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Old punks never die

Joey Keithley on 25 years of punk-rock activism


"Punk rock should be and has always been, to me, about stirring things up," says D.O.A. founder and frontman Joey Shithead Keithley. "The same way rock 'n' roll was when it started up in the mid '50s. It was about being a troublemaker and changing things and being a rebel."

            The man still burns. And he does something about it. Keithley is the founder of arguably Canada's most influential punk band, D.O.A. He's also a political activist, a spoken-word artist, Sudden Death Records head honcho, and a three-time Green Party candidate in his hometown of Burnaby, British Columbia.

            And while punks of his generation have come and gone, Keithley and D.O.A. are still here after 25 years.

            "I think you've gotta have a philosophy," he says via cell phone as he parks the van in Salem, Massachusetts. "Ours has always been, 'Be your own boss, think for yourself, and try and take control of your life in this world.'" This creed has worked well for D.O.A. --- or for Keithley at least.

            "It's my philosophy," he says. "So I suppose that's why I'm the only original guy in the band. Either that or I'm just fucking hard to get along with. It could be a combo of the two, I suppose."

            D.O.A. first hit the scene from British Columbia with the release of the EP Disco Sucks ("still does," according to Keithley) in 1978. The band essentially coined the term "hardcore" with the release of Hardcore 81 in 1981. The rough, frenzied sound of Keithley's throaty growl and his snarling guitar complimented his on-the-sleeve, in-your-face politics. D.O.A. has consistently picked up the fight for rape victims, anti-racism, anti-globalization, first nations' rights, anti-censorship, and various environmental causes.

            Musically the chaos they created has influenced bands like Rancid, The Offspring, Green Day, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

            Keithley humbly acknowledges his band's contribution to the form but stresses the politics and activism are as important as the music. His is a stance he wishes more would adopt.

            "Some of the younger bands --- and there're definitely some good ones --- they gravitate to the easiest way to make money," he says. "And I don't fault 'em for trying to make a living, there's nothing wrong with that. It's a tough business. The big pop bands like Blink 182 and guys like that... I like 'em in the sense that they're lively and stuff like that, but I think they could get a bit more politically aware."

            Maybe this guy should run for office.

            And he did.

            "I have been a candidate for The Green Party three times in my hometown," he says. "But I finally retired from politics 'cause I realized that, yes people will vote for shitheads but not necessarily Joe Shithead. I thought I could do more with my guitar and my writing. I would never want to be elected to office. We just thought we'd try and change the goalposts for the issues."

            Keithley recently completed his first book I Shithead, A Life in Punk.

            "It kinda covers all we've been through in D.O.A. from starting up to about 1990," he says. Keithley is working on his second book, this one focusing more on his activism.

            And like fellow old-schoolers Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins, Keithley --- a self-proclaimed "natural born loudmouth" --- is hitting the spoken-word circuit.

            "Old punks don't die," he says. "They just either stand in the back or do spoken word. They stay away from the mosh pit. They've had too many broken bones in earlier years." At age 42 and with 25 years on the road behind him, this might be the way to go.

            "Yeah, I think so," he says. "But I mean I still like playing my guitar. So I'll probably always play music as my first love. I got into it because I love the guitar and I loved Jimi Hendrix and I loved Black Sabbath and Credence Clearwater Revival when I was a kid."

            Very few bands from the initial '70s big bang are still around. Many from punk's first wave are dead or have moved on. Even D.O.A. has gone through lineup changes. But the passion, the drive, and the ideals are still there.

            "The thing is we keep progressing," Keithley says. "We always put out new records and try to keep it fresh. It's the complete opposite of say, The Sex Pistols. When they reunited, they had one record to draw on. But we've consistently tried to build up our ideas and songs and styles and approach lyrically and musically as we've gone along. At the same time we've kept true to our roots."

D.O.A., The Dickies, Void Control, Yellow Swans, Thieves Auction play Saturday, May 22, at The Bug Jar, 219 Monroe Avenue, at 9 p.m. Tix: $12-$15. 454-2966. 18+