I didn’t want to interview Chi Pig. It just happened. There’s probably a thousand people more qualified to do this piece, but in a way, Chi chose me. Then he told me he was given one month to live.
It starts as a cliché: Chi Pig walks into a bar. That’s it. That’s the punchline. My friend and I try to sneak a photo but he isn’t having any of that. He walks right up to us, and even though we’d both had our own personal encounters with the infamous SNFU frontman in the past, it doesn’t matter. It is this moment that matters. Something he hammers home a dozen times over the two hours that follow.
Born Kendall Chin, Chi’s presence is palpable. He talks in code. If you know, you know. His mug is plastered on a sign at the entrance of the fabled Cambie Pub and his artwork is lacquered underneath one of the tabletops. He walks over and puts his own song, SNFU’s “Painful Reminder,” on the jukebox. He says it always pisses off the jocks. He also tells us that he wrote it in Grade 8 about his homeroom teacher — “I was in love with him,” he says.
“We were so poor growing up my mom’s tits lactated powdered milk. That’s how I got my dry sense of humour.”
Like everything about Chi Pig and his storied existence, this interview was bound to be unconventional. In fact, I don’t even know it’s an interview until he tells me it is. Apparently BeatRoute had reached out years before, but because his phone is actually the phone at Pub 340, it didn’t work out. “Interview me now, then!” he demands with a laugh.
We follow him up the street from the Cambie to Pub 340 where he has a workstation set up in one of the booths with some of his artwork and art supplies sprawled all over the table. It is here he drops the bombshell about the bill of health he had just received. While this likely isn’t the first time Chi has been told his days are numbered, something about the conviction in his voice and the sincerity in his eyes when he says it floor me. “So, I’m drawing myself to death,” he continues. We stare in awe at his colourful creations that he’s now drawing in front of us.
Chi is a natural storyteller. With his cadre of Pub 340 regulars sitting in close proximity, he rattles off stories about the time Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier bullied him, and the time he quit his job at Dairy Queen to go see Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, and the time SNFU played the Ship and Anchor in Calgary and he told everyone they could take home one of the many books decorating the bar’s shelves. Stories he’s told a thousand times before, but that doesn’t matter. “I’m here now. Talking to you guys,” he says.
It’s 1p.m. The famed dive bar that acts as his second home is packed and I’m a tourist here. I know that. Chi usually sits in the “dark corner,” but since he’s making art, he needs more light. He opens up on the struggle of coming out at the age of 20 when he was still living in Edmonton back in 1982. He migrated to Vancouver on February 2, 1990 and hasn’t looked back since. He talks about his family and his hero, Anthony Bourdain. How he’s read Kitchen Confidential 10 times.
We bought his art.
Chi is full of tidbits of wisdom: “Faster and louder isn’t always better;” “A gift comes from a curse;” and “Life is like a box of Ex-Lax, you never know when you’re going to shit your pants.” He keeps a dream journal. His favourite food is beef tartare. He loves to travel and his favourite city is Berlin because he can smoke in the bars, loves the energy, and “there’s a lot of homos over there.”
The banter between the regulars intensifies. Chi invites a lady over to sing to us. “This is Rose. She’s a lesbian vampire with a gambling problem, but she has a beautiful voice.” It’s all so surreal. We order his custom shot, Jägermeister topped with Baileys and cinnamon sprinkled on top. The “Chi Pig” is shockingly good.
“My mom’s dead; she died when I was 32. My dad’s dead. He died when I was 47,” Chi shares. “She was German and he was Chinese. But… 12 kids. So we grew up in poverty. We were so poor growing up my mom’s tits lactated powdered milk. That’s how I got my dry sense of humour.” We remember to laugh.
As the day’s waning light filters through the cluttered opaque windows, our eyes glazed with Kokanees and hearts filled with stories and banter, it becomes clear that even though he calls himself “a fucking asshole,” Kenny Chinn is just a really sweet person. And with that, something else becomes even clearer: If Chi Pig really is as close to death as he says, Vancouver will be left with a gaping black hole at its core when he’s gone.