Feb. 20, 2013 - Issue #905: DOA No more - Trading in punk for politics
Punk rock the vote
DOA's frontman leaves music (f0r now) to pursue politics
DOA has said goodbye before.
On December first, 1990, the band played the Commodore in Vancouver. It was billed as DOA's last show, the finality of which lasted about 19 months.
So this, the band's second goodbye, coming some 22 years after its first as frontman Joe Keithley looks to make a serious run at politics, doesn't seem any more permanent. Especially not to him.
"I'm a really big fan of Pete Seeger, and I take a lot of cues from him," Keithley begins. "That guy taught people to play banjo, he saved folk music, he's a great songwriter, he's an activist for good and just causes—and he's still going. He's 93, still playing. And if I can do one-quarter of what he's done in my life, I think I'll have done pretty good.
"What I'm saying is I will never stop playing guitar or writing songs or doing stuff till I die," he continues. "Now, with this election thing coming up, I'm confident I can win this, so I told people, 'I'll see you in four years, eight years or 12 years,' depending on what the people in Coquitlam think. It's up to them, it's not up to me."
The man whose band helped found the modern punk-rock movement is seeking nomination for the provincial NDP in Coquitlam, BC (population: 126 456 as of 2011). The particular district he's running in, Burke-Mountain, was only created in 2008 after a district redistribution crafted it out of the three surrounding districts. It's currently held by liberal MLA Douglas Horne; if Keithley were to win it, it'd be new territory for the NDP.
That isn't even so much of a pipe dream, either: the party came second there in the 2009 election, earning 35 percent of the vote to Horne's 57 percent. And Keithley does have that crucial recognition factor: by his count, he's already knocked on some 2000 doors, and within that, found himself recognized at about one in five houses.
"That didn't mean they were fans of DOA," he clarifies, "but they just knew my track record, that ,'Yeah, you guys have stood up for some good things.' That kind of thing. So obviously that really helped. And there were people who didn't know me, and I sat there and talked."
This isn't Keithley's first run at politics. In '96 and then again in 2001, Keithley was on the slate for the BC Green Party, though now as he sees it, "It's a single-issue party. And they don't have a concrete fiscal policy and they don't have a concrete policy on social issues," he admits. "So, I quit them because I believe the NDP has the best overall policy on both those areas. And environmentally as well."
We're getting a little ahead of ourselves, here: there are still hurdles left to get over before he can even challenge the elected seat. Keithley's first challenge is beating out the two other NDP hopefuls to represent the party in that district (that preliminary election will happen on March 3). And even if he does claim the nomination, Keithley's well aware how some might feel about an ex-punk rocker writing legislation instead of three-chord protest songs.
"With some people it's a real leap," he says. "Some people don't get it, absolutely, and I accept that. So then it's up to me to convince them that this makes sense, right? For them to meet me personally, or hear me talk, or whatever. ... If you put aside the stereotypical media image from the old days—I guess Sid Vicious would best personify that kind of image of punk: guy has a tragic life, ODs, blah blah blah—but if you think about the real activism in it, bands like the Clash, DOA, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, those kind of bands, we're really talking about trying to change things. We stood up to nuclear weapons testing, proliferation of nuclear weapons, stood up to racism, sexism, gave benefits to environmental causes. And a lot of times, these benefit things were done under great peril, before they had become the celebrity cause of the week.
"So, y'know, I think people acknowledge that: I learned a lot out of punk rock," Keithley continues. "For example, I don't even call myself a punk. I think that's for somebody in their teens or 20s. I happen to play in one of the best-known punk bands. But in reality, I'm a middle-class guy, and I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer when I was a kid, and I got diverted by music for 30 years, so I never became a lawyer."
Keithley talks about his politics with a mix of established integrity and hopeful idealism: use of buzzwords like "McJobs" aside, his primary focus is on education, and he acknowledges democracy is a compromise (and chalks up his time spent playing in and managing bands to enhancing his negotiation skills). He believes in the sort of grassroots politics that includes activism and involvement beyond the ballot box—something a lot of other politicans have talked about, certainly, but given DOA's motto has always been "Talk minus Action equals Zero," it'd be pretty hard for him to come back to the punks if he shirked his responsibilities in office. In that way, he's actually putting a lifetime of credibility on the line.
Keithley thinks his strength as a candidate lies in connecting with those feeling disenfranchised with democracy. In his door-to-door campaigning, he's already found some success with convincing those unconcerned with politics to sign up for his cause.
"I've met a lot of middle-aged people that said, 'OK, I've given up on democracy, all you guys are liars.' Or I've met a lot of young people who've said, 'You know what? I've never voted.' So to both of those groups of people as I met 'em, I would say, 'Give me five minutes, and I'm going to try and talk you into participating in democracy again.' And I was successful with about 50 percent of those people, in signing them up to support my campaign."
So whether his career change is a temporary blip or a full 12-year engagement, Keithley notes these final tour dates with the band haven't been particularly emotional ones. It's the camraderie and usually-friendly arguments with the band that he'll miss the most (he's a Canucks fan, his drummer's partial to the Flames and his bass player's an Oilers guy), as well as the thrill of charging up an audience. The way scheduling worked out, DOA's already played its final hometown Vancouver dates, leaving this stint into the Canadian prairie hinterland as the band's final charge. But again, the finality of that is only for now. And even if this is DOA's long goodbye, ending in Banff of all places, what comes in its aftermath seems just as much an extension of Keithley's worldview as any song he's written.
"I didn't get all choked up or anything like that, right?" he says. "I've been a social activist, and somebody who's been trying to work for positive change in Canada and this world for about the last 35 years. So going into politics—if I'm successful—seems like a natural extension of that. "
Fri, Feb 22 (8 pm)
With No Problem and L.A.M.S.
Pawn Shop, $15
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