I grew up, the Vietnam War was on and that was a big influence,” he said. “War journalists actually reported what was going on as opposed to the way they’re restricted by military authorities now. It was right in your living room really graphically every night at six o’clock, watching the CBS News with good ol’ Walter Cronkite.”
The more he saw, the more compelled he felt to do something. Keithley rebelled against his high school principal when he walked out of class and joined thousands of students in a march against nuclear arms testing off the coast of Alaska. “My old buddy Dimwit – rest his soul, he’s not with us anymore – led the parade because he’d brought his bass drum. He’s banging out this chant and that was really the moment that I knew I wanted to be an activist,” he said.
While punk rock has always been a vehicle for spreading messages of change, politics is now Keithley’s opportunity to make change happen. At the top of his list of priorities is creating financial equality for the middle class, which he feels is being bled dry of its hard-earned income. “The middle class is being squeezed and paying for everything,” he said. “They’re paying for the people without money and they appear to be paying for the people with money, to a certain extent.” He’s also previously spoken about blocking the Northern Gateway pipeline and protecting seniors, and is taking a strong stance on improving education for younger generations, from kindergarten through university.
“We have to enable our students to learn as well as they can in the environment,” he said. “And in post-secondary, we have to find a way to help alleviate student debt. The average person is coming out of school with $27,000 in debt. So if you get out of school and you end up in a job that pays $10.25 an hour like a barista – and there’s nothing wrong with being a barista – but you’re never going to pay back that $27,000 in debt. We’re creating more McJobs than jobs where you can actually raise a family and even think about buying a house.”
As for how Coquitlam residents have responded to Joey Shithead showing up on their doorsteps, Keithley said very few people get hung up on the possibility of a hardcore punk rocker representing their neighbourhood.
“Actually, it opened the door to a lot of conversations,” said Keithley, noting that Andrew Cash and Charlie Angus, two members of the Toronto-area ’80s punk band L’Étranger who are now both MPs in Ontario. “The main thing you learn in the music business is that you have to learn to listen to people. I think this should be a prerequisite for politicians that if you don’t know how to listen to people, you shouldn’t be elected in the first place.
“Ronald Reagan, who I don’t like, was an actor and became President of the United States. Why can’t a guitar player be a politician? They can, obviously, for the same reason a lawyer or a real estate person or a union leader can. It’s just coming from a different perspective.”
This isn’t Joe’s first foray into provincial politics: he previously ran for the Green Party in 1996 and 2001. While he placed third with 15% of the votes the second time around, he let his membership lapse after disagreeing with what he described as socially conservative ideas from party leaders (he cited Elizabeth May’s personal stance against a woman’s right to abortion) among other reasons.
“I think the Green Party is a vote-splitter and maybe people want to park their vote there, but I think they’re wasting their time with it,” said Keithley, pointing out that he is still an environmental activist and he commends the NDP’s eco-friendly policy. “[The Greens are] disorganized and don’t have a completely coherent policy on many things.”
And it isn’t his first time supporting the NDP either. His history with the party stems back to 1975 at Simon Fraser University, where he studied to be a civil rights lawyer before he “got sidetracked by writing a song called ‘Disco Sucks’ and a few other good ones.” Keithley joined the party when he was 18 and worked for them until D.O.A. got going.
While a 35-year music career kept Keithley from running for office sooner, politics is now pulling him offstage. His pending term forced D.O.A. to tour across Canada one last time before he makes it to parliament. “People wished me well with politics and I told them, ‘Hey, we won’t see you for four years, eight years or 12 years, depending on how this political thing goes,’” he said. “Some people half jokingly said I hope you lose so that D.O.A. comes back.”
The timing isn’t necessarily ideal: the band’s 14th studio album, We Come In Peace, was only released in July, and its strength is up there with War on 45 and Hardcore ’81. The new album features covers of The Beatles “Revolution” and Toxic Reason’s “War Hero”, an ode to Clint Eastwood’s nameless poncho-wearing straight shooter, and an acoustic rendition of D.O.A. 1983 seven-inch single “General Strike”. There are also guest appearances by Billy Talent vocalist Benjamin Kowalewicz, Headstones singer Hugh Dillon and Dead Kennedys founding frontman Jello Biafra, who lent his chops to the anti-greed anthem “We Occupy”.
To abandon a record like that would be suicide for most bands, but Keithley and Co. are taking it in stride. “I have my bandmates and they’re great guys – J.J. [Heath] on drums and Dirty Dan [Yaremko] on bass – they’ve got stuff to do too, so you can’t hold them up forever,” said Keithley.
The trio has a series of farewell shows, including the Vancouver send-off at the Rickshaw Theatre on January 18. Keithley promises it won’t be your average D.O.A. show. (Not that any D.O.A. show is average.)
“‘We’re going to pull out all the stops, it’s going to be a really big shew!’” said Keithley in his best impersonation of Ed Sullivan. “We’re going to go through a lot of songs from all eras, and what we’re really planning at the end is a long encore with a couple drumsets, two or three bass amps, three or four guitar amps.”
He added that a number of former members will perform onstage – here’s hoping Randy Rampage, Zippy Pinhead and Chuck Biscuits make appearances. “Obviously, we can only really do that in Vancouver,” said Keithley. “All those other guys are too argumentative to take on the road.”
Keithley won’t know if he’s nominated until March 3, nine weeks before the election, but he’s out pounding the pavement now to get his name – not his stage name, Joey Shithead – on the ballot and fresh in everyone’s minds. This is his time to put up or shut up, and Keithley won’t be silenced.
“The message I would pass on to people is think for yourself and work with your friends and neighbours to try and affect some positive change in this world,” he said. “Talk minus action equals zero.”
Tickets for D.O.A.’s farewell show are currently available at Northern Tickets and various Vancouver record shops (Red Cat, Zulu, Highlife, Scrape, and Neptoon). BC’s provincial election polls are set to open on May 14.
BC/Alberta tour dates include:
• Vancouver – The Rickshaw, Jan. 18
• Victoria – 9 One 9, Jan. 27
• Edmonton – Pawn Shop, Feb. 22
• Calgary – Republik, Feb. 23
By Jacob Zinn
Cover photos: Shimon Karmel