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D.O.A.’s Joey ‘Shithead’ Keithley talks politics and punk rock

Monday 05th, October 2015 / 17:18
By Sarah Mac
Hardcore punker Joe Keithley is running as a Green Party candidate in an upcoming provincial byelection in Vancouver.

Hardcore punker Joe Keithley is running as a Green Party candidate in an upcoming provincial byelection in Vancouver.

CALGARY — He is a punk rock legend and budding politician… Yes, we’re talking about D.O.A.’s Joey “Shithead” Keithley.

Keithley’s rock persona is well known. The front man, guitarist and founding member of D.O.A. started the band way back in 1978 in Vancouver. Despite numerous members coming and going, they’ve released 16 albums and played on five continents, always maintaining their fist-pumping, snarling, three-chord, whip-fast hardcore punk with ample commentary on the world. Their message is startling simple yet effective: “Talk – Action = 0.”

Keithley puts his art where his ethics are with D.O.A. and his life. Take, for example, D.O.A.’s 16th album, Hard Rain Falling, which was released in June. Not only is the album sonically reminiscent of D.O.A.’s earlier years with its ferocious songs, but their message is politically inspired. Case in point: their latest single “Pipeline Fever” has a video focusing on the environmental crisis induced by the pipelines and tar sands.

“I think the video is pretty funny, and it’s also very political and to the point. I was really happy with it. We double checked the stats, to make sure they were accurate, we didn’t make anything up or anything, or because we thought it would sensationalize it or something.”

Keithley also focuses on the bigger picture beyond the music through centre-leftist political activism.

When he hit his late teens he joined the British Columbia New Democratic Party (NDP), eventually leaving to join the relatively new Green Party in 1995. Keithley ran twice for a seat in 1996 and 2001 before leaving the party in 2002.

A decade later, he returned to politics, running for Coquitlam-Burke Mountain’s provincial NDP candidacy in 2013. The party flip-flopping may seem perplexing or contradictory; in fairness, the two parties broadly share ideologies though differ in practice and influence. While the Green Party has six core values, being participatory democracy, sustainability, social justice, respect for diversity, ecological wisdom and non-violence, their influence was minimal; they won their first seat in 2013. In contrast, the NDP are the official opposition to the Liberals in the province.

“I came close that time,” says Keithley of the 2013 B.C. provincial election. Indeed, he lost the NDP nomination by a mere five votes. He’s since returned to the Green Party.

“I’m happier where I am now, philosophically and politically, this feels a lot better to me. I’ve always been an idealist, and the Green Party suits that. But it’s funny, I thought at the time, maybe the NDP would be open-minded, maybe they needed some new ideas and some fresh blood,” he says.

“I tried and they made sure I didn’t get it. So, I found that the [British Columbia] NDP to not be so open-minded, and hence rejoined the Green Party since.”

He chuckles.

“I rejoined the Green Party about four months ago, and I became an official candidate as of [September],” he says. “I’m quite happy and proud of that. And I think I have a pretty good chance of winning.”

His platform for the Coquitlam-Burke Mountain provincial byelection, which was triggered by Liberal MLA Doug Horne’s federal run for the Conservatives, reads as follows: “If elected, I will bring my energy and a practical sense of know-how to the task of tackling the big problems that affect Coquitlam and B.C. issues such as affordable education for all, a proper standard of living for our seniors, help for small businesses, the protection of our environment and reduction of taxes and government fees. I also believe that now is the time for Coquitlam to take advantage of being the terminus of the new Evergreen SkyTrain line by building an intermodal transportation hub near the Douglas College campus. This would help ease the commuting snarl through the Cape Horn, Barnet and Lougheed corridors and at the same time, help foster green technology jobs right here in Coquitlam. So rather than commute, we will bring the work to the people. I would also take on the almost ignored battle for rail safety in Coquitlam, especially pertaining to the transportation of oil and dangerous goods.”

Although some might consider being an active musician as a hindrance in politics, Keithley doesn’t see it that way.

“Being a touring musician does give you a pretty wide view of the world, it gives you a lot of life experience too. A lot of the right-wing parties generally have business owners and lawyers as their candidates, in the Green Party we are trying to go wider. We have software developers to guitar players, and it gives you a wider view on things. Also, it can be a tough road if you’re a musician, so you can sympathize with people who don’t have a lot and need help. And that’s one of the points-of-views I’m coming from as a candidate. We’re here and we want to help people,” explains Keithley.

D.O.A.

D.O.A.

“But when I was doing a lot of door-knocking, probably 30 – 40 per cent of those people recognized me as Joey Shithead from D.O.A. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re fans of the band, but they know D.O.A. and they knew the track record of what myself and the band has stood for; like positive ideas with helping people in the world.”

He continues, “It actually kind of worked, whereas 20 years ago, I don’t think it would have. The main reaction would have been, where’s your Mohawk and leather jacket? Whereas now, it’s grown up enough, and I’m grown up enough, that it’s more like, okay yeah there’s a musician knocking at my door, but he’s also a politician.”

He laughs and continues, “And it’s funny actually, what makes me really unique and the usual response I get is, ‘This is the first time a politician has bothered to talk to me.’”

It’s an issue that both Keithley and the Green Party stand firmly behind.

“One of the big things is, if you’re going to be a politician you have to listen, rather than going in and believing you have the correct opinion, why don’t you listen to their opinion first and see if there’s a way for it to work for everybody. In the end, a politician’s number one job is to listen,” he says.

A study by political scientist David McGrane of the University of Saskatchewan confirms a generational divide in voters that suggests many young Canadians swing progressive in their political ideologies. Unfortunately, when it comes to actually casting a ballot, Elections Canada confirms that the lowest voter turnout is among 18-to-24-year-olds, followed by 25-to-34-year-olds. Keithley hopes to help change that, influencing the younger generation through his music and beliefs.

“Young people are the future of the world. And I hope they realize that they don’t have to vote the way their parents did. A lot of young people haven’t even voted, and if they have it’s not consistently. It’s mainly people over 50 that have been voting all their lives that go out and vote. But it’s not the people over 50 that are going to be leading Canada in 30 years from now. So, it’s something that young people really should think about.”

You heard the man!

B.C.’s provincial byelection date for Coquitlam-Burke Mountain was not finalized as of press time. Don’t forget to vote during the federal election on October 19th, and don’t miss D.O.A. when they hit up Alberta! They play in Red Deer at the Vat on October 8th, Edmonton at the Brixx on October 9th and in Calgary on October 10th at the Nite Owl.

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