Politics in British Columbia, Joe Keithley readily agrees, "are pretty strange." But are they strange enough to embrace a punk rocker formerly known as Joey Shithead?
The 44-year-old frontman of D.O.A., Canada's longest-running punk band, is running in the upcoming provincial election as the Green Party candidate for the riding of Burnaby-Willingdon on a "people first" platform that advocates increased funding to education and long-term health care, the decriminalization of marijuana, an end to big-box shopping-mall developments and tax penalties for corporate polluters. It's the second time Keithley has run for provincial office. This time, however, he might just have a chance of winning.
"When I was a kid I wanted to be something," Keithley explained on Friday night as he sat down at a desk to prepare for the nightly live-to-camera Internet radio talk show he has been hosting since September.
"But I couldn't figure out what it was. I finally figured out that what I wanted to be was a troublemaker. Before I was a mere amateur. Now I'm a professional."
Fans will be reassured to know that Keithley's political aspirations haven't softened the expletive-laden junkyard-dog growl that has fuelled his hard-core tunes and leftist sermonizing ever since Keithley and his cohorts, Chuck Biscuits and Randy Rampage, crashed the stage at Vancouver's Japanese Hall back in 1978, ripped into their 3½-song repertoire, ended up in a tussle with the headlining band and D.O.A. was born.
"Folks, the other media outlets give you a bunch of crap," Keithley barks at the camera as a couple of teenagers stop outside the downtown Vancouver studio and peer through the glass windows at the strange, spiky-haired character behind the mike sporting a ripped black T-shirt on his back and a battered Gibson guitar on his desk. "But we here at MyCityRadio, we look under every rock. We comb the wire services. We peruse the check-out aisles of the grocery stores and look at the National Enquirer. We cut through the crap and give you the real shit."
Keithley launches into a rapid-fire reading of the news, punctuating each item with his own sarcastic commentary. The reports -- which range from a Liberal election promise about upgrading the Trans-Canada Highway to a mass-dog wedding in Colombia, winds up with story about Holly Jones, an air-traffic controller in New York state who was jailed for urinating in the company coffee pot.
"Oh, this is a good one," Keithley says excitedly. "It actually reminds me of a friend of mine," he adds, before detouring down memory lane to recount a number of urine-related D.O.A. stories from his days on the road. (You really don't want to know why he'll never eat creamed corn again.)
Some might wonder whether political candidacy conflicts with punk rock's smash-the-state sentiments. But Keithley, who comes from a family of militant Finnish fishermen and began protesting about nuclear testing while still in high school, says people who think of punks as anarchists don't really understand the word.
"Anarchism can be a very constructive thing," he says, pointing to Barcelona in 1936. "The anarchists took over the city and ran it just as efficiently, if not more efficiently than anyone else. The garbage got picked up, the roads were maintained, the city had electricity. It's just a different kind of philosophy. But this mistaken, misguided view of anarchy -- where it's just bombs being set off, murders, riots and insurrection -- that's not what the anarchist philosophers have preached over the 180 years or so. For me, it fits in with this populism, that the power should come right from the neighbourhood."
Keithley says he's running for the Green Party because "these guys have not been around long enough to have their ideals corrupted. They haven't been besmirched and paid off and all those kind of things."
Keithley ran as a Green Party candidate during the 1996 provincial election, after attracting the attention of local party members when he and his neighbours tried to stop a development that would destroy a second-growth forest in Burnaby's Discovery Park. "I came in fifth," he says proudly. "I got 200 votes, but I beat the leader of the Progressive Conservative party in British Columbia."
Keithley admits that he didn't put much effort into that election. "I put my name on the ballot, talked to a few newspapers, then went on a D.O.A. tour and missed most of the campaign."
But now that the Green Party has shot past the NDP in some public-opinion polls and looks as though it might even capture a couple of seats, he's taking this campaign a bit more seriously. Keithley actually has signs this time. And today he'll be picking up 10,000 pamphlets. Now if only he could remember to change the message on his answering machine at home, which still says: "Hi, you've reached Sudden Death," the name of his record label.
Keithley says it took him by surprise when he was approached for the job. But after three years of touring with D.O.A. since their last record release in 1998, he says the timing is right.
The married father of three had just decided to take a break, devote more time to song writing and continue dabbling in spoken word.
Keithley distances himself from the long list of B.C. politicians -- including John Ramsay, Dave Barrett, Bill Vander Zalm and Rafe Mair -- who have bounced from the legislature to the airwaves in a peculiar local talk-show tradition.
"I'm coming more from the counter-culture point-of-view." But he adds, hopefully, that the Green Party doesn't expect him to be a perfect candidate. "I think there's still room in B.C. politics for a maverick like me."