For more than 35 years, Joe “Shithead” Keithley has fronted D.O.A., Vancouver’s legendary and influential punk band. As a longtime Burnaby resident and political activist, Keithley has been following the pipeline debate in North America and decided to hit the road with D.O.A. for a No Pipelines in BC tour.
What motivated you to do a tour?
I heard about the SLAPP suit that Kinder Morgan did against the five protestors on Burnaby Mountain, BC and was enraged that they used financial bullying to get their way. A 5.6 million dollar SLAPP suit against five individuals would take them years to pay off.
The day before our fundraising show, January 31, the protestors arrested on Burnaby Mountain were cleared. But the SLAPP suit against the five people remains. So the money we collect will be donated to help with costs.
What sparked you to be an activist?
When we started D.O.A. we said let’s go out and have a lot of fun and change the world at the same time. We wrote a lot of funny songs and wrote the type of songs that I consider angry young men songs.
Question Authority: Talk-Action=0.
Where did that slogan come from?
It was on a magazine called Open Road, which was an old anarcho magazine from Vancouver and we asked if we could use that slogan and they said sure.
It seemed to suit us because we did a lot of political benefits and benefit records. We used to put out instant singles, which were easy in those days because you could get vinyl done in about three weeks. Now it’s digital.
What’s an instant single?
An instant single would be for a specific cause. We did one around the theme of Clayoquot Sound in 1993/94 called The Only Thing Green – “the only thing green is the color of their money.” We have a new song, Pipeline Fever, that we mean to do as an instant single.
During my first visit to Vancouver I attended a benefit show in Stanley Park in 1986 for people of the lower east side. DOA played acoustic, along with Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
Expo 86 was a tourist bonanza for six months, so a lot of people in rooming houses in the east side got kicked out because poor people can only pay a tenth of what tourists can pay. We wrote an instant single – Expo Hurts Everyone.
We played acoustic there because the Vancovuer Park Board said D.O.A.’s music will scare the animals in the zoo and D.O.A.’s fans will trample the flowers. We said, no they won’t. But in retrospect, they’re probably right.
I remember meeting Pete Seeger. What a brilliant man. That guy was a folk singer, songwriter, activist, taught people to play banjo – he revived folk music. If I can do a quarter of what Pete Seeger has done, then I’m doing pretty well.
In 2013 you ran for an NDP nomination in the riding of Coquitlam-Burke Mountain. Do you think you will throw your hat in the political ring again?
I might. When I ran for the NDP I came close by five votes. I had some great supporters in the party, but some people didn’t think I was right. They wanted to play it safe.
A lot of young people go to your shows. Do you get a sense that youth are politically engaged?
Through my door knocking I found that the disconnect with young people and politics is severe. They could have a bigger voice than they do, but they don’t believe in the system, and it’s not entirely their fault. The system is imperfect and a lot of people who represent them are disingenuous.
People went to jail for the right to vote, people died or went to prison. For us to take this so frivolously is morally wrong. I try to get across to people that we have to get people more involved in grassroots democracy. People say that politicians are a bunch of crooks and they are helping their friends, which is partly true, but there are a lot of good people on either side. Most people who get involved in politics start out as idealists and the problem is that they start to lose those ideals after they make too many concessions.
The bottom line for me is that I haven’t forgotten how to play guitar, write songs or sing, and get up on stage and kick ass. Which are the key things I try to do with D.O.A. I’ve got lots of time. I still feel very energetic and have lots of focus on issues.
Pete Seeger went ‘til he was 93.
Susan MacVittie is the managing editor of the Watershed Sentinel.